The Prize Winner 1997

Leon Django Bates | Photo |

British pianist, keyboard and tenor horn player, bandleader, and composer. Born Beckenham, Kent, UK, on the 2nd of October 1960.

  Django Bates was the second non-American and the second Englishman to receive The JAZZPAR Prize. In 1997 he was also the second-youngest winner, David Murray beating him by only a few months. On the whole, the selection of Bates was in perfect agreement with The Prize Criteria, two JAZZPAR goals being to manifest openness to age as well as to nationality.

   His Music
   During the late 70s Django Bates came to the fore as a prominent representative of a new ambitious generation on the British jazz scene. His extremely catholic efforts both as an instrumentalist and composer reflect not only inspiration from almost the whole of jazz history - they also transcend barriers of style and genre as well to include elements of e.g. African and other ethnic music, Motown, and European art music, both classicism and modernism. Bates has demonstrated a deep understanding of even the finer nuances of all this.
   Both as an improviser and a composer Bates makes adventurous use of both acoustic and electronic instruments. Writing for larger groups he often utilizes unusual orchestrations / combinations of instruments - including his own more than competent contributions on the rare tenor horn. Do not expect anything like Basie swing or bebop. The rhythmic intensity is different. The total outcome may be kaleidoscopic and unpredictable, now and then even somewhat labored and florid. Bates has a lot of ideas, sometimes too many at the same time - their redundancy, density and heterogeneity make them fight each other. The whole thing seems to be on the brink of chaos, some may say. But are there not traces of madness in most great art? And even at Bates' most bizarre moments there is method as well. He has a happy faculty of elaborating his musical statements into suggestive stories with an atmosphere of their own. At his best, high spirits and a humorous ambience pervade his works.
   Some find that Bates' music is related to such European contemporaries as the Dutch Willem Breuker Kollektief, Mathias Rüegg's Vienna Art Orchestra, and the Dane Pierre Dørge fronting The New Jungle Orchestra. But what makes Bates' music compare favorably with almost anything played today is his ability to give eloquent expression to his own strong originality which includes what we ponderous continentals experience as typically British: ease, artfulness, subtlety, irony and wit. Just the names of his bands and the titles of his compositions...

   His Career
   As a child Django Bates heard a lot of music, as his father collected jazz and Romanian folklore as well as African music. Django started playing the piano by ear. Later he studied piano, trumpet, violin and for a few disappointing weeks composition at London's Royal College of Music. He wanted to play jazz. For three and a half years he did so with Borderline, a quartet led by the fine saxophone player Tim Whitehead.
   In 1979 Bates took the initiative to form his small group Human Chain. Eventually, the permanent members became Iain Ballamy, Michael Mondesir and Martin France, all featured throughout the 1997 JAZZPAR Tour. In 1983 Bates joined Zila, a group led by the late saxophone player and composer Dudu Pukwana, one of the most important members of the London community of South Africans, who during a long period made an immense contribution to the British jazz scene. 1983 was also the year Bates became founder member of Loose Tubes, 21 young Londoners, maybe England's most original large jazz ensemble for some time. Writing a major part of the book Bates developed considerably as a composer and arranger. Loose Tubes disbanded in the early 90s. But Bates still works with several of the former members.
   In 1984 First House led by saxophonist Ken Stubbs won the third European Jazz Competition mainly because of Bates' expressive contributions. In the mid-80s he was co-founder and for nearly ten years member of Earthworks, a kind of fusion quartet led by Bill Bruford. In 1991, as a follow-up to Loose Tubes, Bates formed Delightful Precipice, a new large orchestra, eventually including all four members of Human Chain as the nucleus. Again Bates is the main contributor to the book, his works revealing increasing daring and mastery. The reception has been ecstatic. But there has also been damnation in certain quarters - as often is the case whenever innovation is involved.
   Bates' international reputation has been growing fast. Cross-genre and cross-media collaborations and composing commissions have been the result of his astonishing artistic range. He has toured most of the world. His discography - as well as the list of international notabilities he has worked with - is long, impressive and growing. Various distinctions have been conferred on some of his albums. The jazz magazine Wire voted him best UK jazz composer in 1987 and 1990. Things are moving whenever Django Bates is involved.

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