The nominations for the JazzFM Awards are in, and it’s especially gratifying to see how many of the nominees have been active within our area of the Jazz-o-sphere over the past twelve months. On the gig front, the Verdict has once again proved its worth as a viable performance space for touring jazz artists, having hosted no less than eight of the nominees on this year’s list – see if you can guess which – and showing every sign of continuing to thrive under the highly pro-active and fragrantly enhanced management of the indefatigably hospitable Roxanne. Some sort of award of its own should surely be forthcoming before too long. With jazz representation at the Brighton Festival still as thin and patchy as this months’ disappointing snowfall, we can be grateful that both Jazz Re:freshed and Jazz In The Round have made efforts to expand their eclectic operations outside the capital and brought their moveable feasts of new jazz artists to the circular venues of the Brighton Dome and St. Mary’s Hastings respectively – let us hope that they will continue to enliven our public spaces of all shapes and sizes later in the year. And Love Supreme returns yet again with its now familiar mix of jazz-and-related-musics in spacious rural surroundings – may the weather hold!
The Award Nominees list strikes a careful balance between established British jazz acts as represented by Jason Yarde, Orphy Robinson and Denys Baptiste, and the much-touted New Young Londoners. Of course, Yarde, Robinson and Baptiste were once much-touted themselves as part of a rising generation of New Young UK Jazz stars being embraced by the wider media machine, ready to take their place on the world stage, with all the accompanying press attention and eager hype. Hype, of course, is a highly unstable compound with an unfortunate tendency to evaporate leaving barely a trace, but when talent matches hype, a solid legacy can be the happy result; Gary Crosby and Janine Irons’ Tomorrow’s Warriors are the guardians of that legacy and the bridge between generations, and it’s wholly fit that they are represented in the Innovation Award category alongside so much of the talent that they have nurtured. What irony that, as the new generation of British jazz is being so roundly celebrated that it’s even been permitted onto the pages of the mainstream press without a qualifying reference to that inevitable Fast Show sketch, the Warriors’ own programme finds itself under threat from a funding deficit that risks the closure of their year-round Free Artist Development Programme at Southbank Centre. You can give generously at https://www.gofundme.com/iamwarrior.
Jazz thrives on a gig, which is why you should all go out and go to one the minute you finish reading this, but its legacy is preserved on recordings. Whether fairly or unfairly, the history of the music is written, not by the victors, but by those fortunate enough to have their good side preserved on disc. Much of the early be-bop was lost to posterity due to the great recording strike of 1942-44; the innovations of Buddy Bolden live on only in the echoes of his playing passed down from player to player; Eric Dolphy’s genius, if overlooked during his lifetime by many, survives to be rediscovered by later generations, but the sound of his teacher Lloyd Reese is lost forever. For the new generation of UK jazz artists to be embraced by the public to the extent they have is already an achievement, but the next step of consolidation will require some landmark recordings, and this is perhaps a greater challenge than ever. The existing canon is so immense, the rate of deluxe reissues so prodigious, the discovery of ‘lost’ recordings by the masters so improbably frequent (the past year saw John Coltrane make his debut in the UK album charts) – how can a contemporary artist make a meaningful addition to this high tower? With the value of recorded music as a commodity at an all-time low, what real inducement is there for jazz players to expend their finest creative powers of the creation of recordings that may seem to get lost on the streaming services’ limitless virtual stockrooms the minute they are released? What are the great UK jazz albums of the last couple of years?
The transparency of streaming metrics can provide some insights that may perhaps give the critics pause for thought. Roller Trio, Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, The Comet Is Coming, were all among the last wave of critical frontrunners; between them they can only manage a couple of tunes that have hit a million Spotify streams. The less fancied Portico Quartet’s most streamed offering stands at over 6 million, and the Yussef Kamaal album Black Focus, rather disparaged in some quarters on its release as a collection of underdeveloped jams, has five of its ten tracks comfortably over the million mark. It’s as if listeners are responding, not so much to criteria of musical accomplishment that critics can recognise, and more to a sense of vibe, and a deliberate abrogation of contrived, purposive statement, as contrast to the increasingly regulated offerings of both the cultural and commercial wings of the music industry. Streaming stats differ from album sales figures in that they record what people are actually listening to, rather than what they are reading or talking about, or buying to decorate their record racks at home. As music consumption habits change, and recorded popular music becomes ever more disposable and deliberately artificial sounding, the raw creative spontaneity of jazz in the round, as a live and direct expression, becomes its strongest appeal. How to capture that feeling into a timeless recorded statement for future generations to discover? Send in your suggestions for the greatest Brit jazz records of the last two decades please – and in the meantime, while you’re deciding, may we respectfully draw your attention to the review section of this publication, with an array of fresh delights for your consideration?