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.