Indispensable Feature Story: Tomorrow's Warriors
The London jazz scene has seen a remarkable renaissance over the past couple of decades. Gifted artists, melding traditional jazz stylings with influences from around the globe, have infused new life into the genre. Many of the musicians at the forefront of this movement are alumni of Tomorrow’s Warriors.
Founded in 1991 by Janine Irons and Gary Crosby, Tomorrow’s Warriors is an educational and artist development program seeking to “inspire, foster and grow a vibrant community of artists, audiences and leaders who together will transform the lives of future generations by increasing opportunity, diversity and excellence in and through jazz.” The program has been wildly successful. Gilles Peterson (BBC radio personality and founder of Brownswood Recordings) has said, “Can’t overstate the impact that Tomorrow’s Warriors has had on the current music scene in London.”
Some of the biggest names on the scene today, Shabaka Hutchings (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming), Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Binker Golding (Binker & Moses), Ezra Collective’s Joe Armon-Jones and Femi Koleoso, Cassie Kinoshi (SEED Ensemble, Kokoroko Afrobeat Collective), Theon Cross (Sons of Kemet) and many others were one-time Warriors.
Since its inception in 1991, the Tomorrow’s Warriors program has successfully launched the careers of these artists and transformed the jazz scene altogether. Many have incorporated traditions of the African diaspora in new and innovative ways; others have merged jazz with hip-hop and techno to create truly distinctive music.
The founders have musical backgrounds as well. Janine Irons was a student of classical piano, a vocalist in a funk band, and a photographer as well. When on assignment shooting a jazz show, she met double bassist Gary Crosby.
Crosby founded the Jazz Warriors in the ‘80s and even then was supporting upcoming artists, including Courtney Pine, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, and others. He’s won many awards with his various ensembles (Nu Troop, Jazz Jamaica All Stars) and for his educational work.
Through workshops, jam sessions, and showcases, Tomorrow’s Warriors has been able to promote its roster of young talent, partnering with arts organizations, festivals, producers, and venues. The founders have created ensembles featuring rising stars as well, including the Nu Civilisation Orchestra (with pianist/composer Peter Edwards as Musical Director), Tomorrow's Warriors' Female Collective, StringTing, and a youth orchestra.
Tomorrow’s Warriors celebrated its 30th anniversary in December with A Great Day in London (a nod to the famous 1958 gathering of 57 jazz musicians in Harlem, New York, photographed by Art Kane, and the subject of a 1994 Oscar-winning documentary of the same name.). The event featured many of the most prominent alumni, which co-founder Gary Crosby proclaimed, “is a fitting headline to our 30th anniversary year celebrations, a glorious moment in our collective musical history that shines a light on the epic journeys of Warriors musicians. It will be magical to bring our Warriors family together.”
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"Tomorrow's Warriors on BBC One's 'Inside Out'"
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Saxophonist and bandleader Shabaka Hutchings has had an interesting journey. Born in London, and raised in Barbados, he returned to the UK and became one of the pillars of the new jazz scene. As a member of Sons of Kemet (also featuring alumnus Theon Cross), The Comet is Coming, and the leader of his own group, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Hutchings has won the MOBO Award for best jazz act with the Sons of Kemet in 2013, among other accolades. As if he weren’t busy enough with three bands and debuting a commission from London Sinfonietta (a piece entitled “Hordes of Undemocratic Saveges”), he’s also started his own label, Native Rebel Recordings
UK, bandleader, and composer Nubya Garcia is a prominent member of the “sisterhood of the saxophone” that has emerged over the past decade. Growing up in a musical family, she played the violin, recorder, clarinet, and piano until she found her calling with the tenor saxophone. She’s been heavily influenced by giants like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, but she has also assimilated hip-hop, afrobeat, funk, and world music, to create a uniquely global brew. She’s won numerous awards, including the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2021 Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year.
The quintet features two Warriors, Joe Armon-Jones (piano) and Femi Koleoso (drums), along with Ife Ogunjobi (trumpet), James Mollison (tenor sax), and Femi’s brother TJ on bass. Jones has also worked with alumni Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, and SEED Ensemble. Combining solid hard-bop horns with deep grooves of hip-hop, funk, and afrobeat (with a hint of reggae at times), Ezra Collective is a prime example of melded influences creating a compelling sound. The group recently released a new track titled, “May The Funk Be With You.”
The brainchild of alto saxophonist/composer Cassie Kinoshi, SEED Ensemble is a 10-piece collective melding R&B, dance grooves with urban, African, and Caribbean roots and classic post-bop jazz, formed in 2016. SEED Ensemble also features Warriors Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet and Theon Cross on tuba. Joe Armon-Jones was a member for a time too. Kinoshi and Maurice-Grey are also members of Kokoroko, a group committed to a “soul-shaking, horn-fueled sound with West African roots and inner London hues.”
Binker & Moses
Drummer Moses Boyd and tenor saxophonist Binker Golding have teamed up several times, most recently to release Feeding the Machine in February 2022. The duo’s first outing in 2017 Journey To The Mountain Of Forever helped them to earn a MOBO award for “Best Jazz Act.” Moses has also worked with Nu Civilisation Orchestra Musical Director Peter Edwards’ trio and his group, Exodus. Golding has played with Sarah Tandy, Zara McFarlane, Ashley Henry, and Joy Ellis and is the Musical Director of the Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Orchestra. He’s also released Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers as a leader.
Nigerian-born Camilla George has been playing and studying music since she was a child. She earned a Master's degree in Jazz at Trinity College of Music and joined Tomorrow’s Warriors where she was a member of the Jazz Jamaica All Stars and Courtney Pine's Venus Warriors, the all-female “supergroup” with George on alto saxophone (along with Nubya Garcia on tenor). In 2017, she released her debut recording as a leader, Isang, which the Guardian touted as “engaging jazz you want to dance to.” The Standard called her the “girl with the golden touch,” and she was nominated as a Rising Star by the British Jazz Awards. Her follow-up in 2018 People Could Fly was inspired by African folk tales, with the title based on a picture book by Virginia Hamilton depicting the dream of slaves who wanted to fly home to Africa. All About Jazz proclaimed the record, “even better than her first...George proves here that she's rapidly maturing into one of the UK's finest altoists and composers.”