Wednesday, December 02, 2009

In Clean Air We Fly

One feature of this installation, which is taking place outside the Vortex, is that cyclists are required to man one of the bicycles and help the installation work, for 30 minutes at a time. If you want to do it, contact

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chris Batchelor - Paul Hamlyn Award

Last night Chris Batchelor was awarded one of the 8 Paul Hamlyn Awards. It's worth £45,000 over three years and he can do with it what he wants. Iain Ballamy got one in 2007 and Evan Parker in 2008. So,for the past 3 years, there has been one jazz musician.
I am proud to be associated with Chris's last 2 recordings. He doesn't release much - this is only the second album in over 10 years. And indeed I received a comment when Big Air was about to come out that "Chris doesn't play much". Well, that's also because he runs the jazz course at Middlesex University, where recent alumni include Led Bib, Hans Koller, Jason Yarde, Ben Reynolds, Stian Westerhuis and many others. No wonder he has little time!
I first was privileged to release the album "Life As We Know It" in 1997. The gestation for Big Air started in 2001. And here we are.....
Of course, one should also mention that he has had a long-term musical partner in Steve Buckley. What a wondrous saxophonist. Glad that he is about to return.
Here is a track of theirs from Saalfelden Jazz Festival this year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Independence of culture

An article in yesterday's Observer allows me to put up an image of one of my heroes, John Maynard Keynes. For Keynes was founder of the Arts Council.
Tamara Rojo makes clear about the independence of culture as a result of having an Arts Council. Clearly this is in part due to a fear of subversion of culture for propaganda ends, as was the case with Nazi Germany. Wittinglly and unwittingly, a number of artists were held up as talismans for the system, such as Wilhelm Furtwangler. Indeed, Germany hasn't had a proper culture ministry in the post war era. If there is one now, it's a new development.
If the Arts Council is streamlined to such a degree that it becomes a mouthpiece for DCMS, then who knows where and how the arts will be used or manipulated. Of course, it won't seem as though that has been done, but it could easily be the case. Over recent years, Arts Council applications have already asked for details about ethnic breakdown (and even sexual preferences) of those involved. And it looks for outcomes rather than artistic quality.
Certainly we have found it difficult at the Vortex to persuade the Arts Council that we are worth significant support as a top quality jazz club! Discussion focusses on making returns in a shortish time period, in my view.
With the government about to make significant cuts in spending, I can easily envisage that they desire to streamline arts funding and bring it "in house". I hope not.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The label to find (some of) the best bands to come?

I look back at the catalogue of Babel fairly regularly - if only because there are quite a few boxes of CDs in my storage spaces and in my shop by the Vortex.
Two things come out from some of these recent musings:
One is the quality of so much music that has come out of the UK jazz scene over the past 15 years. Much of this period has been a bit of a lull economically for jazz. Yet even many of the earlier albums hold up as well as any of the later ones, which have been more successful. For example, the three Babel albums by Julian Arguelles, those by Huw Warren and those by Christine Tobin. Some of my favourite little solos are on these albums. For example, Huw's solo on The Priest on Christine Tobin's Aililiu, or Iain Ballamy's 16 bars of perfection in "Everybody's Talking" on Billy Jenkins True Love Collection.
Second, the number of bands who have used the label as a springboard. In other words, that I have been able to find a lot of great musicians early. So some of these are going on elsewhere, but we did it first (or nearly first!). Tom Arthurs is now a BBC New Generation Artist, Led Bib themselves got a Mercury nomination. Then there are all those musicians who received BBC Jazz Awards, while the awards existed - Fraud, Finn Peters, Acoustic Ladyland, Christine Tobin etc. etc. (By the way, I have always been surprised that Polar Bear, despite a Mercury nomination and great albums, didn't get a Jazzwise best album award or Seb Rochford never, despite the recognition that he has justifiably received, got any best musician gong).
So, if you are looking to the future of many musicians, come to check out our albums first?!
TrioVD, Amit Chaudhuri, Paula Rae Gibson, Golden Age Of Steam, Twelves Trio, Outhouse with Hilmar Jenson, Lothar Ohmeier (in the dark!) and more to come over the next year.
A model of a label which has probably been doing much of the same is Fresh Sound New Talent in Barcelona, where you would have heard first offerings by Brad Mehldau and and and.
Meanwhile, I am beavering away on bringing out at least one great "classic" British jazz album. It'll take time but I hope that the result will be positive....

Friday, October 09, 2009

Year end CD listings

We are the time of year, when journalists prepare their year-end lists. When one looks down it, I would be intrigued to see what proportion are
a) CDs which were released in the past 3 months and/or
b) CDs where average age of the musicians is under 30.

So, if I look at the Babel list of releases in 2009, I would be surprised to see any of our releases in most lists, since they include Partisans, Big Air (both not being in the criteria as above) or Zed-U (released early in 2009).

Friday, September 04, 2009

Paula Rae Gibson - In The Dark

Paula Rae Gibson is performing In The Dark on 8 September, 6 October.

We have tickets for £5. Email me on if you want to be on the list.

The basic facts are that Paula Rae Gibson is a singer, a songwriter, a photographer and a filmmaker but with Paula the devil is in the detail. Her husband, film director Brian Gibson died in 2004, after which Paula threw herself into her art partly in order to distract herself from her pain and create artefacts that offered some sense of pleasure and release.

Her debut CD, written as a direct response to her husband's death, No More Tiptoes, was released in 2007. The track We Blow It Everytime was selected as one of Time Out magazine's top ten of the year. PRG followed up with 2008's Maybe Too Nude which she recorded with Goldfrapp's Will Gregory. Paula's third CD Rather Make Believe Than Make Do is due early in 2010.

In her two books of photographs, Diary of a Love Addict (2006) and (Fear I Know Not) I'll Always Walk Away (2007) she is most often the subject; mixing sensuality, loss, passion and pain with autobiographical texts against artistically stressed /treated images in ways that are thoughtful, philosophical and erotic. Paula has exhibited in LA and Brussels as well as in various London galleries.

Paula scripted, composed the music for, and acted in, What Are You Doing Forever? which was screened as part of the Portobello Film Festival, and her video The Poet Without Tragedy won the prize for the Best Music Video at the 2009 Independent Film Festival.

Time Out preview on

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Launch of Kevin Le Gendre Now's the Time ll

A special launch event for the new CD compilation 'Now's The Time II' (Vortex Records) will take place in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall next Friday 21 August starting at 5.30 p.m.

Loz Speyer, Babel artist Julie Sassoon and Jason Yarde are amongst those performing live and Kevin Le Gendre, who compiled the album, spins the tunes for this extended night of top free music.

The album features a superb set of contemporary jazz that covers everything from fusion to avant-garde and all points in between. As John Fordham wrote in the Guardian: "...... a rich contemporary mix with strong dancefloor underpinnings. **** "

This is the second Vortex release, following the successful Mercury-nominated Knee Deep In The North Sea by Portico Quartet, and is in the Vortex tradition of encouraging people towards what they might not know so well!!

Admission is free!!!!!!

The album has been compiled by broadcaster, jazz journalist and DJ Kevin Le Gendre from the best of his sadly missed 'Now's The Time' BBC London contemporary jazz radio show. AS he writes in the sleeve notes: "Improvisation, the overwhelming desire to pass comment on a given musical statement, to subtitle the title, has its place in any jazz school of thought - be it bebop, avant-garde, third stream or fusion."
Full tracklisting:

1/ William Parker Quartet - The Watermelon Song
(originally featured on 'Raining on the Moon', 2002)

2/ Lafayette Gilchrist - Unsolved, Unresolved
(originally featured on 'Towards the Shining Path', 2005)

3/ Leon Parker - Every Day
(Originally featured on ('The Simple Life', 2001)

4/ Loz Speyer's Time Zone Cuba - Katakusi
(Previously unavailable, 2005)

5/ Ron Blake - Sonic Tonic
(Originally featured on Sonic Tonic, 2005)

6/ The Bloomdaddies - Captain E
(Originally featured on Mosh for Lovers, 2002)

7/ Lost Brother - Departure
(Originally featured on Lost Brother, 2005)

8/ Steve Lehman - Vapors
(Originally featured on Demian as Posthuman, 2005)

9/ David Gilmore - Music Revolutions
(Originally featured on Ritualism, 2000)

10/ Lan Xang - Day of Fear, Night of Truth
(Originally featured on Lan Xang, 1997)

11/ Robert Glasper - Maiden Voyage
(Originally featured on Mood, 2003)

12/ Julie Sassoon - 44
(Recored at the Vortex club, 2008)

13/ Jason Yarde - Where Will it Take You
(Originally featured on

Friday, August 07, 2009

New releases on Babel - Golden Age of Steam, trioVD, Twelves Trio, Triptych, Paula Rae Gibson

Lots of names, but many of the musicians we know and love.
First will be trioVD. With a launch at the London Jazz Festival in November
Then, in early 2010, Triptych (Richard Fairhurst, Jasper Hoiby, Chris Vatalaro); Golden Age of Steam (James Allsopp, Kit Downes, Tim Giles), Twelves Trio (Riaan Vosloo, Mark Hanslip, Tim Giles, Rob Updegraff. Yes, it's actually got 4 musicians but 12/4 = 3.)
Paula Rae Gibson. Title and format not yet confirmed.

More news soon.

Vortex on The Thames

Vortex on The Thames

Thursday 17 September

From Butler's Wharf Pier on board a luxurious paddle steamer


Liane Carroll and Barb Jungr

Bringing the sound waves of British contemporary jazz to the currents of the Thames, the Vortex is proud to announce the start of a new venture: Vortex on the Thames.

For one special evening take-in the world famous views of London's skyline from onboard a beautiful paddle steamer.

The cruise will take place on Thursday 17th September and features two of the UK's finest jazz vocalists – Liane Carroll and Barb Jungr.

Liane Carroll

Having picked up just about every British jazz award going in the last few years, Liane Carroll has been recognised by critics and fans alike as one of our very finest jazz singers.

‘...gigs featuring singers are generally hugely enjoyable, informal affairs, and in Liane Carroll, the tradition finds one of its most skilful exponents. Humourous banter slips imperceptibly into medleys of originals, material by the likes of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits...’ (Chris Parker).

Barb Jungr

Britain’s premier song stylist, Barb has recently returned from a sellout run at New York’s prestigious Cafe Carlyle for which she received rave reviews – ‘One of the very best nightclub singers in the world’ (Time Out New York).

She returns to play Vortex on the Thames with a stunning programme of songs featuring material from Yip Harburg to Leonard Cohen, Cole Parter to Marc Cohn.

Tickets & booking

Tickets £32.50

Book by phone on 020 7254 4097

Book online

50% of the profits will go to the Vortex Jazz Foundation, the charitable arm of this world-renowned jazz club, set up to promote jazz in London.


19.30 – 20.45: Boarding for ticket holders on the steamer at Butler’s Wharf Pier (South Bank near Tower Bridge).

0.45: Steamer departs Butler’s Wharf Pier and sails under Tower Bridge up to London Bridge before returning and heading downstream towards Canary Wharf.

21.15 – 22.00: First set
22.15 – 23.00: Second set

23.00: Steamer returns to Butler’s Wharf Pier – guests to disembark

This will be a spectacular evening of jazz in a spectacular setting and will hopefully be the first of many great evenings of music with Vortex on the Thames.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Is jazz helped by gimmickry

By which I mean pandering to what might create publicity, such as a commission or a festival.
The commission - a way for promoters to get a bit of a high from getting something different. Often from a festival. Barry Green told me yesterday that a band that he was in was encouraged to do a commission from a festival. It meant a whole change in the nature of the band. Extra musicians, time spent writing and rehearsing (which could have been better used for honing and improving). And the result was something played once and never again.
A festival is also a way of providing a gimmick and a sop for something that continues 365 days a year. Is it enough to just get the jazz "fix" over a few days or, in the case of the latest Britjazz festival at Ronnie Scott's, two weeks. The Olympics are going on about something called "legacy". We need that, at least from festivals, and also the link to the past that's also going on. For example, I introduced gigs at the last year's London Festival by saying, for example, "Day 8 of the London Jazz Festival and Day 320 of the Vortex Jazz Festival". It's a year round thing. As it is indeed for the musicians.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And then two come along at the same time

Not buses, but Tom Arthurs on BBC Radio 3 twice today. And before midnight!
Once - and just as I am writing this - with Richard Fairhurst and then later today improvising with Julie Sassoon.
My gosh, when you look at the write-up, the BBC tries as hard as possible to show that it's jazz without using the word. "scope for improvising" etc. Hmm

And of course the real person coming twice, rather than my old friend/enemy the 210.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A few brief twitter thoughts

I have been on Twitter for a few weeks and find it quite intriguing - for much of the time. I like the information that is sent through much of the time.
But two things get me:
1) those people who are regarded as "icons", such as Stephen Fry, who are allowed to judge things in a few words and are hung on to. Even to the extent that he is being used to recommend world music albums by p.r.'s. (Well, I like Stephen Fry a lot, and like much of what he says, but not that religiously.)
2) People come to snap judgements and write up instant reactions at the wrong times. Perhaps they should sometimes take some time to digest things or listen again. I was reading, on the BBC web site how the instant comments to Bruno were enough to kill box office by Day 2 and also the latest U2 album.Not a good thing for jazz, where the devil can be in the detail and the second, third or fourth listenings can be revelatory.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Led Bib

Great that Led Bib has been nominated for the Mercury Prize with their new album Sensible Shoes.
With Babel of course (see photo above)
Close contacts with the Vortex. They launched their first album there, did a festival in the lead-up to recording Sizewell Tea (on Babel) and have played there regularly.
It's interesting that they don't come out of the regular London "conservatoire" circle but from Middlesex University, where they were taught by Loose Tubes alumni Chris Batchelor and Stuart Hall, with means a strong dose of the music of Hermeto Pascoal, amongst others.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Iconic singers

Every country/style has an iconic singer who creates emotion like no other for that style. Often they are female, and often they are now dead. Very few are in jazz.
Youtube is great in that we can at least now check them out.
So here are a few:

Amalia Rodrigues.(Beautiful enough to make one cry and understand the meaning of saudades.)

Om Khaltoum. (When I went to Yemen a few years ago, there was even a channel on the plane dedicated just to her.)

Elis Regina (here with the Father Christmas of jazz, Hermeto Pasocal. Amazing to think that, if she were alive today, she'd be just 64.

and of course Billie Holiday

Too many more to list. But I'd be interested for any thoughts, especially UK ones.
Suddenly thought. What about Sandy Denny?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful!?

I have heard of a number of stories about jazz's survival recently. Copenhagen Jazz House has been given £250,000 by Nordea Foundation, linked to a Danish bank; Jazz Times is about to re-emerge after being suspended; Jazz Journal has been reborn having merged with Jazz Review. Meanwhile, the Vortex has been given a large grant from an individual to pay for its piano.
Why is this happening in a recession? Hard to guess, but probably it's to do with jazz continuing to be a meaningful music, being played to a high level, whatever the economic environment. So, for that reason, it encourages people to give it money. (Certainly, nothing to do with public funding.)
There's a fantastic sense of community and all this clearly is leading to survival of the music in relatively satisfactory surrounds.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Festivals, festivals

I have just come back from Copenhagen Jazz Festival, lucky enough to be there for 3 days. 100 gigs a day, and over 80% by Danish musicians. The whole city is overrun by jazz. Perhaps the rising preponderance of local musicians is due to economic stringencies, but there is also a great sense of pride in the local scene. Local musicians working with the legendary Yusef Lateef and Palle Mikkelborg celebrating Aura. What's more many of these gigs are free to get in, especially those in the open air. Such as in the square next to the university at Frue Plads or in the N.C Orstedt park near the hotel, where I heard a free improv band including Lotte Anker. Yet playing to several hundred.
The city takes advantage of the fact that much of it is all within walking distance within the old town. Not a cheap town and there seem to be cafes everywhere. In fact, both jazz record shops, Jazzcup and Jazz Kaelderen, seem to be as important as places to eat and drink as to buy music. Well, why not? Jazz is about atmosphere and why not make buying the music as good a part linked to the ambiance as anything else.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jazz on German radio - part 2

Going to a seminar on jazz and film last week in Linz, run by Bernd Hoffmann of WDR, made me realise all the more the differences between radio in UK and in Germany, something I alluded to a while back
First, radio is able to be highly reactive to its environment and its musicians. For example in Linz, there was a small festival in a club called Cheeese (sic), which was recorded by ORF and WDR. So all six bands were recorded and the broadcast went out live or just delayed by a day or a few hours. Furthermore, one at least from Cologne, co-led by saxophonist Niels Klien, was a new Franco-German collaboration encouraged by WDR. How often can that happen over here? Not that often, where decisions at the BBC are made so centrally, the shows are much shorter and broadcast at graveyard times. Meanwhile the enthusiasm of the presenters and producers over there - not just Bernd Hoffmann but also the likes of Arne Schumacher of Radio Bremen or Guenther Huesmann - and their ability to translate ideas into practice is so different.
No wonder jazz over here remains so much in the hinterground.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The economy as a saxophone?

No, not something suggested by Terry Pratchett, but rather a description by Doug McWilliams - erstwhile colleague many years ago at the CBI - in yesterday's Financial Times to describe the shape of the economic recovery.
But which one? I presume he means an alto or tenor. But what about a baritone? Or even a bass with all its bends and stretches. That could be fun, but it would make the economy a bit of a rollercoaster ride! Try modelling that one, economists out there?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Record labels. A subject close to my heart!

Steve Lawson is a compulsive communicator. Through video, twitter and blog. Yet he still seems able to have time to make music.
Great on all fronts to follow, because 90% of what he writes is worth thinking about or reacting to.
So I read with interest his views on record labels. Which I sort of agree with. He sent a thought-provoking response to my own comment. Thought-provoking in that his positive comments about what Babel has achieved in terms of releases but (his perceived) lack of reaction to this from the artists.
Where do many musicians regard the album? A means of archiving? A quick fix from something that, because it is a "label", must be able to give them the same monetary return as an advance from Universal?
They therefore don't often look at the recording in its own terms, perhaps. I was delighted that Julian Arguelles for example recognised Skull View as his favourite recording. I indeed am proud of Julian's three albums for Babel between 1995 and 1997. they also focus so much on the here and now.
Last night we had the launch of Zed-U's new album at the Vortex. I think that they are doing something wholly unique in a manner that is totally balanced between the three musicians. Let's hope that people buy the album too, as that's the only way that I am going to get anything back from it.
Certainly, I would agree with the point of Steve that they have to realise that it's something that we work on together. There is for me a great and important partnership between the recording, the live performance and the music itself.
I am about to sit down and include on the web site all the accolades which Babel artists/releases have garnered over the past 15 years. There are a lot of them, I think. And I hope, enough to keep me inspired for the next 15 years of Babel - or perhaps I should just be looking to the next few hours.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Royal Opera House 17, Polar Bear 2

No, not a football score, but a contrast as to the number of rehearsals being undertaken for performances by Royal Opera House Orchestra for the new production of Berg's Lulu and by Polar Bear for their new recording.
Seb gave his band the music on Sunday, they played the Vortex on Monday and Tuesday and into the studio for a new album on Wednesday and Thursday.
Of course, it shows the difference in resources available between opera and jazz, but also shows the resources that are thought to be required between the two. Is the orchestra at Covent Garden really that poor to need so many rehearsals? I always thought that UK orchestras were renowned for their speed of learning of the most complex scores. Hence their use for so many recordings.
Seb not only feels, I am sure, that this is enough to retain the freshness of the music but also that he doesn't need more. (The studio in which they have recorded is also excellent value, with Sonny, the engineer, the man behind the Portico Quartet's first album and also recent work by Paula Rae Gibson.) But, hell, the Opera House clearly "needs" the money.....
I am knocked out by the speed with which jazz musicians learn parts and then deliver energy at their gigs. Something from which the administrators at the Opera House can learn?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Babel prize winners

It's great when musicians get recognised with prizes for their work. Kevin Le Gendre (with new Now's The Time compilation) and Phil Robson both won Parliamentary Jazz Awards. Ingrid Laubrock has won the prestigious SWR Jazz Prize.
Unlike the UK awards system, the German is recognised with a handsome sum of money (€15,000). By contrast I don't know of any UK awards that give more than a bit of local prestige. Even getting a major "gong" doesn't help pay the bills. Stan Tracey now has a CBE but, because he has a minimal pension, has to keep working at well over 80. Amusingly, I heard from Freddy Gavita, who won something at the British Jazz Awards, that he was notified of his award by text message and contact via Facebook. Not even a piece of paper!!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The print media - going through the agonies like music

I have just read on Howard Mandel's blog that Jazz Times could be folding. At least Jazz Journal survives, having merged with Jazz Review.
The print media sector is going through the same problems as music has been going through over the last 10 years in trying to adapt to digital and so on.
Initially they have tried to believe that free content will drive advertising revenues. This hasn't happened. It's all about the content really, and can they work out a way for the participants in the digital world to pay?
Then the two can co-exist side-by-side. I still love the feel of paper and look forward to the thrill of opening the morning paper or a new magazine. (Though I don't do it for the same reason as the guy who said that he first opens the Times to see if his obituary is in. If not, then he knows that the day can progress OK.)
How that is to be done, I don't know the answer to. Possibly micropayments, such as buying the individual articles (reviews) where they have the authority. Otherwise indeed all will migrate to blogs. That's OK for reviews , but certainly not good enough for longer thoughtful pieces. Both because of inadequate available investment to spend the time involved to get the topics right.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Music Market - 7 June

The next Music Market is on 7 June, in the Square next to the Vortex. Upstairs at 4 p.m.will be the London Jazz Orchestra performing Coltrane's Africa Brass. So why not make an afternoon of it?
Free to sell or attend.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Jazz sous les Pommiers

Jazz sous les Pommiers is a lovely way to spend a few days in May. A small town of just 10,000, they manage to sell out a hall of over 1,000 three times a day, as well as a theatre of 400 and a spiegeltent and many bars full of blues bands and whatever. Can you think of any festival here which might have a jazz fun run? Or have a chemist full of jazz posters?
Also some great gigs. Especially Dave Holland. Making the complex seem simple, he stands there with the most enormous grin from ear to ear for 90 minutes. And Branford Marsalis, using Justin Faulkner, just 18. In its way, Partisans is the UK equivalent of Branford's band. Even if it uses a guitar instead of piano. And of course both have Calderazzos in their band - Joey with Branford and elder brother Gene on drums with Partisans.
Django was there with StoRMChaser. And of course a sprinkling of French bands. (I enjoyed Emile Parisien. Very intense, very French.) BTW, if you look inside the CD of Django with StoRMChaser you discover that the title includes Rhythmic Music Conservatory's initials. It also includes the alternative suggestions by Eddie Parker, which were not used. Such as SpeRMCount! (Eddie always has been able to play with words. I recall that he discovered that an anagram of Bill Evans was Ball Veins. How appropriate.)
I also managed to see the Bayeux tapestry en route. One is a bit rushed through the tapestry itself, though it's an incredible artefact, in its history and descriptive powers. A shame that I was unable to spend time seeing the D Day beaches. I really enjoyed the tableaux of the battle and also the ships arriving in Hastings. Check out the decapitated body at the bottom of the frieze.

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.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capital of European Jazz?

Londonjazz blog has contenders for the capital of European jazz. To the list that Seb suggests I'd like to add:

Amsterdam: home of the incredible Bimhuis, Willem Breuker, Han Bennink, Benjamin Herman etc
Berlin: Just a buzzing city. Bands like em, a free scene inherited from East Berlin (Petrowsky etc). Has attracted Tom Arthurs to its bosom recently.
Paris: Just a great city, home of Michel Portal, Martial Solal, Marc Ducret etc. with all the Africans adding to the buzz
Cologne: Stadtgarten venue, great festivals nearby such as Moers and Leverkusen, conservatoire which has the likes of John Taylor teaching there. Musicians in the area such as Simon Nabatov, Florian Ross.
Vienna: Vienna Art Orchestra has acted as the hub for over 30 years. Jazz festivals there and in Wiesen, Porgy and Bess club is probably the best in Europe (after Ronnies and Vortex, of course)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dalston - a land fit for kings

For years, I would never have thought of Dalston as anything but a traffic jam where the Balls Pond Road crossed Kingsland Road and created delays on the journey to the Blackwall Tunnel. The move of the Vortex to Gillett Square of course created, perforce, a move to the area. The car park outside the Vortex filled up on Friday nights for the hard core African clubs and by day for Ridley Road market and the car wash team.
Of course, the Africans are still here, the Turkish restaurants are still fantastic, the Rio ploughs its furrow as one of the truly independent cinemas in London. And the Arcola is striving to be an eco-friendly as much as a creative friendly theatre. The drunks have been forced elsewhere, and some of the clubs have been closed down.
How much the area has developed as a centre of artists and clubs was brought home to me in force by the Land Of Kings event on Thursday and Friday this week. A dozen or so venues opening their doors and the Vortex packed to a bright young crowd for Oriole particularly yesterday night. Briony Campbell came round to do some photos of the team at the Vortex as part of a project photographing the venues in the area. The first few can be seen at the Arcola Theatre and she has identified 24 alone. The results will be posted up on the web soon and I'll put the details up when I have them.
Fortunately the recession means that these venues will grow steadily and strongly, but not too fast. And we hopefully shan't be overpowered by the Hackney Council glitz on Dalston Square, whenever that appears.
Today I'm off to open my shop as part of an event exploring our food through art. And will be drinking copious amounts of coffee at the Vortex to recover from a late night. With finally, a performance by the amazing Six Strings and The Beat. Go Phil!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Come to my record shop, one of the last outposts

The LondonJazz blog reminds us it will be Record Store day on Saturday. Personally I doubt whether this will at any stage come to rank with the likes of Mother's Day or National No-Snoring day. Still let's hear it for the small shops like mine on Gillett Square indeed - and Honest Jon's, and Ray's and ???.
I find it shocking as to how HMV has gone so far backwards in its making jazz (and recorded music) available in its stores nowadays. HMV Hampstead probably has 200 jazz CDs in its rack. I understand that in Enfield there are probably 200 CDs in total. It's all about games and DVDs there. I hope they don't claim any degree of increased profitability out of selling music in their stores.Watch out Waterstones! Waterstones is no longer the store that it was. Even "sophisticated" Hampstead in inundated by novels by Katie Price, and memoirs by Jonathan Woss. (Waterstones is indeed owned by HMV)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A jazz archive?

Where do we get the old reviews of albums?
The internet and online reviews are the only place now where there are proper long-term archives of album reviews. This raises the importance of the reviews by the likes of Chris Parker on the Vortex web site or Peter Bacon's jazz breakfast to the same status as that of newspapers where there is a proper online archive (e.g. the Guardian). For regular news, then, there are blogs such as Londonjazz, or the pop-oriented ones, like Record of the Day.
Unfortunately, there is now no similar facility for researching the old copies of the main magazines, which therefore become ephemeral. Even though they are regarded as definitive and make substantial investment in articles and reviews (i.e. paying the contributors).In the old days, of course, it was possible to go down to the local library and look up copies of Jazz Journal, say. Now, how, for example, can we get hold of old reviews of Jazzwise and Jazz UK? I suppose there are still a few libraries around, and of course there's the National Jazz Archive in Buckhurst Hill. Then where? You could go down to Streatham (Jazzwise's headquarters), Cardiff (Jazz UK's headquarters), Colindale (the British Library newspapers Reading Room) and, I would expect, the copyright libraries in Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh.
If magazines like Jazzwise don't engage properly with the internet but prefer to fight it, they will go the same way as the major record labels, when they fought Napster etc., about a decade ago.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Music Market - 26 April @ The Vortex

The next Vortex music market is on 26 April from 2-6 p.m.
Jazz on Cds, vinyl - much hard to find.
With the loss of so many high street shops, here is one of the few places for lovers of specialist jazz to find what they love.
FREE to attend, FREE to display.
For more information, contact
At the first, you could find many Leo CDs for £2, and exciting things from Czech Republic, Babel releases ahead of their time and so on.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Who gets the coverage?

I did a rough and ready analysis of Jazzwise covers to see who gets on. It particularly shows, I think, what the public recognise easily in jazz. Rather than necessarily who the innovators are at any time.
I did it because I believe strongly that the great unsung innovators are pianists and also that the rhythm section gets underestimated in terms of being at the centre.
Based on covers that I pulled randomly out from a box where I had them stored. Artists on more than one cover are counted again (e.g. Ravi Coltrane, Seb Rochford).
Saxophone 14 (40%), Vocalist 5 (14.3%), Drums 4(11.4%), pianists 3(8.6%), trumpeters 3 (8.6%), bassists 2 (2.9%), bands 2 (2.9%), guitarist 1 (1.4%), trombonists and sundry instruments 0
I am particularly surprised that only guitarist at that time got on the cover (Pat Metheny). For there to be a lot of saxophonists doesn't really surprise me, as it is probably the instrument most associated with jazz by the general public and indeed most of the saxophonists are actually playing or holding a saxophone.
Any conclusions that can be drawn? I leave it to you, dear reader.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jazz on German radio

Peter Bacon's Jazzbreakfast writes about jazz in the media in the UK. I have just received a report on jazz on German radio, by Bernd Hoffmann of WDR. Not only are there over 300 hours of jazz a month on German radio, but much of it is before 9 p.m. and there are so many festivals and live recordings. The quality of presenters is also incredibly high. Of the new generation, I know Guenther Huesmann, Karsten Muetzelfeldt, Michael Ruesenberg. Fantastically thorough and thoughtful. Oh to have more of that here. The best journalists too often move on, as the money is to be earned elsewhere. Classic example is Richard Williams, as lead sports writer on the Guardian.
In the mean time, we are reliant on too scant coverage. As Peter points out, the blogs are beginning to fill the gap. As well as his and that of Seb Scotney, check out The Jazz Mann and Chris Parker on the Vortex web site.
If you want a copy of the report, contact me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri's new book is now out. Hear an interview with him on BBC's Front Row here by clicking on listen again for Tuesday. The new album, on the Vortex imprint, will be out in time for his gig at Hay-on-Wye in May.
He describes nicely that he is both an author and musician but the former has become better known. "This is not fusion" is the playful side of his brain.

British jobs for British people? Maybe Wynton needs to change nationality.

The new regulations for work permits mean that the Vortex is now "recognised licenced sponsor" for work permits for non-EU and non-EEA nationals allowing the club to bring in musicians. It's a minefield as this article from spiked shows. It included a 90 minute grilling from 3 members of the Home Office Border Agency. (Maybe "grilling" is too strong a word, as they were actually very polite.)
Amongst other things, they insisted that we keep information on those musicians who have the right to work in UK, who might play in the club regularly (such as Gene Calderazzo, Jean Toussaint).
Even though a permit is now only £10 a musician, the additional controls are troublesome. We have already had one band being put off coming. Andy Robbins, who books for the Jazz Cafe, also told me of a tour that has just collapsed because of the new regulations.
Of course, the Vortex will just continue to book bands, and will book what it can. However, it is important for the club to have in its programme the likes of Tim Berne and others who set the standards and give the music an impetus, as well as collaborations such as Big Air, which could only exist by having Jim Black and Myra Melford working with Chris Batchelor and Steve Buckley. The same music takes on a totally different shape when played by a different constellation of musicians, as we know only too well.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Which is more important - the recording or the concert?

An article in the New Yorker suggests that, by giving away CDs or downloads, the recording is less important than the live performance. You can read the article here.
Certainly this is a change for the pop world over the last decade, when, in the old world, the recording was the way of earning money and the labels would give money to support the tour to act as publicity for selling the CD.
In reality, BOTH are important, as, in my view, is also the music itself. However little may be earned in the near term from a recording it is also important for documenting and putting a certain alternative way of hearing the music.
What the pop world has moved to is only where jazz has been, and is, for many years. That's why, so often, musicians have been heard by more people live than by their recordings. For too long, in the pop world, they forgot what the live performance could give to an audience.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Who gains when the CDs come out of copyright?

There is a battle going on about whether to increase the labels' ownership of recordings to 95 years (as recommended now by the EU) from the present 50.
The argument from the (big) labels is that a limited life of ownership inhibits the incentive to release new music. In fact, I wonder if they are only wanting the extension because we are coming up to 50 years since the real explosion of money earning for labels, in particular the Beatles (out of copyright in 2013 onwards).
If we look at the amount of great jazz stuck away in the "vaults" (i.e. currently unavailable on CD), it is lamentable. Two major examples: Windmill Tilter, the first release of music by Kenny Wheeler (made for the Dankworth Orchestra) and the last Loose Tubes album (Open Letter to Dudu Pukwana). And the list goes on.

Labels think that they are doing a service to themselves, in the hope that one day they'll make a killing. However, when the albums come out of copyright, we have seen them often properly remastered and made widely available. The music gets the respect it deserves, instead of just being a commodity.
In my shop, I have been selling 4 classic albums by the likes of Jimmy Giuffre and Count Basie for just £5 each. I have particularly had pleasure from listening to Giuffre, who was one of the main influences on the existence of ECM.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Tower of Babel

Having just been to the Babylon exhibition at the British Museum, I was particularly fascinated by the Tower of Babel story. I had hoped that the most iconic image of it, that by Brueghel, would be there. It was, but only in reproduction.
I was quite intrigued about thinking about the whole idea of one language of music and the attempt to subvert and make communication difficult, which God seemed to prefer. Let's try and make sure that the religious lot don't achieve the same with regard to Babel?
Nice little video about the Tower here.
I found overall the concept of the exhibition intriguing, but a bit thin on artefacts. It seemed to be driven by the political, given that Babylon is in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Otomo Yoshihide

I went to hear Otomo Yoshihide at Cafe Oto, round the corner from the Vortex on Ashwin Street. Great venue, which has created a lovely vibe for hearing creative music.
My anticipation turned into disappointment. He fiddled around on the peripheries of music. Low hum, leading to repetitions from the inside groove of an LP etc. The sound of police cars and mobile phones had a greater impact at times. Perhaps he works better responding and reacting to other musicians. What am I missing? There was a large audience there. Were they feeling hoodwinked or exhilarated? I didn't stay long enough to ask.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The star rating revisited

The reaction to the 5 stars in The Guardian, along with a review in Saturday's FT was dramatic. Over 60 orders online - and still they come in. Just great to get people to be aware of the Babel stuff too. If they'd just gone into a shop then they would have bought the album and someone else near them alphabetically, e.g. Ayler.
Meanwhile, I spoke to Paul Clarvis about his Starry Starry Night album with Liam Noble. Sound quality, recorded at Abbey Road, matches up to the musical quality. I congratulated him on the range of reviews achieved over the past week - Guardian, Times, FT etc. His reaction was one of disappointment, as none of them seemed to get what the album was about. They were all 3 stars. I suppose he wonders if people are going to buy it with the wrong awareness of what's going on. (You can make up your mind if you want to buy it from our Babel shop on Gillett Square, where it's one of the opening offers!)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Big Air, 5 star review
Buy it from our shop in Gillett Square, the Vortex or online from the Babel web site.

As I like to sometimes look at philosophy behind these things, I think that I should soon have something about the rating for album reviews, the difference between the official line between magazines and the individual writers etc. Watch this space....

Thursday, March 05, 2009

We love Hackney?!

I was just down at Charlie Wrights yesterday evening to hear the wonderful Golden Age Of Steam. The venue has been temporarily closed by Hackney Council because of noise complaints. Zhenya at least is finding other places in the area in order to continue with his imaginative programming down there.
What is it about this Council? On the one hand, so much of their publicity enthuses over its cultural creativity. But this story doesn't seem to be getting through to the other parts of the Council. I understand that there have already been mutterings about the need to get rid of the Banksy in Gillett Square.
We would love, at the Vortex, to get a 2 a.m. licence so that we can extend our music programming with additional experimentation. Will we get it? Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Banksy image by the Vortex

A new Banksy graffiti has just appeared in Gillett Square. Kid with boombox and teddy bear.
The opposite end of the Square from the Vortex. I note that it's the first new Banksy since last Autumn. And it was even done next to a CCTV!
I gather that it's getting increasingly difficult for the Council to remove these things immediately. Although they are the freeholder, the lease is with Hackney Co-operative Developments. Who won't give it up easily.
Long may it remain.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Babel shop chart

1. Liam Noble - Brubeck (Basho)
2. Blink - Blink (Loop)
3. Jim Mullen Organ Trio featuring Stan Sulzmann - Make Believe (Diving Duck)
4. EST - Leucocyte (ACT)
5. Phil Robson - Six Strings and The Beat (Babel)
6. Kenny Wheeler - Other People (Camjazz)
7. Hank Roberts - Green (Winter & Winter)
8. Liane Carroll - Slow Down (Splashpoint)
9. John Law - Art of Sound Vol. 3 (33Jazz)
10. John Taylor - Whirlpool (Camjazz)

Based on CDs available at the shop besides the Vortex.
To appear in Jazzwise in April.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Where is jazz played in London?

Seb Scotney's LondonJazz blog has an ongoing investigation about why the Royal Opera House stopped putting on jazz. I remember seeing some lovely gigs there. I understand that there have been some good quality rock gigs there, such as Snow Patrol. So it's potentially just the sort of place, in my humble view, where jazz could and should be occurring. High quality, accessible etc.
Unfortunately, they have stopped, apart from performances "mainly around festivals". Due to concern that it might interfere with other areas of programming and that they no longer fitted in with our artistic vision. Hmm. And as if jazz only exists at festival times?
The man in question, Christopher Millard, flannelled about a bit but couldn't clarify. What is the artistic vision of the Royal Opera House that it doesn't include some of the most innovative musicians around? Maybe they should ask Mark Anthony Turnage who ha written extensively for jazz musicians, such as Dave Holland and John Scofield as well as explaining that he is greatly influenced by Miles Davis.
We suggest that you ask more of the Royal Opera House, email Christopher Millard, Director of Press and Communication on
Ian Carr, R.I.P. Always elegant, in his music, in his writing and in his appearance. Thank goodness he was still aware enough when the jazz world gave him accolades at BBC Jazz Awards and Parliamentary Jazz Awards. He gave encouragement to many and seemed to have time for all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An honorary degree

The LondonJazz blog draws attention to the fact that I am going to get an honorary degree from the Royal Academy of Music. I shall sheepishly accept the Hon A-RAM. When I initially heard about it, I had hoped that it was for the Vortex itself. I find it a cool concept to make an inanimate club seem animate.
Meanwhile. I discover that there are only 300 independent record shops left in the UK. Add to that HMV etc. that probably means not more than 500 in a country of 60 million! That's why digital becomes so important. Meanwhile, when I put CDs on the counter at the Vortex, everyone goes in to have a look. Force of habit? Frustration that there is nowhere else to look nowadays? Who knows? But the breadth of interest is shown by a person who buys Lenny White and Ellery Eskelin CDs at the same time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New range of CDs in the shop and coming online

The Babel shop now has a selection of CDs from pi, AUM Fidelity, Camjazz, Basho, ACT and Winter & Winter. As well as the full Babel catalogue

These include the new John Taylor solo CD "Phases", as well as his other Camjazz CDs and those of Kenny Wheeler.

I have also picked up some interesting CDs from Czech Republic. There is also a £2 bargain bin, with some of the remnant CDs from the Vortex. (All proceeds from these sales go direct to the club.)

Among the UK CDs now in are: Barry Green's New York Trio, Liam Noble/Paul Clarvis - Starry Starry Night, Trianglehead, Jim Mullen Organ Trio featuring Stan Sulzmann.

More and more of the CDs are also available online via the Babel website or click here

Come down to check it out.

9 Gillett Square, London N16. Next to the Vortex.
Core opening hours: Thursday-Saturday 3-11 p.m.
Other times: a small selection for Vortex gigs when I'm there

Otherwise, email me on if you have any particular order. You can specify when you want to collect.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Banks and the major players in music industry - the parallels?

Having had a period in both worlds - my initial calling was as an "economist" - I am trying to draw parallels between the decline of the banks and that of the majors in the record industry.
It's difficult and I think that this will be an evolving topic over the next period.
So far, I have laid both sides down to technology and the ignorance regarding it. The bank bosses blindly followed the findings of rocket scientists who could come up with an apparent alchemical way of turning low quality housing in Hartlepool into squillions of pounds for bank bosses.
The major record companies fought it on the other hand, not realising what could happen to their revenues. They fought Napster, they have tried to fight file sharing. Funnily enough it was a computer company, Apple, who showed them the way forward, with itunes. Unfortunately for them, just as there were beginning to be revenues appearing from this side, the recession struck big time.
So the contrasts are probably greater than the similarities. Other contrasts - music has a better quality underlying product, even if it seems costly, than the banks had. Music development is a long-term phenomenon. By contrast, banking, certainly in the past few years, has been a short-term fix.
Both have been equally unable to learn from history or from their mistakes.
Certainly there will be different solutions to the problems. When Guy Hands tried to solve EMI as one of short-term financial returns, he failed miserably.
I just feel that the jazz world probably has the answers for the music industry. There are people still in the majors who believe in music.
The advisers to the governments on the banks themselves are implicated and trying to save their skins.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keep going to the gigs

This weekend the Vortex held a festival for the dynamic Loop Collective. The club was packed for 4 days, with festival promoters from France such as Jazzdor in Strasbourg and journalists including Michael Ruesenberg from WDR in Cologne.
14 bands over the period, including BBC Jazz Award winners Fraud, Gwilym Simcock as a great sideman with Sam Crockatt, Blink, Outhouse......
I made the introductions and spoke to many of the delighted fans. Several even made clear that they found a Valentine's Day in a packed jazz club listening to these band a highly romantic experience. One called Phronesis "pure sex on stage"! Do you agree?
But I forgot to say one important thing. And that is, that people should not think that going to a day of a festival is enough. They need to keep going to gigs throughout the year, wherever and whenever they are. The quality of the music here is amazing and even quite accessible. That's what the festival showed. For bands: no need to underestimate your audiences. For audiences: the music's out there. Go and find it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vortex Music Market, 22 February

The Vortex is running its first monthly music market on 22 February from 1-5 p.m.

11 Gillett Square, London N16 8JH
100 yards from Dalston Kingsland station, many buses!

Free for exhibitors and purchasers.
Vinyl, CDs, private collections, private collectors, labels, all welcome.

Nice coffee and food at Ochre Works downstairs.

"This sounds like a rather pleasant way of returning the social dimension to record buying."
(JazzUK, February 2009 editorial)

With shops disappearing and chances for jazz labels to get their music out there declining, this is a way of solving the problem?

To display contact for more information.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

More jazz to find or miss

Following on my previous blog about finding jazz hidden away all over the place in London, I return frustrated to have missed a performance of Sonos E Memoria, with Sardinian musicians led by trumpeter Paolo Fresu of which here is Part 1

Misha Alperin is in town soon on 18 February at Kings Place (overlapping with Uri Caine in Greenwich). There's also an interview with Mikhail Rudy who's doing the show with him.
Also watch out for Chris Dave at Charlie Wright's on Wednesday next week. Though I'll be enjoying Liam Noble at the Vortex launching his divine Brubeck album (And of course selling it at my shop!)
Here's some of Chris Dave with his trio.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Progrock and jazz

Progrock seems to where many of the musicians ended in the late 60s and early 70s ended up who didn't want to go into pure rock and didn't feel at ease in the jazz world. Intriguingly, musicians such as Robert Wyatt and Bill Bruford have hooked up more with the younger jazzers in recent years (e.g. Earthworks).
The influence of the classical and intellectual has permeated jazz more and more in recent years, especially as young musicians are able to study in the conservatoires. It also has a common feature with much of jazz today (as pointed out in an article by Laura Barnett in the Guardian) that it has been a male dominated world -even if changing. Though she did forget to mention that the Vortex has an all-female big band (The Vortex Foundation Big Band) with a Babel release!

Monday, February 02, 2009

How to run a jazz club?

Through Seb Scotney, of the LondonJazz blog, pointed out an article about Ronnie Scott's and its present general manager Simon Cooke in the Times recently. Certainly it shows that there is a different mentality that has to run a jazz club in the West End, with high rents and overheads, in contrast with Dalston. Whether it is true to the "spirit" of the music over there is another matter. But perhaps there is no choice? Running a jazz club is a balance between creativity, the musicians and the audiences. They have to feel at home, because that, in my view, generates the buzz that makes a jazz gig special. Given the "looseness" that much jazz has live, it is essential that the ambiance is right. If the club is too prim and proper, then this is lost. "Scruffy", a word used insultingly by Simon Cooke, is not necessarily a negative. As long as it is controlled scruffiness.
The Vortex is having a great period in terms of music and audiences. Over 300 people through the door on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And not with an "easy" range of music - Buffalo Collision (Tim Berne, Hank Roberts, Ethan Iverson, Dave King), Carol Grimes (returning to live performance after a lay-off through injury after 6 months), London Jazz Orchestra doing the music of Pete Hurt and our Vocals@Vortex night. Tonight, weather willing, it's Yaron Herman and Curios.
It's been, and always will be, very much a case of evolution not revolution. A lot of patience, such as a late night celebration with Carol after the gig, meaning that I got home at close to 3 a.m. A lovely crowd of volunteers who believe in the club. The continued involvement of David Mossman, as founder and everything else.
It was so flattering that Rod Youngs, playing for the singers' night, was so thrilled by the night that he gave me a warm embrace on departure, insisting that we get an extension built asap!
By getting this right - and having a patient landlord to ensure that this occurs - the club is ready to survive the slings and arrows of the recession that we are now in.
So is there a correct way to start and run a jazz club? I don't think so. There is certainly no Jazz Club 101 course at business schools. Long may that be the case. Adaptability, flexibility, creativity.

Friday, January 30, 2009

How many shops?

By the end of this year, I reckon that there may be just 25 shops left seriously selling jazz in this country. That's not based on any actual scientific calculation but just a sign of where things are. Zavvi has now gone, and I think that HMV will just sell jazz at 150 Oxford Street. Elsewhere, who knows?
Remember, that this collapse is not due to the digital revolution, though it was hastening its demise, but rather the recession. Especially the collapse of Woolworths and EUK. Digital is still not well enough developed to pick up the slack - certainly financially - leaving music to be sold at gigs, or by venues. We'll be back to grass roots where jazz will be sold by a few knowledgable people. Hurray! For example, Tim Berne, at the Vortex tonight with Buffalo Collision, has stopped selling CDs via distributors, concentrating on gigs and mail order. So has Barry Green. One of the best sellers at my shop is a new album by Liane Carroll with John Etheridge. Again, not available in stores. So, I'll have more and more fun as a retailer, but I'll be frustratedly continuing to release some great albums which no-one will be able to find. (What's new?) Amazon will of course thrive, but the personal touch will have been lost!
Blame the lazy majors who lost track of real music years ago and lost track of their audience.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where's the jazz in London?

It's all too easy to get despondent about how much (or rather how little) jazz there is to be heard in London. Rather it's how hard to find out about all the jazz in London before it's happened. Indeed, there's Ronnie Scott's, the Pizza Express, 606, Bull's Head and the Vortex. But the real excitement is what's bubbling underneath - all too often unfindable, or only to be found too late. Seb Scotney is getting his teeth into this part of the scene on his LondonJazz blog.
For example, the chance to hear Uri Caine in Greenwich on 18 February, courtesy of Trinity College of Music. Or the work that Richard Turner puts in at Cons Cellar Bar in Camden. Or Troubletune at Concrete Bar run by Zed-U, which I went to yesterday. (A mesmerising collaboration with Jason Yarde using looping and electronics as well as beautiful saxophony.)
The shame is perhaps that the musicians themselves are so committed that very little money comes back to them. And the opportunities to "cash in". Dependent on door money, if any at all, and the long-term passion for playing and performing. They know how to improvise their lives to adapt to these passions.
By the way, Zed-U's next Troubletune is on 18 February, with Seb Rochford as guest.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Improvisation and the voice of the individual

Last weekend I spent two days before the Muenster Jazz Festival at a seminar learning about improvisation. One of the most fascinating sessions was about improvisation in the nineteen century. Composers such as Beethoven and Liszt were leading exponents and writers like Czerny explained how it was possible to "extemporise". Certainly it went hand in hand with the rise of the Romantic individual and was as much a means of expression as poetry or art. Especially helped by the improvements in the piano. (Much easier to appreciate and develop than two hours of wailing oboe improvisation!)
It's a skill that was lost during the 20th century as classical musicians concentrated more on technique and interpretation. Improvisation was frowned upon, except perhaps by organists. Until jazz came along to save it. Hence one partly sees, in my view, why jazz musicians have been at the forefront in highlighting human rights and so on. (Weren't Max Roach and Nina Simone two of the leaders propounding civil rights in the 60s?)
By the way. Thinking further on the matter, there is one further element of jazz which has developed in Western culture which wasn't around in the 19th century - the concept of improvisation within a group context. So we end up with a melding of approaches from western and eastern cultures.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The cost of recordings - the sad news about New Note

It'll take time for New Note going into liquidation to hit home. It means short-term unavailability of many albums, into those few shops still around. But also lost revenue to many musician-led labels, such as Clark Tracey's Tentoten, Andrew Cleyndert's Trio, 33, Dave Stapleton's new Edition label, etc. etc. The list goes on. New Note was (is) the biggest.

Even the attempts to salvage the wreckage by Proper will not bring the lost money back. The last time there was a collapse was Mactwo. I think that the demise of Caber and the dormancy of Dune and Provocateur have to be related to this.

On the one hand, jazz is vulnerable, because even a few thousand pounds out of the system affects a permanently cash-starved sector. My optimism for music watchers is that the musicians and labels will react fast with solutions that the rest of the world could adapt to. It's very resilient in that regard. After all, wasn't the era of the Jazz Age also that of the 30s Depression?

I think that the need to build on loyalty and commitment, of fans as much as musicians, are key. It's a great "community".

Digital is one route. Another is to look for new means of direct action

The Vortex's initial response is to start a monthly music muarket from 22 Feb - in the afternoon. A chance for fans to buy direct and for labels to set out their wares at minimal cost. If it works, then we want to expand into the Square! (For more information about taking a stall contact This will be one of many experiments by many involved solve the problem, I'm sure. Bringing the music to the fans is certainly one way.