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.....

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