Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Radio vs Herbie Hancock

Yesterday we had a double announcement. On the one hand, Herbie Hancock with his Joni Mitchell album won the main Grammy. On the other, GCap announced the closure of theJazz, its digital radio station. John L Walters in the Guardian hit the nail on the head, by highlighting the juxtaposition of success and perceived failure.
(Thejazz is a reason why I too have just bought a DAB radio. And I really enjoyed, just an hour ago, hearing Empirical followed by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker while having a coffee in my kitchen. Much more exciting that birdsong.)
The closure is though more to do with the pressure on GCap because it is vulnerable to being taken over than to do with the relative success of the station. The radio industry is behaving like old-fashioned smokestack industries. Trying to milk old technology for all the short-term cash that they can get.
Sad to say thejazz has been quite successful so far in terms of audience and reach, and I would congratulate Classic FM on launching it in a very effective manner. One reason is that jazz is a marvellous music for "pushing the envelope". And this has surely been proved by the results so far, which I presume have been done at relatively a low cost to the Jazz music and musicians will ensure that they make the best that they can of anything that they are given. For example, Evan Parker has been a master in finding new sounds out of the soprano saxophone. (I recall hearing this once at a talk, where someone explained that he uses jazz musicians to test new software and equipment, because they would sooner than anyone find out the limitations and where the potential is.)
Any investment in jazz though takes quite a time to come to success, and not many are patient enough with that. When I lent the Vortex money to reopen I had expected (hoped?) that the club could repay the debt within two years. That hasn't been the case. Nevertheless, the club should be glad for my patience, stubbornness and commitment, because it is now trading profitably on a monthly basis and the music level is getting higher and higher. I think that it proves that commercial success doesn't necessarily conflict with artistic quality. So I remain optimistic on that leve.
But thejazz's closure is not about the music and the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. As the Grammy for Herbie Hancock proves. It has been about whether DAB is a good format for digital. At least, Classic FM is keeping two hours of jazz late at night. And I hope that I would prefer to tune into that than Late Junction. Of course that depends on whether Classic FM is there in its current format next month....

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Back to Ronnie Scott's - and me on Thejazz

John Fordham in the Guardian makes supportive comments hoping about the return of Ronnie Scott's to being a true jazz venue. There are better signs there, certainly. Ronnie Scott's has not only been for many years the centre of the jazz universe in London, around which other venues "revolve". Fortunately, the Vortex and 606 have picked up this position for now.
It is a club which is as important for jazz WORLDWIDE as Covent Garden is to opera. When the Royal Opera House had a hard time, the Arts Council bent over backwards to ensure that it survived. Goodness knows how much it really cost. But when it comes to Ronnie's, apart from grumbles and the few articles in the press, there has been a stony silence from organisations like Jazz Services, which, according to its website, is supposed to provide a "voice for jazz". Let's give it some Strepsils so that it gets its voice back.
In the mean time, we need to encourage the club, and hope that it re-emerges like a phoenix. If, in the mean time, it sometimes prices its audience out of the market, so be it. But the programme has to be generally consistent, and balanced. I know, from the contact I have on the Vortex programme, that there is a fine balance. Sometimes the music that one would like to hear there is just that bit too expensive, even by the matter of £100 or so.
We are short of venues for jazz at a level of the size of Ronnie's, something which seems to be not just a problem in London. The Spitz is gone, and the other venues are potentially "partial".