The dust has settled from the undignified collapse of 2013, and 2014 has made its dishevelled entry but has yet to reveal its true nature, leaving us free to indulge in a bit of speculation. The recent sad loss of Stan Tracey reminds us again how few of the players from the “classic era” of 20th century jazz are still with us; 2013 also saw Sonny Rollins forced to cancel his London shows due to illness, and we can only admire the sheer creative energy of Wayne Shorter as he continues to innovate into his 80s, with his Barbican appearance featuring the BBC concert orchestra and a programme of original work attracting excellent reviews. Jazz draws a lot of its cultural cachet as a popular music that’s also an art music from the continued vitality of these elder statesmen, and it would be great if the Brighton Dome saw the return of an artist of the calibre of Shorter, John McLaughlin or Dave Holland; all have played the venue in the past few years (as indeed, long ago, did John Coltrane with his classic quartet – apparently a large proportion of the audience were expecting something more along the lines of “If I Were A Bell” and left early). While Ronnie Scott’s is currently featuring George Benson at £275 a ticket, and are so confident of sales that they’ve imposed a restriction of 2 tickets per member, promoters in the Brighton area seem to have become less willing to take a risk on big-name jazz. Unfortunately, the same seems to be true of the Brighton Festival, which has some deep pockets lined with sponsorship but has noticeably overlooked jazz when seeking to add highfalutin lustre to its programme of contemporary cultural events. As so often, jazz finds itself to be not highbrow enough for taxpayer funding, but not popular enough for commercial support.
The notable exception to this trend in 2013 was of course the Love Supreme Festival which combined some very commercial headliners (no need to mention names) with the more recherché likes of the Kairos Quartet and Troyka and heavy hitters from the US lineage Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard. That was quite a gamble, but aided by some providentially excellent weather it seems to have paid off, to the extent that they’re set for a return in July 2014. We await the line-up with bated breath. The public’s appetite for Green-Field festivals has been shown to be prodigious but not limitless, so let’s hope this one thrives enough to become a regular feature of the local scene and attract more international quality artists to the area, which in turn (dare we look so far ahead?) might stimulate both the quality of jazz played around here, and the quantity of people prepared to pay to come and listen to it.
All this is ever more relevant as 2013 saw a continuation of the familiar drop in album sales in the UK. Streaming revenue has increased by a massive 33% but it’s impossible to tell how that will translate to a jazz-consumer base with notably conservative tendencies (vinyl sales are up too, a stupendous 101%, though the actual quantities involved are sadly minimal.) So live playing to paying audiences continues to be vitally important to the survival of jazz musicians today. Let’s hear it again for The Verdict jazz club, recently celebrating its second festive season, and still bringing us a superb roster of British jazz in all its variety. Where else could you have caught hotly-tipped-by-the-critics-for-2014 saxophonist/composer Trish Clowes, appearing as a sideman in Dave Drake’s outfit alongside the equally superb Riley Stone-Lonergan, all for a fiver? Keep an eye on the listings, you wouldn’t want to miss out, would you?