Saturday, December 08, 2007
In part, it's because of the style in which it was refurbished and hopes. Putting on an image that was decidedly "retro" and building on the phenomenon of Parky jazz, as epitomised by Jamie Cullum's success a few years back. This is now no longer as fashionable any more. And certainly it's proving impossible to get people to pay the prices required to make this venue viable for the sort of artists involved. There's an unholy alliance against the club of the jazz lovers, disappointed by the programme and the prices, and the accountants who probably think the programme too "jazzy".
It would be great if Ronnie's doesn't die in jazz terms. We have had too many London venues close recently - the Spitz and Pizza On The Park to name but two, while the Pizza Express programme is patchy. (Who wants THREE weeks of Acoustic Alchemy in December? However, watch out for a F-IRE festival and Dutch jazz festival in January!) Less jazz at Ronnies really dilutes the options to hear jazz in London in the short term at least. However, extending a point that Howard Mandel makes about the changing New York venue scene, rents mean that jazz may well be impossible to run in the centre of town and it's going to be more and more in places a little bit away, such as 606 or the Vortex, where consistent jazz will take place. Other West End venues will dabble in good quality jazz, such as the newly reopened Marquee which intends to have jazz on Sunday evenings. Though, sad to say, the Museum of Garden History, which has put on some great gigs over the past two years, has also finally closed its jazz programming
Jazz music, and its proponents, know how to survive, and find the wherewithall to do so. Just because Ronnie Scott's is failing, or that Jamie Cullum's last album sold a fraction of the previous, doesn't signify its failure. Look at the scene and energy in the colleges, and at the small venues. I am really excited by the programme at the Vortex over coming weeks (Andy Sheppard, John Taylor, David Torn, Dave Liebman in January) and the release schedule for Babel in early 2008 (Outhouse, Bourne Davis Kane, Paula Rae Gibson, Big Air), not forgetting the runaway success of Portico Quartet over recent weeks.
Of course, that doesn't necessarily bode well for certain bigger scale collaborations in the future, but that's something for another posting...
Thursday, November 22, 2007
I feel really proud to be associated with the sort of publicity that the Vortex has achieved this week, along with the opportunities given to the band.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has just published 1000 albums to hear before you die. There are 4 on Babel - Acoustic Ladyland's Last Chance Disco, Polar Bear's Held On The Tips Of Fingers, Billy Jenkins' Scratches of Spain and Christine Tobin's Your Draw The Line. I am amazed and flattered to have been associated with so many albums on such a list as it covers everything from Spice Girls to Beatles and Rokia Traore with all points between.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
But I have also found it saddening to talk to some musicians who are telling me that it is getting hard to get gigs or tours for some of their slightly larger line-ups. Certainly a decade ago there was a touring circuit of perhaps 7 or 8 venues which could take such gigs, and funding more easily available. Meanwhile the record company could assist in giving a bit of an extra fillip through some publicity and having the CDs available for sale at the gigs.
Now, it is harder. More competition for gigs from a range of incredible musicians (not so bad in itself) but the venues are not there to that degree any more. It's great to celebrate the Vortex, but Ronnie Scott's is moving towards less and less innovative jazz (an oxymoron?), The Spitz has closed and there are no guarantees of anything anywhere.
I actually think that part of the problem is that the record industry is no longer willing or able to provide the lubricant or incentive any more. Bands would play for free or cheaply with the chance of a recording ahead, or indeed the possibilility of some sort of record deal. No longer. The deals offered are, when they come, less generous and often indeed rely on earning from live gigs. The causal link is going in the opposite direction to previously.
I am concerned that this could easily mean that venues which already were offering little to musicians, such as the indie pub circuit, could dry up completely.
However, on the other hand, we have the chance to hope that there will be more and more return to a focus on quality rather than quantity, though it's difficult to identify that quality from the number of demos that are received. Venues will have to become cannier and more imaginative in getting their music out. For example, the London Jazz Festival has a strong media link with its support from BBC Radio 3, while at The Vortex is taking advantage of its name and close links with Babel (i.e. yours truly) to start its own label. The Portico Quartet effect on the club has been dramatic. It has meant that we could have a more than sold out venue yesterday for the band and the audience was then exposed to the driving free improv of the Gannets.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
For the CD it's what they get in addition to the small silver disc. For the download it's still what quality they get and how the tracks link together that remain a major problem. As well as how people pay for them.
On the way that they look. For the past 20 years, we have had CDs try to emulate in small size the look of vinyl. There was a wonderful period of around 30 years - when LPs first arrived to their replacement by CDs - when artists could have a field day, designing covers which were around 13 inches by 13 inches, in order to make an impact. The cool covers of Blue Note, the pop artists, and everyone could have a great time. Not all were successful. (Selwyn has a great time with his monthly art failures for Jazzwise.) But they were a great opportunity.
CDs were developed as a data transmission format with digitised sound. First, people thought that they could shrink the artwork. But we don't have magnifying glasses and put brochures in the jewel case (developed as a means of protecting the silver disc). Then we have had all sorts of other digipaks and so on.
Shops loved them, as they could put in more CDs per square metre. We record companies loved them, as they are much cheaper to ship than vinyl.
The public put up with them, but up to a point, because the moment that digital download began, they went for it. Even if the sound quality was rubbish, they were of course free, courtesy of Napster.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Of course, given the efforts that musicians make to produce top quality recordings and packaging, it's a bit of an approximation of the "real thing", as Billy Jenkins has described. "Music has become impotent". Nevertheless, it is essential at least to get such music out in this form.
There are a few intriguing benefits still. First, you can hear samples of all tracks lasting a minute, giving a better flavour of what's to come. Also, we can be really flexible about the timing of what tracks go up, for how long and getting up less widely available music. (A few albums such as those by Steve Arguelles and some of Billy's where I am short of physical stock are up there.) For example, the new Portico Quartet arrived yesterday afternoon and I have already put it on the site!
The full catalogue should be up within the two weeks. Already about half is there. The constraint is time. (It takes around 2 hours to get a complete album up.)
More thoughts about it as time goes on.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
I am quite chuffed that such a feature takes place. Since two common elements are that they all have released their "seminal" albums on Babel and reached the public view from those releases. And the Vortex has been a key venue which has helped nurture them and bring them to a wider public. I am proud to be associated with both and to have invested quite substantially in this music.
It's all a bit surprising sometimes that it all picks up like that. Especially as I spend hours sitting in my little office wondering how anyone is going to buy this stuff and how I can get my investment back. (Latest example. When I did actually go into the new Alternative Music Distribution shop on Archway Road, Tony McLoughlin spent 5 minutes telling me that he is consciously trying to keep jazz in there to a minimum as it won't sell.)
They mention how these bands have got public attention and certainly it is great that people like Paul Morley have been behind these bands. He was suggesting that it is time for a "punk jazz" group to win the Mercury Prize. Well, at least Polar Bear got nominated.However, none of the other bands have, even though I have entered their albums. This year, with Led Bib and Fraud entered, the judges went for Basquiat Strings, certainly not from this style, though Ben Davis is part of the Fire Collective. Meanwhile, in the year that Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland were nominated for best album in the BBC Awards, the prize went to Jim Tomlinson and Stacy Kent, while with James Allsopp nominated for a BBC award for Rising Star, the prize went to the overtly backward looking Simon Spillett.
So there is still a fear of this music in the mainstream of jazz and music.
Also, don't forget the importance of the foundation on which the bands have built. The "Partisans generation" - members of Partisans itself, Christine Tobin, Liam Noble et al. who have slogged away for years when jazz was in a wilderness in this country. They still don't get the recognition they deserve. Partisans on Friday at the Vortex was killing, with Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum sitting open mouthed in the audience. (I'll be putting up a track of theirs from the gig soon.)
By the way you can still listen back to the programme till next Friday on the BBC web site. Go to it here and follow the links on the Listen Again button.
A live session by Phil Robson will prove on Jazz Line Up next week will no doubt show to the wide public that hasn't yet heard him or bought his albums on Babel (hint, hint) that he is an important link....
Friday, September 28, 2007
First came Jacksons Lane Arts Centre. I remember seeing John Surman there around 1992 or so. Billy Jenkins also did a remarkable gig with a double big band from Middlesex University playing alternate notes.
The gigs died down there a bit. But then came Mark Wastell's Sound 323, where Babel releases are generally too mainstream. And now there's the Red Hedgehog for live music and the new Alternative Music Distribution shop. Since they follow on from the start of thejazz and a really successful Portico Quartet gig for Time Out yesterday, we could be on to something.
I'm going to check out the new shop tomorrow....
Monday, September 24, 2007
I heard him a few times, both at Company Weeks that he organised at the Place, and at small venues such as the Vortex.
He has a reputation that extends way beyond our shores, with John Zorn and others being big fans.
There will be a naming ceremony at some stage soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
Monday, September 17, 2007
An exciting collaboration, commissioned for Derby Jazz Week 2007, featuring all new music by guitarist
PHIL ROBSON written for string quartet and jazz trio.With influences ranging from Ornette
to Oumou Sangare this is a heady cocktail with groove at the heart.
The band repeats their success ahead of going into the studio,Phil Robson (guitar), Peter Herbert (double bass), Kate Shortt (cello), Naomi Fairhurst (viola), Jenny May-Logan and Emma Smith (violins) and Gene Calderazzo(drums).
and a forthcoming performance at the London Jazz Festival. It includes
Austrian jazz musician of the year Peter Herbert, Jenny May-Logan and Emma Smith of
Mercury-nominatedBasquiat Strings and Partisans comrade Gene Calderazzo.
‘This inspired crossover is a real achievement and should go down among theyear's jazz landmarks' (John Fordham – The Guardian).
'An auspicious evening. ****' (Jack Massarik - Evening Standard)
Vortex, Gillett Square, London N16
Doors 8 p.m. Performance 9 p.m.
020 7254 4097
Book online at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/21140
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Monday, August 27, 2007
There's a nice interview with him on Allaboutjazz.com with a positive enthusiasm for this music.
"I still hear exciting new music in what I would continue call the idiom of jazz every day. It's become fashionable to describe jazz as being `over', that other musics are fresher and more exciting, that hip hop is the new jazz, Wynton Marsalis has killed everything, blah, blah, blah....these are judgments from people who don't do their homework, I'm afraid."
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I would certainly agree with some of Tom's criticisms about the way in which the music is presented. I think something more akin to the BBC World Music Awards would be appropriate: announce the winners in advance and then have a celebration concert. I don't quite know what the ceremony is supposed to achieve. If it's to get TV interest, then that's certainly failed. If it's to be humorous then it's palpably embarrassing. I don't think that most people would feel proud to be celebrated by being handed a lump of plastic and £90 performance fee for the recording. Certainly inadequate.
Funnily enough the list of winners and nominees is a lot better than it was last year, when Stacey Kent/Jim Tomlinson beat Polar Bear,Acoustic Ladyland and Partisans for best album and Jools Holland was Radio 2 Artist. I have a few small criticisms, especially about some of the signals that the awards give to the scene. Fine singer though Ian Shaw is (and a great mate, as I attend most of his Vortex gigs), I don't understand why the vocalist award nominees just included three past winners. Is that because there's no-one better and that the imaginative new singers like Christine Tobin don't have a chance. There are those out there like Barb Jungr and Julia Biel who are really trying to make an impression.
Simon Spillett might be justified in being nominated but again there is a negative signal from his victory. Backward looking imitation is to be rewarded in preference to those taking the past by the scruff of the neck and trying to take music forwards (such as is the case with Tom and James Allsopp).
Generally, the question that I ask myself is whether the winners are overall good for British jazz. I have my biases of course, but it comes out quite well from that regard.
There are gaps that must be filled over the next few years. No awards till now for Evan Parker or Kenny Wheeler particularly stand out as an aberration. Then there are important younger artists such as Django Bates. Almost totally forgotten about here (though not in Copenhagen where he has now moved to).
A good quality award structure has relevance. But not if the event is as downmarket as it is, and not if the glaring gaps never get filled.
British jazz is on a roll at present. Congratulations to Empirical on their prize at the North Sea Jazz Festival. (It was so important to them, that Nathaniel Facey performed like a dream for Billy Jenkins at Margate with just one hour's sleep.) Basquiat Strings will do our music proud at the Mercury Prize show. It's just that the BBC Jazz Awards are getting out of step with where the energy is and how the music is moving forwards. A few tweaks might be able to solve it. Heaven forbid that my ideas should rule - though I'd be happy to tell them if they wanted.
By the way, congratulations to Finn and Julian Siegel in particular. Great to have had a small help in getting you to your awards.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Many say that the live music side is that which is going to continue. Certainly, when I look at things as they are at the Vortex, I feel equally positive. But the venues too are not having it that easy. Two venues are about to close: Pizza On The Park (which failed to reinvent itself as a jazz/world music venue) and the Spitz. Meanwhile, bureaucracy isn't helping the rest. (The police are currently insisting that the Vortex might need 2 bouncers on the door if open late, because it's too dangerous in Dalston. An extra £60 a night.) Ronnie Scott's is being forced to putting on more "commercial" gigs in order to survive.
Squaring the circle doesn't seem that straightforward to me. It's all about getting the right balance between time taken to make a return and the costs. With patience it can be done. But someone somewhere, be it the landlord pushing up rents or a promoter with excessive short-term horizons, can destroy all the good work.
Monday, June 25, 2007
I have heard other singers with such imagination around. I'm doing a new album by Lleuwen Steffan, and recently I have been in contact with Paula Rae Gibson. A bit of a renaissance woman, as she's a photographer and poet as well. She bravely uses her experiences in her writing, while she is proud of the strong influence of Keith Jarrett on her music. Her next gig is on Thursday at Momo's, off Regent Street.
Lleuwen is equally strong on using herself as the basis of her writing. "Cocaine kills, but so does love" - what a lyric! She'll be at the Vortex on 17 July. I hope that the album will be out in early Autumn.
I really can't understand why the music world seems to feel that standards and jazz singers as accessories are what counts. The musicians are thought incapable of having original thought?
Christine, Lleuwen and Paula prove this wrong.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Julian Siegel - stalwart of Partisans
Liam Noble - on albums by Christine Tobin and Let's Call This with Ingrid Laubrock
Tom Arthurs - Centripede, Squash Recipe, Mesmer
James Allsopp - Fraud
Tom Cawley plays with Acoustic Ladyland
Finn Peters - Su-Ling
As they say on the Fast Show: NICE!
Friday, June 01, 2007
I've got a few, but what about the shops such as Mole, Dobell's, Ray's and venues like the Little Theatre, location of WAC where many musicians learnt at the feet of Ian Carr?
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
As long as that's true I wholeheartedly agree with him. If comedy is there to hide technical inadequacy or to fill creative gaps, then it grates. But certainly, in being privileged to release albums by Billy Jenkins, he shows that technical genius can be combined with an ability to make us think about ourselves. However, the jazz world is too full of lovers of the music who feel that jazz's role is too serious and comedy hijacks it. I believe that, for too many years, the jazz world just couldn't get to grips with Billy. Maybe in fact it was too frightened.
Comedy can be used to great effect to get over very complex ideas. Not just Billy, but also performers such as Han Bennink, and, over here, Tom Bancroft's Kidsamonium bringing jazz to the new generation. Or even the Fast Show, which to me was one of the best advertisements that jazz had in the last decade - jazz is such a strong music form that it can surely laugh at itself too from time to time. I know several people curious to listen to the "real thing" as a result of watching the show. Here for example is their take on new British jazz.
While here's a track of Billy from Songs Of Praise. (Album out in September.)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
So, can most doormen really sort out problems? Fortunately, it made me realise that I could just about deal with a place like the Vortex, but anywhere else would be disastrous.
It's probably because there's a shortage of bouncers and doormen. But certainly just to think that anyone is sufficiently qualified by spending 4 days and £150 is certainly rubbish.
By the way, I also have passed the BIIAB exam and am a personal licensee for the venue. So, I'm becoming really well qualified at last. (Forget degrees from Oxford University and LSE!)
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
You can read the full list by clicking here.
Yesterday I learnt that to come over with a visa is 310 euros - even if you have already been living in Europe for 15 years. This was the case for Cynthia Liao, violist with the Radio String Quartet, which played the Vortex yesterday. She's from Taipei and has lived in Vienna for 15 years. This means no problem for her travelling round those EU countries covered by the Schengen agreement. But not only did she have to pay 310 euros to come here (which is around 15 euros an hour for the time she spent here), she had to spend hours trying to fill in the online application and have an interview at the Embassy. Thanks to the help of Siggi Loch and her record label ACT, we could absorb it. But it is absolutely crazy. Until last month it was just £85.
Allied to this, I found out that basses can only be taken on planes if they weigh less than 32 kg. So, now it's more and more essential for venues to have access to local good quality instruments. But it also can affect the quality of recordings if musicians have to use instruments to which they aren't accustomed, or aren't of the quality. For about 5 years, we had a wonderful time when it was easy to fly around Europe as a musician. No longer.
Meanwhile, small operations like the Vortex or Babel just get their options more and more limited.
By the way, check out the Radio String Quartet if you have a chance. Their take on Mahavishnu Orchestra is amazing, all the more so if you think that none of them were born at the time the original music came out.
Friday, May 11, 2007
However, they get shown up by some of the strange nominations and choices. These devalue the actual awards themselves. For example, Jamie Cullum was shortlisted for a prize as top European jazz musician. As an entertainer and someone who uses a jazz trio as backing, I would have no problem. But his artistic creativity is surely at issue. (The winner was Bobo Stenson.) Similarly, the Ronnie Scott's Awards were to a great degree a travesty in terms of some of the "international" categories. Scott Hamilton as best saxophonist? Jane Monheit as best vocalist? Kyle Eastwood as best bassist? Certainly there are better than a Zoot Sims soundalike and a man with a famous film star father. The UK awards were actually much better. I think that choosing the likes of Courtney Pine, Dennis Rollins as trombonist, and Fraud as UK newcomer present very little problem. But those international choices really devalued their overall value.
Anyway, those choices also highlight the difficulties about Ronnie Scott's today. It's difficult to be too critical because the refurbishment is great and the history of the club is second to none. That is, until two years ago. They are trading on their history and the club has lost so much of its support for jazz musicians and jazz lovers. They are being trampled under foot for the sake of tourists and excessive commercial criteria.
Two entries on the Guardian blog cover this, by Richard Williams and John Fordham.
Monday, May 07, 2007
Friday, May 04, 2007
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Reviewers are just privileged punters with just the chance to have their own views in the printed media. That makes them as fallible as the rest of us. For example, Phil Johnson is really just taking it out on punk jazz, and the likes of Soft Machine, rather than on Led Bib per se.
"As with most things, you can blame post-modernism. But what irks about the punk-jazz trend, apart from music college grads squawking like they're down and dirty Bowery boys, is hearing something that wasn't that great in the first place, done so much worse. Drummer/ composer Mark Holub's quintet Led Bib have an unusual two-alto front- line, add Soft Machine-prog to the normal Ornettelite, and there are even electric bass solos. But Soft Machine had Elton Dean, who was a master. Having sat cross-legged through the original without having much fun, I'm unwilling to concede that this has much reason to exist at all."
Jack Massarik on Finn Peters.
"The best jazz, we know, is supposed to be the sound of surprise. Yet even so it was a bit much last night to catch what was billed as a promotional gig for Finn Peters's new album, Su-Ling, only to find the altoist using another line-up and playing different music altogether. Gone were bassist Tom Herbert and guitarist David Okumu, replaced by tuba specialist Oren Marshall and trombonist Trevor Mires.
And without warning, his album's glossy multi-cultural sophistication was substituted by a raucous old-fashioned free-improv free-for-all. Blame the full moon. Peters, a Jekyll and Hyde saxman if ever there was one, had somehow transmuted from versatile but glib neo-bop sessionman to discordant, self-indulgent iconoclast, mangling Sixties themes by the liberated likes of pianist Mischa Mengelberg and altoist Carlos Ward.
Presented as lofty original compositions were negligible whole-tone phrases of the kind wittily used in passing by true improvising masters like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. Apart from Peters's broad flute tone on Ballad Boy, the only truly enjoyable moment came when Marshall produced an extraordinary series of deep burping and bubbling noises which suggested that his giant bass-tuba had suddenly turned nasty and was about to eat him alive."
P.S. The second set was fully devoted to the music from the album. So no guesses as to who didn't hang around for it. And what's so wrong with Mischa Mengelberg anyway?
Saturday, April 28, 2007
It's vitally important that young bands get chances to cross borders and develop careers around Europe. Some governments realise this, such as the Goethe Institut. The British Council no longer knows how, concentrating on the political agenda further afield. Promoters such as Gerry do this by organising festivals, and also manage to bring in outsiders - such as me - to hear. The Vortex, by contrast, has to work out ways of integrating it into the annual programme. Such bands are coming in, often at the behest of musicians themselves, as was the case at the recent F-Ire festival, where musicians such as Stephane Payen came and played the club. It's difficult to get the curiosity levels of the public up. Persistence is one way that we'll do it, I hope.
ONE LAST REQUEST FOR YOU TO VOTE FOR FRAUD AND FINN FOR THE BBC JAZZ AWARDS. Link through from here.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Thursday was a showcase at Steinway Hall for Richard Fairhurst and Tom Arthurs. What a sense of history when you walk around the million pounds worth of pianos there. A hall of fame including Berlioz, Stravinsky, Duke Ellington, Schnabel - and Richard Fairhurst. Totally acoustic, and incredible empathy (A word which I learnt when doing my bouncer's course.)
Meanwhile yesterday, Partisans truly confirmed why it's great when a band continues for years (in their case celebrating 10 years). It's become a sort of jazz "super group" with Phil Robson and Julian Siegel themselves proving themselves in all sorts of musical configurations. Chris Batchelor slotted in and really created a fantastic gig. The start, with Max, was gobsmacking. No wonder I couldn't get them out of the Vortex till 2 a.m. Why this band didn't get nominated for a BBC Jazz Award, I'll really never know. Of course, I'm happy for the others, such as Finn. Go for it, guys!
I hope that they find some sort of person who can act as a mentor and passionate saviour. We had this at the Vortex, with people like Tim Ward, Derek Drescher and myself, while the Hackney Empire was lucky enough to get hold of Griff Rhys-Jones. The problem faced by the Vortex was also made a bit easier that the size of venue that we were looking for was just for 100 people. The Spitz is that bit larger. Knowing the attitude of some commercial property developers making grabs at the area close to the City and in "fashionable" East London, I am really worried that the Spitz itself is lost unless there is a dramatic change somewhere.
However, with old factories and so on coming free, maybe there's an alternative even if it takes some time for it to develop. Of course, this leads to the other problem of local authorities and licensing. I know full well how problematic these guys can be in Hackney, where they don't have a jobsworth, but a Papworth.
If you've got a few million to spare, give it to the Spitz now. If you've got a building to spare, call the Spitz immediately.
Good luck Spitz! Good luck Rupert
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Monday, April 16, 2007
Babel has had reasonable success in the BBC Awards over the years. Two years ago Huw Warren and Acoustic Ladyland won, but last year with three nominations for album of the year (Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and Partisans) Jim Tomlinson and Stacey Kent won. So, I can't place too much hope on the winning itself. As long as the awards are won by reasonable people, then I have no complaint. We have yet to hear some of the other nominations. It would be good if there were a few more Babel artists there too.
I feel that, while the focus is rightly on the musician, the fact that they are brought to the attention of the public and judges is part of a partnership of the musician with record label and agent (with stress on the word "partnership"). The partnership is never perfect, unfortunately, but I try my best! I have a little sticker that I was given by Ivor Cutler in the bottom corner of my computer screen. It says it all. "Imperfection is an end. Perfection is only an aim."
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Friday, April 06, 2007
Meanwhile, a large focus of getting money (and that includes the Vortex) is Grants for the Arts. These have just been reduced dramatically by 35 % according to the Guardian. Surreptitiously done and all the money goes to the Olympics. These have been vital for many years to support tours and other one-off projects. For example we have applied for £30000 for a new piano and p.a. from that scheme. It's also clear that the touring circuit for jazz has virtually disappeared over the past few years. I think that we can now get rid of the word "virtually" for the future.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
It's something that existed here with bands like Soft Machine. Partisans is a link to the new generation. Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland helped matters further, while now Babel has releases about to appear by Led Bib (with Mark Holub as leader) and Fraud (music and leadership by James Allsop and Tim Giles), both fearlessly and proudly to be bands. (Last night I heard Curios, which for some could be regarded as Tom Cawley's piano trio, but it has more than that with the interplay between Tom, Sam Burgess and Josh Blackmore as crucial in the interpretation of Tom's music.) Gwilym Simcock had a similar unanimity of purpose when he performed with Phil Donkin and Martin France at the Vortex a couple of weeks ago. It was billed as Gwilym Simcock, but in my view that underestimated what went on. I hope that he gives this line-up a name, which can then contrast with a Gwilym Simcock trio gig, which would consist of leader + X on bass + Y on drums. When band members are hand picked to give a particular edge to performance and the group develops and develops, then it's a good sign for the group to become a band with a specific name.
Another stimulus to this blog has been that I noticed on the Cheltenham Jazz Festival programme that they bill Fulborn Teversham as "Sebastian Rochford's Fulborn Teversham". WRONG. Pete Wareham and Nick Ramm have been vital members all along.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Chess grandmaster Daniel King is giving his support to the Here Is The Blues! - Vortex Chess Sessions!
Mr King has been a professional chess player for over 20 years. In addition, he is a games consultant, television presenter, freelance journalist, and an award winning author of 14 books. He also has a reputation as a rather fine double bass player.
"Chess, jazz and blues have a lot in common", says King, "as both involve daring spontaneous manoeuvres over pre-determined complex and myriad theorems and structures."
Daniel will be in attendance on the opening afternoon (1st April) to informally wish the series well and listen to the gentle twang of 'Here Is The Blues!' - but if you ask him nicely he might advise on a hot move or two!
Then, on the final afternoon (29th April) he'll take on ten players simultaneously at 2pm before the music gets underway!Find out more about Daniel at www.danielking.biz
Monday, March 05, 2007
What makes it all the more amusing is the reasoning given, such as about Babel. While, ultimately, they got the ownership right - i.e. me - they argue that there must be a secret backer, as Babel does something that jazz labels don't do, which is market its product and artists!
I hope that this thread runs and runs and gets more and more ridiculous, because it's great fun. I am flattered. (Next point to bear in mind. Jazzwise is clearly also part of the conspiracy, as there will be a Babel compilation on the cover next month. While the Vortex shouldn't be left out either. And Chris Parker, who writes the reviews in the Vortex, is clearly at the centre of the web of intrigue. The first man, not even the fourth.)
It's excellent how the internet can shoot off about things, and get stories moving. However (and there often is a "however") rumour can disinformation can become fact. The people doing this messageboard, such as King Kennytone, are clearly passionate, but make 2+2 equal any number between 3 and 5.
When this happens, who knows? It was probably much slower in the world of print, word of mouth and so on. Now, the internet speeds the story round the world in hours or minutes.
Blogs are becoming an important means of communication, but of course have little check that a professional journalist is supposed to have.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The difficulty for those trying to measure the value of jazz is that the sector is similar to social capital - as much to do with the informal, unregulated and based on custom and trust as with the codified and organised systems which organisations such as the Arts Council try to work through. It's what creates much of the excitement for people and the sense of surprise. For example, I am always pleased when people come from places such as Islington to the Vortex. Very few would think that there is a jazz venue North of Ball's Pond Road: they would tend to look to Camden or the West End rather than the "mean streets of Hackney".
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Both Gwilym and James Allsopp (one of Fraud's leaders) were direct contemporaries at the Royal Academy of Music. Indeed, I think that they even shared a house for a year.
Led Bib is playing at Bar Rumba on 8 March. It's FREE and starts at 6 p.m. (Also, drinks are two for one at that time, an added reason to be there.)
Thursday, February 22, 2007
All hail, Jon and Stephen at Jazzwise.
1 Finn Peters – Gato (from Su-Ling) BDV 2664
2 Christine Tobin – House of Women (from House of Women) BDV 9820
3 Led Bib – The Keeper (from Sizewell Tea) BDV 2665
4 Ingrid Laubrock/Liam Noble – Subconscious Lee (from Let’s Call This…) BDV 2661
5 Billy Jenkins – If I Were a Lollipop Man (from When the Crowds Have Gone) BDV 2450
6 Fraud – Voodoo Teeth (from Fraud
7 Acoustic Ladyland – Nico (from Last Chance Disco) BDV 2555
8 Huw Warren/ Peter Herbert – Interlude/Whistling Rufus (from Everything we Love and More) BDV 2561
9 Steve Argüelles – ‘Lady Be Good’ with ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (from Blue Moon in a Function Room) BDV 9402
10 Billy Jenkins - Old Men in Flares (from Still Sounds Like Bromley) BDV 9717
11 Lleuwen Steffan/Huw Warren/Mark Lockheart - Ebeneser (from God Only Knows/Duw a Wyr) BDV 2558
12 Dudley Phillips - General Custer (from Life without Trousers) BDV 2453
13 Polar Bear – King of Aberdeen (from Held on the Tips of Fingers) BDV 2552
14 Julie Sassoon – Safe Passage (from New Life) BDV 2662
15Disorder on the Border – Monsieur Concorde (from Vol 1) BDV 2338
16 Madalena - Enid Querida (from Murmur) BDV 2027
17 Tom Arthurs & Richard Fairhurst – Mesmer (from Mesmer)
18 Phil Robson – Jealous Guy (from Screenwash) BDV 2445
Just read that Finn Peters' album Su-Ling has been nominated for the All Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group Awards. Great to have the chance to win the award with the longest name in history.
The album also came in top 5 in Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards and was number 6 in the Jazzwise year end album of the year list.
Small labels run by musicians
Great young jazz musicians
Jazz courses at conservatoires
Chances for young people at schools to learn about jazz (e.g. Associated Board exams)
Chances to buy music online, both through download and through mail order (e.g. Amazon, Jazzcds.co.uk)
Diversity of jazz audience
Fewer or no greater:
National tours for large groups, due to fewer grants from Arts Council and Contemporary Music Network.
Jazz support by major record labels for UK artists.
Good gigs at Ronnie Scott's
Support from Arts Council
International touring opportunities supported by British Council
Jazz coverage in national press
A lot of these are due to my own observations, e.g. washing up at the Vortex, making tea at Babel.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Billy Jenkins asked me to mention this to you:
"And to get his new base off the ground, Mike (who also is a qualified acupuncturist) will be offering special deals for the next few weeks. Just tell him Billy sent you!"
Contact Mike on 07966 505872 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am writing to you as a major shareholder in Starbucks.
You may be aware of the current situation of the old Vortex building in Stoke Newington Church Street and the possibility that it could become the first outpost of the Starbucks chain in this part of North London, despite denials to the contrary. If you allow this to happen then Starbucks is an accomplice with Mr Richard Midda, the building's owner, in the demise of what was an important location for jazz in London during the 1990s. Mr Midda, from the time that he bought the building, did many things to squeeze the club out. Moving into the building and operating as just another branch of the chain gives a financial vindication and would be a blinkered move. You also prove that your commitment to jazz is illusory.
I therefore request that (a) either Starbucks definitively confirms that it will NEVER open a branch there in deference to the building's history or (b) that it will only do so on condition that the jazz club is revived. Starbucks already sponsors a number of jazz festivals in the UK. It is ironic if it also helps puts nails in the coffin of an iconic building for music.
The move of the Vortex to Dalston was forced on it by the intransigent position of Mr Midda. That it is thriving there has been at a great expense of time and money of the many involved. To have been able to stay in Stoke Newington Church Street would have been desirable.
Director, New Vortex Jazz Club Limited
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Of course, there are all sorts of things that one can query over the figures, and I'll concentrate on one or two others soon, such as about the recorded sector. But one that really caught my eye for now was about the number of small gigs. There are at least 45,000 gigs a year in the UK, of which 67% were for audiences of under 100. These are the bedrock of the jazz world. In particular, the jazz clubs are important because they provide continuous opportunities for musicians: at the Vortex, there was a period at the end of January into early February where 20 bands played over a 10 day period, ranging from two nights of Uri Caine and Sarah Jane Morris through to teenage Milesisms of Expressed. And yet, the funding mechanism concentrates on the large festivals and arts centres. 74% of jazz clubs received no funding, and, using a bit of creative work, I reckon that the average subsidy per jazz club is £800 a year! (The Vortex itself has received zero direct funding over the last year, though of course some bands have been by the likes of Jazz Services while the club has also piggy-backed on publicity for the London Jazz Festival.)
So, a club like the Vortex only keeps going by working as a team with the musicians (i.e. door splits) and the audience (volunteers are worth well over £35,000 a year while we have received around £5,000 as donations via the Vortex Jazz Foundation). This doesn't take into account the man hours of directors themselves - recently Derek Drescher, David Mossman and Derek's friend Mike (average age 66) spent nearly two days building a stage.
All the focus goes on the likes of the jazz festivals and those things which make a "splash". Now, suppose you live in Bath. You have a lovely time at the Bath Festival, hearing great music. But if you live there, do you really get enough of an annual fix over the jazz weekend? What happens over the remaining 362 days of the year if you want to hear live jazz?
I look forward to hearing Jazz Services take this subject further. I understand that all they are currently planning to do is to update the figures.....
Thursday, February 01, 2007
The Old Vortex on Stoke Newington Church Street is currently a community centre. More details if you go to their web site. It would be great to feel that this is giving a new beginning to a building which has meaning to a lot of us. David Mossman's legacy becomes not just the new Vortex building in Dalston but also the continued life of the old one. Unfortunately, Richard Midda the owner is a canny operator, and the chance of him taking the money and putting in Starbuck's is high. He will probably say that he is doing the area a favour by giving them Starbuck's (or Tesco). The residents will vote with their feet and it will probably do well acting as a meeting for baby buggies and mothers after their walk in the park. However, the transformation of Church Street as a small equivalent of the Left Bank to a mere facade will be complete. It will have gone the way of Hampstead, Islington and Highgate over the past decade. In fact, there will probably be a few jobs going for musicians to act the lifestyle of musicians in a living museum. But even if there is a touch of inevitability about this, we can still try and delay the onslaught as long as possible.
It's great that, for now at least, we have been able to avoid selling out like this at The Vortex in Dalston. Il Bacio is a chain of sorts, as this is its fourth branch. But it remains a local operation as the other branches are in Church Street and Finsbury Park and the owner Luigi is regularly in the kitchen. It is adding to diversity of the area, by being the first pizzeria to open in the centre of Dalston. It would have all too tempting to put in something like Starbucks (who sponsor jazz festivals in Manchester and Edinburgh) or Giraffe (which has a strong link to the Putumayo world music label in outlook). They'd have paid a good rent and put on the semblance of support for what the Vortex is trying to achieve. We'll leave the chains to South Dalston Lane and the Kingsland Shopping Centre.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
But. It means that it's possible to consult and discuss before things happen. A stage was built last weekend. The carpenters (Derek Drescher, David Mossman and Mike) had an average age of 65. However, the height and way it was packed with Rockwool was the culmination of 18 months of debate. Pressure to put it in now was due to the opening of Il Bacio downstairs. Food available every evening at last. We need to avoid too much noise affecting their business of selling pizzas. The archetype we thought of was what happens when Gene Calderazzo gives his all at a Partisans gig. (Gene is our role model of a drummer in many ways. The set-up of the club's kit is also thanks to his advice.)
And it's working well. A few musicians had felt that no stage created intimacy, though audiences were beginning to comment, especially at some of the full gigs. I myself have sympathy with the "no stage" approach, though it's clear that a stage works better, and that the height (just 12 inches) is the upper limit before any of that connection with the audience is lost.
Now, the next stage is improving the sound system and sorting out the piano. The p.a. is also better than it was earlier in the year, thanks to the help of Jeremy Farnell in cleaning up the wires and Harvey Brough for lending his mixing desk. But comments are always welcome as to how the final configuration should be. Sarah-Jane Morris had been saying that, while the quality was fine, it needed more monitors and more d.i. boxes. She was surprised that the club didn't have them yet. The reply was "Thanks. We're grateful for your reactions, and they will be taken into account when the next stage of improvement takes place."
One feeling that remains vital is that the Vortex is everyone's front room. Unprompted, both Sarah-Jane and Nikki Yeoh both actually described the Vortex like that. We must hope that this isn't lost. That loyalty and empathy between audience and the musicians created by the club must not be lost and it's an important part of David Mossman's legacy.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Obviously not as high profile as the other recent deaths (Michael Brecker and Alice Coltrane), I only met Bruce the one time when he toured with Tom Arthurs and Joe Sorbara last Spring. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of his playing. Also that his parents were so supportive of him. The guys were walking along Charing Cross Road outside Foyle's when they saw people who looked familiar. Indeed they were, as Bruce's parents were paying him a surprise visit. I feel proud that Babel helped bring out their one release together. A promising musician who was only beginning to make his mark. I wish his family and friends long life.
By the way, there is a lovely tribute to Michael Brecker on the Bad Plus blog by Mark Turner.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Also an exhausting peripheral programme, including a morning bowling session, where I teamed up with Yann, a promoter from Perpignan, to help the entente cordiale. We even won one match, against teams from Holland, Scotland and Norway. I'll post our prize presentation soon. We didn't get to keep the main prize, a James Last LP called Voodoo Party with a bizarre cover and sleeve note.
But even festivals like this which are relatively cheap for the city to put on, and have a long history are now under pressure. What was good fortune that they were well supported by the Muenster has now become a great risk. If the city decides to pull the plug then that means the end of the festival. And that certainly is a possibility. Unfortunately, these decisions are more political than practical. That was also the problem for Caber in Scotland. Tom Bancroft was there who ran the label, and probably did more for improving awareness of the scene over its five years than any amount of official jazz networks could have done. Unfortunately, he was reliant on Scottish Arts Council funding, especially once his distributor went bust. Now the bureaucrats are back to using formalistic organisations that go so slowly, so slowly.