As far as proving its international mettle was concerned, 1959 had been the most impressive year yet for British modern jazz. Barely three years had passed since the lifting of the embargo on visiting American jazz artists, and by the close of the 1950s, it was no means uncommon to find celebrated US soloists praising the work of London jazzmen in print, illustrating how the Smoke’s parochial take on Hard Bop fashion now stood shoulder to shoulder with the Big Apple’s original. By early 1960, the first waves of Ornette Coleman’s New York musical tsunami had begun to reach British shores, and the local model of “free-form” then being pioneered by Jamaican altoist Joe Harriott found more critical acceptance than its counterpart played by Coleman, but Harriott a maverick, and would have little direct impact on the work of the majority of his contemporaries.
Elsewhere though it was the template of the Jazz Couriers and their Hard Bop-derived modus operandi that continued to set the style for local modern jazz groups and in its wake came several worthy successors; the MJ6 featuring Stan Tracey; “The Quintet” headed by Ronnie Scott and Jimmy Deuchar; the Bert Courtley/Ronnie Ross Jazztet; the Ken Wray/Bobby Wellins Quintet; Allan Ganley and Keith Christie’s New Jazzmakers: the Jazz Five co-led by Vic Ash and Harry Klein. In summer 1960, John Dankworth reorganised his big band, bringing in new names such as pianist Dudley Moore and Peter King, the alto sensation who had lit up Ronnie Scott’s club the previous autumn.
Tubby Hayes was another young veteran who welcomed the rise of a new wave, in one interview singling out not only King but also pianist Brian Dee, drummer Tony Mann and tenorist Stan Robinson as young men to watch. Like all other UK modern jazzmen, Robinson’s opportunities for growth and exposure were foreshortened; his début recording (with the Jazzmakers) was taped in December 1960 but up until its inclusion on this anthology it remained unissued.
At club level, modernism continued to survive if not quite thrive, although the scene was still so small that it occasionally resulted in skirmishes between those promoting the music – most notably a very public spat between Ronnie Scott and Sam Kruger. But otherwise modernists remained on the back foot. One of the few successes was the sudden interest in Tubby Hayes following his Tubby’s Groove album making the unprecedented leap to Melody Maker’s LP of the Month in June 1960. A month later came the infamous “Battle of Beaulieu”, a yob-culture fracas at the annual jazz festival held at Lord Montagu’s Hampshire home, which somehow or other got blown up into a battle between the respective fans of trad and modern jazz.