1 May 2016

Confessions of a Jazz Promoter by Annette Keen

    So this is the scenario: jazz lover with time to spare, and good organisational skills, eager to get more involved in the music scene (me), meets small, intimate performance space with great sound potential, an impressive lighting rig, and the willingness to put up the necessary money for jazz gigs. Obviously a marriage made in heaven – so what could possibly go wrong? Well, for fifteen years nothing much did go wrong.

    Now anyone who's run a jazz club will testify that it's hard work, not only getting it started but finding an audience and then keeping both going. 

    I was a complete rookie and mostly just followed my gut instincts, booking local bands at first, which worked OK, but then making a huge leap forward with Ian Shaw (and barely sleeping the night before – how much money could I actually lose the venue? Would they ever trust me again?). It was a gamble that paid off, Ian was marvellous and did everything he could to get the creaky sound system and speakers right for him, and the venue got the biggest house they'd had in years. 

    After that I had enough street cred for the venue to give me my head – and the sound system was hastily updated. Audiences grew, the venue started to get a reputation for jazz, everyone was happy. 

    It was necessary to work on three seasons at any one time: 

*  the current season – organising payments, being there on gig nights, looking after the musicians and getting to know the regulars; 

*  the next season – writing press releases, resumes on flyers, advertising, establishing contact between musicians and sound engineers; 

*  and the following season – deciding who to get, contacting musicians, negotiating deals, juggling dates, drawing up contracts.

    Being there on the night was never a chore, always a pleasure. I never met a jazz musician I didn't like, and many of the audience became friends over the years. I had a fantastic team of people to help too, reliable techies who did the best job, volunteers who ran the box office, bar, coffee bar, and front of house – and generally left me free to have a lovely time! And I loved it. 

       After fifteen years a new management team swept into the venue with different ideas and I gave it a year before filing for divorce. Someone else took over and kept things running sweetly for another two years. Then the new broom swept past again and decreed that no fees were to be paid, only a percentage of door money, which effectively cut out professionals and left the venue with no jazz promoter.

    I'm not a promoter now as I don't have a venue, but I work in artist management, and I help out with the admin of both Splash Point Jazz Clubs.


Annette Keen


Splash Point Jazz Club presents monthly gigs at Seaford Head Golf Club and weekly gigs at The Master Mariner in Brighton Marina.


[Photo of Sue Richardson performing at The Under Ground Theatre in Eastbourne by Brian O'Connor, www.imagesofjazz.com]


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