Spring arrives, bringing its customary seasonal quickening, and the jazz fan’s thoughts naturally turn towards music festivals. The South Coast Jazz Festival braved the dead of winter to achieve another triumph with high sales, plenty of local engagement and some gratifying press attention – congratulations are due once again to the unstoppable, camera-friendly team of Julian Nicholas and Claire Martin for their perseverance in making this into a reality. Closer to the beating heart of the city, we can look forward to more from Terry Seabrook’s season at the Nightingale Rooms and Chris Coull’s promising new Wednesday night venture at the Palmeira joining the thriving regular scene. The year-long festival of outrageous new talent that is New Generation Jazz has started to draw record audiences to the thriving Verdict club. Kemp Town Carnival is rumoured to be re-floating after a troubled period, and we can hope that its jazz stage will have survived its passage across the troubled waters of financial insecurity. Let’s also hope that transcendental multi-media personality Daniel Spicer returns with another spectacular bonanza of international-quality free improv to follow on from 2015’s Alternative Jazz Festival, where only the box office could be accused of selling out. Add to this the fourth return of the mighty juggernaut that is Love Supreme, with its unique mix of fashionably tipped cutting-edge jazz-and-related-musics and family friendly funk and soul classics, and you’ve surely got something to please even the most dogmatically partisan fan of whatever they’ve chosen to understand by the contentious catch-all definition of jazz.
This column has touched repeatedly, perhaps contentiously or maybe only cantankerously, on (to our mind) the wholly unnecessary conflict that can sometimes be seen erupting across our already battle-scarred social media whenever the subject of ‘real’ jazz is brought up. While it’s now universally agreed that Charlie Parker, whatever his personal shortcomings, definitely always played real jazz even when encumbered by string sections, this was by no means apparent to all his contemporaries; go back to the journalists of the swing era to see how many of them found bebop to be a desecration of all the values they thought central to jazz, by polluting it with elements stolen from 20th century symphonic highbrows like Stravinsky.
Nowadays, the musical descendants of Armstrong and Ellington are so numerous and diverse that it’s really impossible to like them all equally, and equally unnecessary to expend energy on attacking the forms you dislike. It’s so much easier to define what isn’t jazz, but lets’ try and pin it down anyway, just for fun – it’s an awareness of the Afro-American tradition, even if you can only follow it in your own way – it’s a sense of freedom and adventure – it’s a dedication to music, and to your instrument, if you’re a player, or to the art of listening, whether you are one or not. And it’s an identification with a community, or a family, however you like to think of it. Let’s leave the last word to the eloquent Mr. Walter Blanding, tenorist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, captured on vid addressing a class of high school kids as they alternate between rapt attention and inconsequential mucking about, and dispensing a philosophy that is as relevant for listeners as it is for players. “Jazz is… about how to work together with a group of people, even if they think differently from you… you can say, here we are, we’re all different, but we’re going to work together in harmony, we’re going to make an idea become a reality… we can take pride in saying that each one of us is different and we can still come together… that’s what jazz is about…”
The Nightingale Room Jazz
The Verdict, of course
New Generation Jazz
Walter Blanding Speaks