A Middlesex University BA Jazz graduate is part of a five-piece London jazz band which won the 2023 Mercury Prize.
James Mollison, (pictured performing above) who graduated in 2017, plays the saxophone in the Ezra Collective which became the first jazz act in 31 years to win the prestigious music accolade – for their new album ‘Where I’m Meant to Be’.
The group - consisting of Femi (who also drums for Gorillaz) as drummer and bandleader, Joe Armon-Jones on keys, James on saxophone, Ife Ogunjobi on trumpet, and Femi’s younger brother TJ on bass guitar - originally came together in 2012 as teenagers at the youth band of Tomorrow’s Warriors, a music education initiative at the South Bank Centre in London.
This year’s Mercury Prize ceremony was held at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London, and was hosted by BBC Music’s Lauren Laverne and guest presenter Jamz Supernova.
An overjoyed Ezra Collective collected the winner’s trophy and cheque for £25,000, and then performed a song from the winning album called ‘Victory Dance’ to a standing ovation from the audience.
The Mercury Prize judging panel said of Ezra Collective: “Virtuosity, community, listening to each other to work out where to go next, who knew that such seemingly old-fashioned values would come to the fore on the winning album.
“It wasn’t easy to choose an overall winner from such an eclectic and exciting list, but ultimately the judges were unanimous: Ezra Collective are a living argument for putting the hours in, achieving musical brilliance, and tapping into a joyous spirit that ensures their album is as fun as it is impressive.
“The British jazz renaissance of the past decade has been one of the most significant developments in modern music.
“Now, ‘Where I’m Meant To Be’, with its touches of reggae, soul, Latin and Afrobeats, its call and response riffs and rhythmic intensity, is a landmark not only for jazz, but for contemporary music in general.”
The Jazz team at Middlesex University was thrilled with the news of James’ success, especially as this will be the final year of the BA Jazz programme before the team focuses on specialist short courses and research.
Rob Townsend, a Senior Lecturer in Music who also tours with the Steve Hackett Band, said: “It’s truly fantastic that the Ezra Collective have won the Mercury Prize this year.
“It’s the first time ever that a jazz act has won and especially poignant for the MDX Jazz Department as in our final year of undergraduate specialist teaching, one of our alumni is in the band.
“James definitely has his own voice on the saxophone drawing from influences within and outside the jazz tradition. James worked hard with Ezra Collective whilst studying at MDX and we’re delighted for him and the whole band.”
Dr Brian Inglis, Director of Programmes for Music at Middlesex University, said: “A jazz ensemble winning the super-prestigious Mercury Music Prize is an epoch-making event.
“It’s a great testament to the kind of educational experiences our students get in Music, and a wonderful legacy for our superlative Jazz colleagues as jazz at Middlesex moves in the direction of a new phase in its long history, focussing on continuing/complementary education and research.”
James joined a list of previous alumni including Led Bib, a band formed at Middlesex who were nominated for the Mercury Prize Mercury in 2009, MDX graduate Binker Golding is half of Binker and Moses who won the MOBO best jazz award in 2015 and another graduate David Mrakpor, as half of Blue Lab Beats, won a Grammy last year for his production work with Angelique Kidjo.
Jazz at Middlesex is repositioning itself in UK education and is drawing on its highly specialised team to offer short courses. World-renowned pianist and composer Nikki Iles is developing a short course offering Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for pianists. The jazz team are starting a long-term research project collating and celebrating the works of European women composers.
Find out more about studying Music at Middlesex University.