Maxi Jazz, a founding member of the British band Faithless, has died at the age of 65. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, they became one of the biggest names in electronic dance music, creating world-famous rave compositions such as Insomnia, God Is a DJ, and We Come 1.
The singer and lyricist of the group, Jazz was a sparkling, almost magical stage presence, capable of holding huge crowds in the palm of his hand with just the look of his eye or by instantly leaping a finger in the air.
As Fellow Faithless founder Sister Bliss admits, it “gave a proper meaning and message” to the trance-like music she performed in her prime years between 1995 and 2011. Unlike some vocal performances associated with dance culture, Jazz’s lyrics frequently displayed a mind-stimulating social awareness as well as body.
Maxwell Fraser was born in Brixton, South London, and was raised by his Jamaican parents in nearby West Norwood, where he has lived for most of his life. He took his stage name as a DJ in London clubs in his twenties, and also worked on pirate radio stations such as LWR.
In 1984 he founded Soul Food Cafe, a Brixton-based hip-hop group extracting sounds from his extensive vinyl collection on which promising young London rappers would be commissioned to provide vocals. “I’d give them a cassette of beats and say ‘Go write some lyrics…'” he recalls.[But] After three months, she has not seen this child, and either his girlfriend is pregnant or he will have to go to court, or some harassment is going on, and he has not written the lyrics. So it was like: ‘If I don’t start writing some words [myself] Here, I’m never going anywhere, which is why I started writing the lyrics.”
With Jazz Now Introduced, Soul Food Café has released three EPs on his own Namu Records label, touring with big acts like Jamiroquai and Soul II Soul. But their success was limited and they disbanded in the mid-1990s, paving the way for Jazz, by his late 30s, to form Faithless with fellow Londoners Sister Bliss (Ayalah Bentovim), Rollo (Rowland Armstrong) and Jamie Catto (who stayed with the group until 1999). ) – all almost 10 years younger than him.
With Bliss providing melodies and Rollo mixing and producing, Jazz creates lyrics that sometimes reach poetic heights. “I usually start writing at night,” he said, “and most of the words that come up at first are going to be rubbish — things you wouldn’t show your mother.” “But then it will stop coming out of your head and start coming out of your heart, and that’s when it gets really good.”
Faithless’ debut album, Reverence, released in 1996, included the singles Salva Mea (with guest vocals from Dido, Rollo’s sister) as well as Insomnia. Both received relentless play on the Ibiza rave scene and have since sold over a million copies each in the UK, immediately putting the band at the forefront of electronic dance music. Insomniac reached number three on the singles chart and became popular almost everywhere in mainland Europe, topping the charts in Finland, Norway and Switzerland.
Touring for over a year after this, Faithless returned to make their second album, Sunday 8pm (1998), which contained God Is a DJ, celebrating the quasi-religious healing power of the dance floor. Now a major force in club culture around the world – as well as on the wider music scene – they followed up in 2001 with their third album, Outrospective, featuring the UK No. 3 hit We Come 1, with the opening lines of jazz: “All the sweet flavors in My life has become/Bitter seeds and poisoned leaves without you.” Their relentless live commitments included a performance at Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage in 2002, followed by sprawling world tours following the release of their fourth album, No Roots (2004), and then a greatest hits compilation in 2005, both of which reached No. 1. in Britain.
Jazz enjoyed the live experience – “I find studios challenging but performing easy”, he said. But by 2006 he was nearing exhaustion, and with Bliss and Rollo having recently had children, the group decided to hit the pause button after their fifth studio album, To All New Arrivals (2006).
After a four-year hiatus, Faithless’ next album, The Dance, peaked at No. 2 in the UK in 2010, topped by the Rolling Stones. There was another major appearance at Glastonbury that year, along with stadium gigs across Europe, before Jazz played a final show at Brixton Academy in 2011 which was broadcast live to cinemas across Europe. Bliss and Rollo continued as Faithless 2.0, and though Jazz returned briefly for live shows in 2015 and 2016, they’ve remained a two-person outfit (with guests) ever since.
After Faithless, Jazz created his more traditional band, the E-Type Boys, playing a mixture of blues, funk, soul, jazz and reggae that showcased his subtle yet subtle virtuosity on guitar. They have toured extensively, including with UB40.
Unpretentious, unfailingly polite and an entertainingly enthusiastic speaker, Jazz had a peaceful and friendly nature guided by a long-standing interest in Buddhism, which made him a beloved figure in the music business and beyond.
Having been interested in cars since childhood, in the late 1990s he obtained a license allowing him to use his newfound wealth to compete in various touring car events. “Most of the races I’ve done have been against professional drivers so you didn’t have a chance – but it was very satisfying,” he said. “I finished 14th and was hitting the air.” A fan of Crystal Palace football club, in 2012 he was appointed assistant manager at Selhurst Park, where he was a friendly and outgoing presence in the boardroom on match days.
In later years he often spent part of the British winters in Jamaica, where he had a small studio in his mother’s former home.
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