Giant Steps: Diverse Journeys in British Jazz

David Burke’s new book is an immensely important addition to the world of Jazz.

As I write Covid restrictions are still on but soon they will be gone…..   We have been living in a world we didn’t know before and we never thought we would have to live in.  We have learnt that our freedom is precious and that we have been taking it for granted.

What have we now?  It is a different world, a different approach.  Many of us have turned to reading: actual books, the ones made of paper.  That must surely be a good thing!

So when I came across “Giant Steps – Diverse Journeys in British Jazz”  (Desert Hearts) by David Burke, it was such a refreshing surprise, this book is full of gems.   From jazz royalty Orphy Robinson to the genius that is Shabaka Hutchings.

I was hooked. I asked the author a few questions and here they follow. If there is one thing you do after reading this, it must be to buy this excellent read. A must have in everyone’s jazz library.

How did the idea of the book come about? 

 Black artists have spearheaded an increasing diversity in British jazz over the past four decades, a transformation that has largely gone undocumented. I wanted to redress the balance and pay due homage to many of those at the vanguard of this musical revolution, arguably the most exciting period in the music here since it first crossed the Atlantic more than a hundred years ago.

Was it a long process or were you able to write the book quickly? 

 I completed most of the interviews inside a month. The actual writing of the book took a further three months.

How did you select all the artists in your book? 

 It was important to celebrate many of the Jazz Warriors who established a black presence in British jazz during the 1980s. Not only the likes of Gary Crosby, Courtney Pine and Orphy Robinson, but Gail Thompson, the only woman in the outfit, whose seminal contribution has been largely overlooked in histories of the period. I also wanted to reflect the burgeoning Asian influence on the music, the strong female representation in the genre and the vibrant contemporary London scene. With few exceptions – notably, Steve Williamson, Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia – everyone I approached was happy to talk.

 Tell me about your favourite artist, not necessarily from the book?…

 John Coltrane made a jazz disciple out of me in my late teens when I bought A Love Supreme. It was intense, abstruse, radical and imbued with a sense of spirituality that transcended anything Catholic Ireland proselytized. All these years later, it never fails to gratify. ‘Trane remains my touchstone and the source of so much else that I have discovered – and continue to discover – in the infinite jazz universe.

What is jazz to you and why? 

It’s the highest art form of all, constantly pushing boundaries, constantly redefining itself, challenging and captivating, irresistibly swinging, profoundly affecting and impossibly cool, created by alchemists whose indisputable genius and disarming humility leaves me awestruck.

Review and interview by Erminia Yardley

Available to purchase here: Giant Steps: Diverse Journeys in British Jazz 

Last modified: August 18, 2021