Ezra Collective’s Mercury win finally acknowledges a golden age for UK jazz | Alexis Petridis

Sometimes the Mercury prize merely anoints artists we already know are great – but by broadening out and awarding it to a jazz group, it feels more worthwhile

A slight sense of disbelief attended the announcement that Ezra Collective’s Where I’m Meant to Be had been awarded the 2023 Mercury prize. You could hear it in the audience’s reaction – the cheer was underpinned by a sort of delighted gasp – and you could certainly see it in the band’s: they literally collapsed in a heap on the floor by their table. Their acceptance speech began with a thank you to God: “If a jazz band winning the Mercury prize doesn’t make you believe in God, nothing will.”

You could see why. The joke about the Mercury prize’s tokenism when it comes to jazz and folk music has been running for almost as long as the prize itself. Virtually every year, a solitary artist from those fields gets nominated and invariably goes away empty-handed. It’s been mocked as a patronising pat on the head, but you seldom hear the artists themselves grumbling: mainstream exposure for jazz and folk is scanty at best and sales figures are seldom huge, making the publicity surrounding the prize and any resulting bump in sales more important than you suspect it is for, say, Arctic Monkeys.

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