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That long-touted “special relationship” between England and the United States extends from politics and humor to many of the arts, especially music. The London jazz scene, to quote the ’60s pop hit, does indeed swing like a pendulum, occasionally — as at present — attaining renewed prominence among cognoscenti. But even at other times, London has remained a hotbed of recording, live performance and touring by jazz greats from both sides of the Atlantic. Here’s a brief and by no means all-inclusive reminder of what that has meant. - Neil Tesser
Stephane Grappelli, Stephane’s Tune (Naxos)
On tour in London when Britain and his native France entered World War II, the legendary fiddler stayed on, recording all the tracks heard here. Tunes with a local orchestra are typical of the era; the real hook comes on eight tracks marking the debut of pianist George Shearing, who would take the States by storm a decade later.
Duke Ellington, The Great London Concerts (Jazz Heritage)
Ellington’s eight-nation European tour in 1958 began in London, where the band played two nights at the Gaumont State Theatre, an art-deco gem in the Kilburn district. The band had recently soared back into prominence at Newport in 1956, and showed no signs of diminution (or even jet lag) on this one.
Joe Harriott Double Quintet, Indo-Jazz Suite (Atlantic)
A contemporary and musical confrère of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, Harriott moved from Jamaica to London in the early 1950s and spurred experimentation for two decades. This disc sounds tame now, but in 1966 the fusion of jazz with a quintet of Indian musicians offered a unique, visionary and influential snapshot of Britain’s melting pot.
Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (Fledg’Ling UK)
Led by the eponymous Scot pianist in the 1970s, the Brotherhood slammed together avant-garde Brits and South African explorers, such as saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and trumpeter Mongezi Feza, who had relocated to London. It’s a riff-heavy party at the corner of Count Basie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Stan Getz, Dynasty (Verve)
The great saxophonist recorded in an organ combo once in his career — in 1971 at London’s world-renowned jazz club Ronnie Scott’s — and it yielded this under-recognized double-disc gem. French organist Eddy Louiss helmed the trio, with esteemed countryman Bernard Lubat on drums and Belgian guitarist René Thomas simmering under one after another of Getz’s most inspired solos.
Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson & Dizzy Gillespie (Pablo)
Two of bebop’s giants — both of them notorious virtuosi — together for 50 minutes of piano-trumpet duets that echo the classic partnership of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines nearly a half-century earlier. Recorded in 1974. In London.
Bill Bruford's Earthworks, Bill Bruford’sEarthworks (Summerfold)
In 1986, after anchoring Yes and leaving King Crimson for the second time, the powerhouse British drummer formed one of late fusion’s most enduring bands, starring then newcomers Django Bates on keys and Iain Ballamy on reeds. The entire Earthworks collection fills a 24-disc box; why not start here with their debut album, recorded in London.
The Jazz Warriors, Out of Many, One People (Polygram)
Saxophonist-composer Courtney Pine led a surge of young Afro-British musicians that came to prominence in mid-1980s London, including pianist Julian Joseph, drummer Mark Mondesir and vibist Orphy Robinson. This oversized big-band project from 1987 lets you hear all of them (and 15 more) in one place.
Evan Parker, 50th Birthday Concert (Leo)
The saxophonist’s overwhelming technique and multi-layered concept have helped define the free-improv movement in his native Britain, and throughout much of Europe, since the late 1960s. This double-disc set from 1994, recorded at the famous London venue Dingwalls, features several of his most trusted collaborators, including pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and bassist Barry Guy.
Lyn Stanley, London Calling (A.T. Music)
Lyn Stanley never lived in London. She didn’t record this there, and the album has nothing to do with the city. But the vocalist does offer this 2018 set as a tribute to elegant cool-jazz vocalist and actress Julie London. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)