The Hellfighters…and Tomorrow’s Warriors

With Jason Moran’s long-standing trio – the Bandwagon – at its heart, the performing band is a reflection of Jason’s continuing awareness of a UK scene that is currently making international waves through a generation of exceptionally talented players.   And his idea to pull together a horn section that would reflect the age of the musicians who went to war with James Reese Europe’s original band, our first call was to draw on the experience of Gary Crosby, the Artistic Director of  Tomorrow’s Warriors, to steer us towards musicians who represent the next wave.

With a history stretching back 27 years, the Warriors have encouraged successive waves of some of the most exciting, most diverse new, emerging and established jazz artists in the UK. They have a special focus on musicians from the African diaspora and girls, and have leveraged partnerships across an extensive network of local, national and international arts organisations, commercial producers, venues, promoters and festivals to produce activity ranging from workshops and showcases for young musicians to concerts and tours for established professional bands/orchestras such as Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra.

A series of key figures in the recent evolution of jazz in the UK have worked their way through the ranks of the Warriors – Jason Yarde, Soweto Kinch, Denys Baptiste for instance. And more recently, some of the leading lights of the current scene – Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia and bands like Ezra Collective, Nerija – to namecheck just a few. The Hellfighter/Warriors may not be as well-known, but it won’t be long before they are – trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi; trombonist Joe Bristow; Hanna Mubya (bass trombone, tuba); and multi-reed players Mebrakh Johnson, Kaidi Akinnibi, Alam Nathoo.

Completing the line-up is tuba player Andy Grappy, whose own work as an inspirational teacher has played a significant role in encouraging young musicians, and who is a seasoned player himself with ensembles ranging from Jazz Jamaica and big bands led by Hermeto Pascal, Sam Rivers and Andrew Hill to the London Symphony Orchestra. He also played in Jason’s earlier exploration of the music of Thelonious Monk, “In My Mind”. As well as being part of the ensemble, we also asked Andy to create arrangements of James Reese Europe’s original music to be played by groups of locally recruited young musicians in each of the tour venues – you’ll hear them each night before the main concert.

In Gary Crosby’s words – “I know there are kids from a similar background to me who, if given the opportunities, can create great art. I try to encourage self-development. It’s a mixture of deliberation and improvisation, which requires trust in other people. It’s not curriculum style, because what we’re dealing with is art. The individuals are artists, and I want to hear what they have to say about the world”. This is a vision shared by all the partners in this adventure. Creating the link between the insights into the music’s creative past that is embedded in Jason’s approach to the legacy of the Harlem Hellfighters, and the energy and enthusiasm of today’s creative talents lies at its heart.

About the musicians

Ife Ogunjobi (trumpet)

The unique playing style of trumpeter and arranger Ife Ogunjobi is an amalgamation of past masters Freddie Hubbard andClifford Brown with modern influences from today – Marquis Hill, Nicholas Payton and Keyon Harrold.   He has performed and recorded with a plethora of artists across many genres, include Moses Boyd, Solange Knowles, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dele Sosimi and Ray Davies. As Ife continues his studies at the Royal Academy of Music he is rapidly establishing himself as a key player within the London jazz scene.

Alam Nathoo (saxophones)

Described as ‘snortingly evocative of Evan Parker’ (John Fordham – The Guardian), and possessing ‘a palette that could turn effortlessly from blissy to deep and dense.’ (LondonJazzNews.Com), Alam is not an artist that is easily typecast, evident in a truly eclectic body of work as both a leader and in-demand sideman.  He has released a series of recordings under his own name, and his most recent project, ‘Cerberus Distracted’, is a dark and adventurous 3-sax led quintet that has featured Tom Challenger,Mark Lockheart and Jeff Williams.  As a sideman, he has worked in jazz ensembles led by Huw V Williams, Tom White and Anthony Strong, with Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, and with Mica Paris, McFly, Heritage Orchestra and Jose James, Red Snapper, and even Irish hip-hop trio Hare Squead.

Joe Bristow (trombone) 

Having spent his formative years playing with Tomorrow’s Warriors, and currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Joe is now very much involved in London’s thriving music scene, performing alongside the likes of Slide Hampton, Marcus Printup, and Stan Sulzmann, with  ensembles including the London Jazz Orchestra, National Youth Jazz Orchestra and SEED. He has had the opportunity to work in the USA, with New Jersey’s Jazz House Kids, performing  at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and Montclair Jazz Festival.

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