Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BBC Jazz Awards

This year's BBC Jazz Awards seem to have created more controversy than ever. Dave Gelly in the Observer has a go at what were probably two of the most important awards, to best group (Finn Peters) and best album (Neil Cowley), while only really loving one artist, the relatively retro Simon Spillett for Rising Star. Meanwhile, Tom Arthurs writes a thoughtful blog raising the issue more about the way in which some good music was presented at the award and a tendency towards show business razzmatazz.
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.


Anonymous said...

Not sure about this notion of taking the music forward - it seems to imply that jazz is some kind of fashion-driven form, with ideas dropping onto a conveyor belt then falling off the end to make room for others. This was probably true even in the fairly recent past, but the observable truth is that jazz is now a set of surprisingly diverse idioms, some newer than others, evolving in parallel. You seem to be implying that all new developments have to be formal, but shouldn't we also celebrate fresh new content within established forms? If classical composers still produce string quartets, symphonies and requiems, is that also 'retro', or is it because these forms are robust and still open to internal development, as is the case with Simon Spillett's take on hard bop? Or are jazz audiences supposed to be too thick to be able to distinguish between form and content?

Babel blog said...

Simon Spillett's approach is actually about content rather than form. Jazz musicians are actually using the same form and line-ups as they have for many years - they are still using piano trios, big bands, quartets with bass and drums etc. It's about the writing as much as the execution. Someone who tries to write string quartets in the style of Beethoven would be dismissed as pastiche. I respect entirely people who perform the classics, but to give awards solely to these people is not what jazz itself is about.
Last Thursday, I was a gig where bands were led by the two "losers" in the Rising Star awards (Tom Arthurs and James Allsopp). Amazing music with classic line-ups (trumpet, bass drums and piano/saxophone).