Jazz star Yussef Dayes: ‘Other people had David Beckham as their hero – I had the drummer Billy Cobham’

The groundbreaking south London drummer is now on the brink of solo stardom. He reveals the highs and lows of his journey and why his new album is more than just a jazz record

When Yussef Dayes performs his new album, Black Classical Music, at the Royal Albert Hall this week , it will not be his first time on its stage. “I actually performed there when I was at secondary school, we won a competition, so it’s full circle,” he says, sipping herbal tea at a bar on the high street in Lewisham, south-east London, where he grew up. “The space itself is so vast and beautiful, and to bring this album there is a big moment. More so than other venues, this has been top of the list for me,” he continues, over the patter of rain outside.

Dayes is approaching his fourth decade as one of the most thrilling performers in global music. Much ink has been spilt on the London jazz scene’s renaissance over the past decade, punctuated last month by Ezra Collective’s Mercury prize win, and Dayes is often described as a torchbearer of this generational movement. “I’m not going to sit here and say being labelled a jazz drummer has hindered me,” he admits. “But to call it J-A-Z-Z all the time, that’s cool, but there are other ways to articulate what we’re doing.” Black Classical Music, released last month to critical acclaim, is a showcase of this idea.

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