‘I don’t want to be a legacy performer’: why Britain’s hottest jazz star is giving up his sax for the flute

Shabaka Hutchings is at the height of his powers as a saxophonist – but has given it up to play a Japanese flute that takes years to master. In London and Brazil, the multiple Mercury nominee explains why he has to resist the easy path, even if it puts his livelihood at risk

It is December 2023, and Shabaka Hutchings has just played a gig at Saint John at Hackney church, London, performing John Coltrane’s 1964 album A Love Supreme. It was rapturously received, despite – or perhaps because of – Hutchings’ unorthodox approach to playing this revered text, the very cornerstone of spiritual jazz. There was no collective rehearsal – instead, Hutchings wrote “a really deep, long email” to his bandmates, ruminating on the meaning of the term spiritual jazz. “People say ‘spiritual jazz, spiritual jazz’, but no one goes: what is spirit?” he frowns. “To me, it’s simple – in the English language, to be spirited is to have a force that brings you up, that animates you out of inertia. The opposite of spirit is, I guess, depression, when you think: I can’t move forward.”

And then he goes into a lengthy but fascinating digression, which variously touches on non-western spiritual practices, the “orientation of energy”, how watching “trashy TV” can affect your vitality, and how making yourself uncomfortable on stage reflects the discomfort “we all have to navigate because of society”.

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