Friday, May 11, 2007

Awards and prizes - are they worth it?

There is a perennial debate about the value of awards and prizes. A number of Babel releases have received, or been nominated for, awards over the past decade, ranging from the nomination of "Held On The Tips Of Fingers" by Polar Bear for the Mercury Prize through various BBC Jazz Awards downwards. In general, I am a fan, but based on the one proviso that the awards have a decent objective assessment of the categories. As long as the results are "reasonable" I think that they do a good job in helping to promote the music. Usually, many of the jazz awards are OK (though I always think that Babel albums and artists on the label should be winners).
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.