Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jazzahead - some thoughts

Jazzahead is the big jazz trade fair that has developed over the past ten years. It is now pretty vast. Despite spending three days there, there were so many people I missed meeting and working out ideas with.
I spent most of it with my Babel hat on, as there are several new albums - not least Namby Pamby Boy and the new duo of Elliot Galvin and Mark Sanders. Indeed I sat mainly on the Austrian stand!
It is rather enjoyable to have a question and find the specific person who might have the answer face to face. If it be about a venue in Estonia or a festival in Poland, the people who know are there.
But there are some new trends that I feel are there. And particularly I am concerned about the changing balance of live music - moving more and more towards festivals and away from the regular venues.  I reckon, for example, that there are now not more than 10 venues in the whole of Europe putting on adventurous jazz with proper fees on a regular basis. The Vortex is a second tier, with much more limited resources. However, the number of festivals is growing and growing.
Festivals are a great way for audiences to experience new things intensely. But there are only 52 weeks in a year. What about the rest of the year?
Take London. A dense and intense festival for 10 days in November. But on 15 February? Or 18 June?
I noticed this for the number of great young bands who have played at the Match and Fuse festival last October (N.B. 28, 29 October this year.) Now they are asking when they can play the Vortex again. I wish we could oblige them all.
Other things I found out - many bands are able to get travel support from their home countries to perform overseas. Unfortunately not, in general, UK bands. How can we 'compete'?
I sorted out the basics of our festival with Intakt in 2017. There is already a bit of information on the Vortex web site.
Showcases are patchy in quality when delivered, if not on paper where most look pretty mouth watering. It's part the problem of selection by 'committee'. However hard they try, the results are not always as good as they should be. Some, indeed, are probably not necessary for a showcase, as they have a commercial quality already or the musicians are known already.
Another part of the problem is that the groups only have 30 minutes. That puts a pressure on the band that means that the gigs don't really allow the bands to open out.
And a third is the time slot. A clear example here was Bokani Dyer, whom we at the Vortex know and love dearly. He had travelled all the way from South Africa and the showcase was at 0030. So the venue was a bit sparsely attended.
And certainly we have booked a few bands off the back of Jazzahead, even if a couple of years later. Such as Kaja Draksler last year, or Julia Kadel (playing in June)
I realise that the organisers are really trying hard to balance things out.
And a final thought is about how the press are beginning to disappear a bit off covering the scene. Very few proper 'press' journalists there, though I did meet the main German magazines and Downbeat. Things are moving more towards blogs and DAB stations on radio. For example, I was happy to meet Jez Nelson and Chris Philips, now radio buddies again at Jazz FM. But I most notably see it at the Vortex. For the past two nights, we have been privileged by the company of Bobo Stenson; while on Sunday and Monday, we have Tim Berne's Snakeoil. In the past BBC would probably recorded at least one of these (or else Enrico Pieranunzi who appeared at the start of April). Not a single journalist has asked to attend, nor a radio person. Likewise, relatively little advance coverage in the nationals such as Guardian. We need to redress this balance. Thoughts please?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great piece by someone who knows and hears more jazz than I guess anyone in the UK, which makes him more qualified than anyone. All of this makes sense. Re showcases, they're really for promoters. For journalists they are artificial. Re media shifts, national newspaper coverage speaking generally is less immediate than it used to be. Blogs are usually ahead of the game but are impoverished and shut out by the industry. Podcasts are less interesting than Soundcloud or YouTube promos. Live streams were a fad but don't achieve much apart from making you wish you were there. One final thought: funding should be aimed at grassroots gigs. Commercial gigs (meaning in halls of 3,000 people or more) should benefit only from funding for the hall. The promoter should be able to make money so why fund the promoter at this level as in effect the gig is funded twice (hall and promoter) and so there's no money left for the small venues as it is eaten up by such waste?