The young star is often a tricky title to navigate. There are the big names, who explode into the world with noise, bright light, a big record deal, but rare longevity. Then there are the others: the growers, the slow burners, those who spend time honing their craft – hungry, but patient.
Oscar Jerome, gracing the top floor of The Hope and Ruin on this September evening, could be considered one of the latter. Championed by Gilles Peterson, graduating from Trinity College London in Jazz, and spending much of his early days playing alongside more recognised stars of the new London Jazz movement like Moses Boyd, it’s not surprising that Jerome’s rise is accelerating. But it isn’t easy.
“As a solo artist, you have to put so much pressure on yourself to be like a…you’re just presenting yourself all the time to people” he tells me before the gig. We talk in a store cupboard/dressing room, as his band can barely move in and out around us. Jerome seems comfortable despite the close proximity, and is at ease with me from the start. “You can analyse yourself a lot, and in a negative way. When things are going good it’s quite hard to see because you’re always thinking about what you want to be doing next rather than stepping back and thinking, this is actually going good.”
When he is on stage, he is clearly relaxed. The night feels more like a session than a gig, and he is eager to chat and mess around during and in-between songs. Opening song, “2 Sides” from his debut EP, is lax and hazy, suggesting his intention is almost to woo, and it works, lead by a skulking bass line and Jerome’s guitar stabs floating around it. Despite his upbringing, it is more D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” than it is Jazz. Later track “Chromatic Descendants” is slick and strong in its dissonant opening chords and its rich low-end textures – this time, it is very ‘jazzy’. As well as being a clearly skilled and a well-trained guitarist, the delivery of his vocals is particularly impressive. Lines are deployed sparingly in a soulful and almost sultry manner, even if it can feel a little hackneyed by the end of the night.
“Financially it was a bit of a burden,” Jerome tells me about starting out. “I had to move into this little room at my friend’s house, this little Harry Potter cupboard, and just work it up from there. It felt like a bit of a dive into the unknown. You’re expected to invest so much in it. But I’ve been fortunate – it’s been difficult but it’s worked out.”
“A Smile on A Screen”, a highlight of the evening, proves that it is working out, as he lives and breathes in every second of the intro before bursting into its joyously indulgent riff. The drums are the best they’ve been all night. Newest track, “Do You Really” is also excellent – it lacks the directionless habits of other songs, driving with intent and real style throughout and culminates in a finishing jam that is, quite frankly, effortlessly cool.
Some songs take a little too long to build, like “Subdued”, that waits too long to spiral into motion, killing the energy of the band and the room somewhat. It is never fully saved, but Jerome himself still impresses.
Just before he goes on stage, he tells me about recently visiting Colombia, and finding himself in off-time standing in the sea, soaking up the sun, and drinking a beer with his friends, and bandmates, in jazz group Kokoroko. “I’m always searching for this thing. When are we going to get to that point where everything’s good and its easy. At this point, I feel like I’m there now. Although I’m still driving my little Ford Fusion to Brighton, but its positive.” You would not think he is anywhere near the level to feel like he has made it, but he does, and it is commendable at the least.
Both on stage and in person, Jerome strikes me as someone who is conscious with the way he is expected to be, but also somewhat at ease with life and its offerings. Ambitious, anxious but appreciative, he feels evocative of being young at this time.
Before his final song, “Give Back What You Stole from Me”, he stops to thank the audience, before telling us: “It’s been a long road, but it’s starting to feel good. Wait let me drink some beer…”