Friday, May 29, 2009

Research grant for jazz. My true view

The heading of a letter sent to Jazzwise completely led to my being misunderstood. "Research grant misguided". The letter from Paul Jolly (of 33 Records) and myself actually said that we wanted the Arts Council to do the same as the Arts and Humanities Research Council which has awarded a grant of £500000 to study Black British jazz. So for us the Arts Council needs guiding and not the research grant.
Unfortunately, others branded us as against the grant, being congratulated in this regard by Geoff Eales in their letters page the following month, while this month Chris Hodgkins of Jazzwise criticises us among others for criticising the grant.
It only goes to show how people are influenced by the headlines and the power of the sub-editor. They don't read the article properly that follows. (It's similar to my criticism of jazz reviews having star ratings. People look at the number of stars and not the actual review.) It's bizarre in a field where people are so sensitive to nuance of the music that they are not so for words.

Here's the actual letter again for the record.
"We were intrigued to read about the grant of £495,643 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to examine "What is Black British Jazz?" We were initially angered that such amounts of money were being channelled into research when the existing jazz scene, live and recorded, and built partly on this heritage, is itself so underfunded. However, on further reflection, we actually wonder if the researchers are truly recognising the importance of the music in a way that other organisations such as the Arts Council aren't.
Much of jazz's legacy is created through its recordings. UK labels, such as Babel and 33, are finding the environment tough, on the back of the economic crunch out there. For example, Dune, committed to releasing high-quality jazz primarily from a black perspective, has released virtually no albums over the past couple of years probably due to a shortage of funds, and certainly not due to a lack of talent. We therefore plea to Liz Forgan, as new Arts Council England chair, to make support for jazz commensurate with the Arts and Humanities Research Council. "

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Parliamentary Jazz Awards - the only serious awards left?

Awards are important. Not just to highlight the individual winners but also to help draw attention to the music. There's no doubt that the Mercury nominations for the albums by Portico Quartet and Polar Bear on Babel/Vortex helped their sales dramatically and also the profile of both bands.
Similarly, the BBC Jazz Awards were definitely helpful and encouraging.
The only awards left which adequately take on an awareness of the contemporary jazz scene left over here are the Parliamentary Awards which took place last week. (And congratulations to Phil Robson for winning best musician and Kevin Le Gendre for best journalist in particular.) Though their credibility has not been helped by the recent shenanigans about MPs' expenses. But let's not forget that this is really an award of thanks and support from a group of good-natured jazz fans. No more, no less in my opinion.
Contrast this with the more supportive awards elsewhere. Les Victoires du Jazz in France, the German jazz critics' prize, the Albert Mangelsdorff Prize in Germany (worth €20,000), the Hans Koller Prize in Austria. (Germany also has a series of prizes in the various regions which help bring attention to young musicians.) The list goes on.
We need a proper system, imperfect though they may be.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Loose Tubes legacy -education

Loose Tubes was known for being a great innovative band in the latter half of the 80s. Proms, chat shows, appearance on The Tube, great music on 3 (unavailable) albums and the genesis for the likes of Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian and Steve Arguelles, Chris Batchelor......
Seeing Django perform with his band from the Copenhagen Conservatoire in Coutances last week made me realise a further element of the legacy - their education influence. Not just Django but also Chris Batchelor and Eddie Parker who set up the course at Middlesex, John Eacott at Westminster University, Steve Berry in the North West (where as jazz teacher at Cheetham's he encouraged the talent of Gwilym Simcock and Tom Cawley to name but two).
Probably the students nowadays are 5 years more advanced than they were equivalently 20 years ago. And these guys must share some of the credit for that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is it the "j" word?

Peter Bacon, in his blog, berates the Observer Music Monthly for the lack of jazz coverage. Indeed, the last time I recall more than a paragraph of jazz is when they had a photo of Gwilym Simcock as an up and coming jazz musician. Wearing a Superman costume! (Tried to find it on the web but couldn't)
Andy Sheppard, interviewed about John Coltrane by Matthew Parris, had to put up with most of the programme discussing Coltrane's drug habit as clearly Parris had no interest in the music. (Andy did a great job in turning the subject round to Coltrane's genius despite this.)
Is there a problem with the word "jazz" and its connotations? Has it been putting women off going to gigs as mentioned in Howard Mandel's blog. I think that, for me, too many musicians and people get hung up about the word. The word isn't the problem, it's sometimes an intimidating atmosphere, sometimes ignorance of journalists and people in the music industry who don't appreciate music - just "product".
On Saturday, for Ian Shaw's gig at the Vortex, we had at least two groups of women on a night out together and most of the rest were couples or families. Last week we even had one night (for The North Trio) where the audience was split 60:40 female to male. It's the same debate about the age of audiences.
Well, if one spends the whole time putting people off with high admission prices and making people feel that they need to understand the full repertoire of Charlie Parker before they are allowed in through the door, what can one expect? And if the music media is getting lazy and looking for quick fixes, ditto?
The music itself is fine. It's the people

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Redesigning Paris, Heathrow....and The Vortex

Mike Davies is a great supporter of our club and one of our most eminent architects, being the partner of Richard Rogers. In between completing Heathrow Terminal 5 and advising Nicholas Sarkozy on a new vision for Paris (he's on the left - The Man In Red), he has suggested how the Vortex could be extended outwards.
There's just a small matter of the money that would be involved. Any ideas for raising £300,000 or so??

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Associate of a "royal and national Institution"

I received my certificate yesterday as an Honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. Apparently I have "contributed significantly to the Academy". Not hard to do, if recent graduates include James Allsopp and Tim Giles of Fraud, Gwilym Simcock, Jasper Hoiby, Josh Blackmore as well as those about to hit the headlines, such as Kit Downes and James Maddren (about to do their final recitals), etc etc. Similarly, not hard to do with a venue such as the Vortex and the team there to back one up!
First, it was great to see jazz well recognised in these awards. John Fordham, Steve Rubie of 606, Pete Churchill (as one of the jazz professors) and Gwilym Simcock were also being honoured.
Second. Talking to Nick Smart, who runs the Junior Academy, one realises how much is now being achieved for jazz, in the colleges in general (excluding Royal College of Music but including Middlesex University) and the Academy in particular. Musicians such as Josh Blackmore, Kit Downes, Gwilym Simcock and Freddy Gavita were all part of the Junior Academy. And I was knocked out by Nick to be told that Partisans had spent a day with the students last Saturday. It only goes to prove that what young aspiring teenage jazz musicians are being exposed to, even in a formal education environment, is as imaginative as it can be. Certainly that wouldn't have been the case a decade ago, I'm sure.
Third. On the awards themselves, they are actually really democratic. Clarinettists - and jazz promoters - rubbing shoulders with the bar man and security.
Of course, I suppose that I'm now a bit biassed. But I would encourage people to come to the gig at the Vortex at the end of the month where some of the finallists are being put through the wringer. And it's free!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How do we get audiences regularly?

It's a perennial one. Why do audiences come to some gigs and not others? Our latest example at the Vortex. Vincent Courtois, Sylvie Courvoisier, Ellery Eskelin. All at the top of their playing. A great gig, summarised beautifully by Chris Parker here. They have an album on Camjazz, which I have sold several of over recent weeks, and all well known as leaders and from their work with others. Apart from Vincent (making his first appearance at the Vortex), the others have even played in sold-out gigs. The gig was one that confirmed why, most of the time, it's not worth my while straying from Dalston for my musical fix.
So, what went wrong, in that we only had 30 people there and lost a packet? Not enough press press awareness? Well, we've had as much as usual in terms of mobilisation. Usually people like John Fordham are really supportive. (Last time she played the Vortex, with her husband Mark Feldman, he gave the gig a great review.) However, it was indeed sad that it wasn't mentioned in the Guardian Guide this week, nor elsewhere. I have spoken to some people who read the Vortex programme regularly, but it clearly passed them by.
No particular answer, but certainly I welcome any thoughts for good, cheap ways of getting the message across.
And it's certainly not going to put us off bringing such musicians to town again. We have to keep trying and not get demoralised!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The virtual jazz festival

Peter Bacon and Tim Dickeson have done a great job in evoking personal recollections of Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Check out their blogs on and Uncostrained by space limits that the national and specialist press will have and therefore able to interpret the subtleties of the music.
There is also a Jazz on 3 broadcast from the festival but again limited to a single intense programme with highlights
Cheltenham is not a cheap event to go to if you're not local. The price of getting there, the price of accommodation and the admission fees.
By contrast, I look at how things are covered abroad. As a member of a group called Radio Jazz Research in Germany, I have regular contact with a number of journalists and radio producers, especially from the WDR area. WDR alone records 6 (!) festivals, just in their own region of North Rhein Westphalia. It includes festivals such as Muenster and Moers.
From Muenster alone they will broadcast 6-8 hours of music. (Having been there, I can confirm that some of it, with the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa, Rita Marcotulli and a young marvel pianist Pablo Held, was fantastic. Never less than worth hearing.)
Meanwhile a few newspapers will probably review the festival with maybe 1000 words maximum. How can 90 minutes of music and 600 words cover a festival with Dave Douglas, Dave Liebman, Jack de Johnette, Hugh Masekela and and and?
The BBC is still providing adequate coverage of a few festivals. They record the totality of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival as well as some of the concerts from London. Cheltenham or Bath are equally creative.
No wonder jazz continually gets short shrift.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Land of Kings

My photo up (with that of Stephanie and Todd) for Land of Kings event by Briony Campbell. Photos of venues in Dalston.

Ronnie Scotts and the cost of attending jazz

Mike Hobart writes an interesting article on Ronnie Scott's in the Financial Times. A letter then suggests that jazz has become too expensive. Certainly Ronnie Scott's is relatively expensive. You are paying for top jazz, in the West End (with high rents) and a smartly refurbished venue. As the afficionados already know there is a whole host of good value jazz in London, ranging from the likes of Loop Collective at the Oxford through to the Vortex through to..... In terms of quality and value.
We have to somehow get across to people that Ronnie Scott's is only one jazz venue among many where there is good jazz. Last night at the Vortex with Finn Peters and co. doing a great job in keeping jazz up-to-date and charming an audience in the process. Clearly the task has not been achieved until now, despite all the work that is done by the likes of Jazzwise and the newspapers.
I looked at Peter Bacon's list of gigs that he was going to see today at Cheltenham. Mouthwatering! (And I'm glad that I've seen one or two myself recently, such as Phil Robson with Dave Liebman.) Lucky for someone who presumably can get in free to them all. However, who can afford nearly £20 for a gig (even if there's a 3 for 2 offer going at the festival). And then they wonder why they don't get young audiences?
(We were very flattered by Dave Liebman at the Vortex this week, when, in addition to playing amazingly well, he pointed out the diversity of audience in terms of age and financial wealth. He pointed out that in New York, many audiences whom he plays to are old and monied.)