Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Value of Jazz report

I am seeing too many comments on the Value of Jazz report from Jazz Services where people are obsessed by whether they are mentioned or not. Generally looking for the gaps. That's important but people then get too much up their arses and ignore important trends. Indeed it's true that there are probably even more courses than mentioned (Chris Yates pointed out the omission of Newcastle in the list of courses in Jazz Rag.) and some venues have been missed. But these deflect from the importance of the report in giving an indication of where things are and certainly give a foundation for action. I understand that Jazz Services now wants to concentrate on updating it. That'll be like painting the Forth Rail Bridge - by the time that they've done it it'll be due for another review. Worthy as long as that's not all that goes on. Still, it keeps the bureaucrats able to further an illusion that things are getting done. In the mean time, the real world of jazz moves on and we have to find our own guidance.
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

Led Bib and Fraud!

I reckon that these two bands come under the heading "incendiary jazz". Building on Partisans, Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland's legacy with confidence and energy. Both are fearless. Seeing (and hearing) Fraud and Gwilym Simcock's trio within two days of each other really shows how strongly jazz is moving on with the new generation. Both with the same intensity and willingness to take the audience into new ground in an uncompromising manner though with (superficially) very different approaches - Fraud is in your face, Gwilym is subtler and acoustic
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

New Babel compilation on the way on Jazzwise

Look out for a new Babel compilation with next month's Jazzwise magazine. "Characters of Jazz" with tracks by Billy Jenkins, Led Bib, Fraud, Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Christine Tobin, Peter Herbert, Huw Warren, Duw A Wyr and others.
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 Arg├╝elles – ‘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

Well done Finn

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.

Some trends of the last 10 years

Following the thoughts that I had about small venues, Selwyn Harris is writing a piece about the past ten years, since the foundation of Jazzwise. A few of my thoughts.
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,
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

Mike Pickering as osteopath

Billy Jenkins asked me to mention this to you:
"Having worked alongside Mike for the last six years watching his second calling grow, fitting Blues Collective gigs around important exams, listening to him enthusing about cruciate ligaments, neck joints and all that stuff on endless motorway journeys, I have no hesitation in sending you this. He is very gifted.
"He has spent the last eighteen months working as both a sports masseur and associate osteopath at the famous Garry Trainer Clinic in Primrose Hill, where the great and the good from the entertainment and sports world flock, he has now opened his own practice in East Dulwich, London SE 22.
"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

An open letter to Kenny G

Dear Mr G
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.
Yours sincerely,
Oliver Weindling
Director, New Vortex Jazz Club Limited

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Helping the small jazz club

I was looking at Jazz Services' Value of Jazz report, casting my eye over it as an ex-economist. Such reports' main interest is, for me, not in the detail of whether the figures are correct to the nearest decimal point, but rather the implications thereof.
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

Old Vortex now open as a community centre.

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.