The Garrulous Jay – Keeping The Faith

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The world has witnessed the passing of many great people over the last twelve months. In recent weeks alone, we have lost Pelé and Vivienne Westwood: icons of sport and fashion respectively. But it was the death of the less-heralded Maxi Jazz that struck a particular chord with me.

Maxi Jazz, real name Maxwell Fraser, was one of the founding members of British band Faithless, and he was only 65 when he died on the 24th December last year.

Faithless formed in 1995. After releasing their first album Irreverence in 1996, which included hit singles Insomnia and Salva Mea, they were at the vanguard of British dance music over the following decade.

I bought their second album, Sunday 8PM, without having heard Irreverence and without really knowing what to expect, or whether I would like it. I was immediately struck by its eclecticism and I loved it. Sunday 8PM was not actually a ‘dance album’ as such, and it showcased the diverse talents of the band’s members that differentiated them from so many other ‘dance acts’.

The album included fabulous floor-fillers such as God is a DJ and Take The Long Way Home, but these sat alongside the tender ballads and more soul-infused songs that marked Faithless out from their peers.

The songs’ lyrics on all their albums, mostly written by Maxi Jazz, were infused with social conscience and autobiographical notes, unlike the standard “put your hands up in the air, and wave them like you just don’t care” fare of many other mainstream dance acts.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising given the depth and range of skills of Maxi Jazz, and fellow band members Sister Bliss, Rollo and Jamie Catto.

Sister Bliss was and remains a multi-instrumentalist (she started learning piano at five and also plays violin, saxophone and bass), as well as being an accomplished DJ.

Beyond being a member of Faithless, Rollo is a music producer who’s worked with the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Simply Red and U2, as well as his sister Dido.

In addition to being a musician and vocalist, Jamie Catto has credits as a video director, photographer and public speaker.

So I conclude that much of the success of Faithless can be put down to the different backgrounds of the four founder members. Drawing on varied experiences and talents they were able to make music that was both distinctive and diverse. They were not afraid to cross musical styles, to collaborate with others and to tackle ‘serious’ issues in their lyrics.

Perhaps this can be summarised by their willingness to look outwards into the world not inwards into the music scene. Maxi Jazz was also a Buddhist, an amateur racing car driver and an associate director of Crystal Palace football club, for example.

Strength in diversity, a willingness to innovate and challenge conventional expectations, and an open-minded approach to the world. There are lessons for us all there.

RIP Maxi Jazz.