Spotlight Focus: Cambridge Modern Jazz

Spotlight Focus: Cambridge Modern Jazz

The world of jazz is rich, vibrant and full of character. One such group that relishes in bringing jazz to new audiences is that of Cambridge Modern Jazz (CMJ), set up in 1972, the club has continued to put on performances from international and national artists and brings with it a sensational level of charm and joy for musical experimentation.

Source: Cambridge Modern Jazz has been running since 1972

We caught up with David Gower, the current organiser of the group to give his two cents on what the group is all about, why jazz is such a musical art form and what the group brings to the Cambridge music scene!

To kick off the interview, we asked David on his connection to jazz and where his involvement in the group began.

“I’ve been interested in jazz ever since I was at school. As a music that repays careful listening and involvement. It’s not music that is just disposable, it’s music that you grow into.

As I’ve become more and more involved in the world of jazz, not as a musician, but as someone who gets a great deal of satisfaction from listening to jazz, it’s been incredible to understand the heritage of the music and where it has come from, how it has evolved overtime and how it looks towards the future. It’s a vast panorama of involvement.”

The CMJ was originally founded in 1972 by the late, great Joan Morell, who dedicated her life to the club and bringing forth incredible new music. The club has always been run on a purely voluntary basis and Joan unfortunately became very ill and passed ownership of the club to David and his colleague John Blanford in 2011.

Since then, the club meets on a fortnightly basis and has found homes in around 14 different homes across Cambridge during its history, at the moment being based in St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church.

The club highlights a number of jazz facets, from improvisation to musical experimentation.

2022 marks an incredible milestone for the club, being their 50th, or golden, anniversary. As such, David and the team are looking to expand their reach and give something back to the community.

“CMJ is actually the most long-standing jazz organisation in the east of England, so next year we want to make a really big show. Apart from lining up some fantastic artists, we also want to undertake a community enrichment project and have made an application to Cambridge City Council for a community grant to run a series of music improvisation workshops in partnership with Cambridge Acorn Project. These will aim to engage underprivileged and vulnerable young people in creative music making.

We want to use the golden year to enrich the lives of Cambridge as much as we can, so there’s quite a lot of things going on and planned for the near future!

The programme will involve getting vulnerable children who need safeguarding involved in something amazing and creative. A lot of jazz musicians do get started in that way because a lot do come from tough backgrounds and we believe that jazz is often the spark that opens their creativity up. We’re calling the project ‘Let It Shine’ in that we believe we’ve all got music in us, this is your chance to let it shine.”

Being a musical city of art and culture, music has always found a home in Cambridge, but clearly through its long history, jazz has struck a particular connection with the people of Cambridge. We asked David why he believes the city is so behind jazz and what it brings to Cambridge.

“Cambridge is a fairly important city in the East of England because it has such a strong arts culture and because of that, there is a fairly strong contingent of people who are into jazz. The history of the club has always been to promote new music, less so about the heritage, instead we’re taking that heritage and trying to move it forwards with new original creative music. That seems to find a strong audience in Cambridge.

The other important thing about Cambridge Modern Jazz is that we have always sought to use national and international artists rather than just being a local club. Our particular niche is to offer top quality performances from around the world.

Unlike a lot of organisations, we’re totally voluntarily run, we are supported by a small trust fund, so we’re not in this for profit, we’re in this to promote jazz.”

Source: Each gig night highlights both national and international names in the jazz world.

Just a quick look at David’s line up and it’s clear to see that CMJ is not about the inaccessibility sometimes associated with jazz, instead all of the artists he books each specialise in a particular facet of jazz and each bring with them their own unique flare to the club’s lineup. David continues:

“We started our season last Friday with a band called Let Spin which is very much an avante garde approach to jazz. They are a collective group of musicians and the kind of jazz they play is improvised on the spot. They start playing and just let the music unfold. It’s a fantastic experience because what they do is draw together different instruments and pieces where they gradually coalesce and come together, building to a large crescendo. It’s a really powerful feeling where you have a real immersive jazz experience, it’s like you’ve really been somewhere.

If you contrast that with the next gig we have on the 15th October with the Sarah Moule Quintet, that looks back to the heritage of jazz and the band work very closely with a fantastic lyricist from New York, to bring forth a new bridge of jazz, they really hit quite hard in a wry and witty kind of way, so a totally different jazz experience.

Then take the 3rd gig on the 29th October with Dinosaur, this is Laura Durd’s band and she is one of the best rising stars in jazz and they have matured into a really strong upfront band playing great music that is just light and fun, creating this incredibly creative music that is incredibly skillful and technical. So across the season, there really is something for everyone!”

The Current Autumn 2021 calendar for CMJ - Learn more here.

At Millers, we relish music in all of its forms and believe that clubs such as the CMJ are sensational methods to get new people into music and continue to build like minded communities of music fanatics! Want to get involved in the next CMJ gig? Explore the latest on their website or volunteer with the CMJ today!

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