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.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

New music today is amazing - but where can we hear it?

The record industry is in depression. (For me, that just means that they are catching up with the perennial state of the jazz sector.) But it has nothing to do with the quality of a lot which is being created at present. Last night's gig by Heidi Vogel at the Vortex is a case in point - with amazing guests like Eska just coming to sit in.
Many say that the live music side is that which is going to continue. Certainly, when I look at things as they are at the Vortex, I feel equally positive. But the venues too are not having it that easy. Two venues are about to close: Pizza On The Park (which failed to reinvent itself as a jazz/world music venue) and the Spitz. Meanwhile, bureaucracy isn't helping the rest. (The police are currently insisting that the Vortex might need 2 bouncers on the door if open late, because it's too dangerous in Dalston. An extra £60 a night.) Ronnie Scott's is being forced to putting on more "commercial" gigs in order to survive.
Squaring the circle doesn't seem that straightforward to me. It's all about getting the right balance between time taken to make a return and the costs. With patience it can be done. But someone somewhere, be it the landlord pushing up rents or a promoter with excessive short-term horizons, can destroy all the good work.