“Many musicians and myself have objected to the use of the single word ‘jazz’, to cover so many diversified approaches,” says the voice of jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams at the start of Blue Skies, “Nevertheless, it seems the time of jazz has survived it all, as far as being identified with anything played with a beat or a soulful feel.”
Williams’ quote is almost 50 years old, but it still resonates with the musicians that make up London’s new instrumental jazz scene, a movement that’s been slowly bubbling up for a while, and now gaining recognition in wider circles thanks to the commitment and drive of a small but tight-knit group of musicians.
“The new instrumental scene that’s emerging in London has hip hop, jazz, and neo-soul roots,” explains producer/beatmaker and The Age of Luna member NK OK, “It’s starting to gain a following through jams and platforms like Boiler Room.”
Blue Skies follows NK OK (real name Namali Kwaten) and multi-instrumentalist Mr DM (David Mrakpor), who together make up the duo Blue Lab Beats, to give an insight into the close-knit community. Along the way they meet the Theon Cross Trio, head to the studio with members of the Ezra Collective, and jam at a Sumo Chief night. The film takes its name from Blue Lab Beats’ new EP, Blue Skies.
“(They’re) not only influenced by the greats,” says Blue Skies director Jon E Price, “Growing up listening to hip hop, grime, West African, and Caribbean music has shaped a new, distinctive, and unique London jazz sound. It’s this mix of sound and style with the electronic that excited me, and which drove the look and feel of the film. I wanted to build a narrative through a collage of imagery and music.”
“It’s a London thing,” says Theon Cross, “Everyone knows each other. It seems that all the people coming up are getting their own attention. I feel really privileged to be a part of that.”