The Column: Can You Hear The Jazz Boom?
Anyone lucky enough to receive the Performing Rights Society’s regular magazine will no doubt have been intrigued to see an article headed “What’s going on in British Jazz?”, and even more intrigued by the following introductory quote from saxophonist Pete Wareham:
“Jazz? I don’t know much about it. I haven’t been following it for ages…… I’ve been listening to a lot of Diplo and Mykki Blanco”
Now given that Mr Wareham is a graduate of both Leeds College of Music and the Guildhall and is a former member of NYJO, we must assume that he does in fact know something about jazz, or at any rate he used to before re-orienting his tastes to banging EDM. What’s illustrated here is that Jazz, however you define it as a musical form, still has a decided image problem among many journalists and musicians, who can’t discuss it in print without starting with some sort of similar disclaimer. They can’t seem to shake the uncomfortable feeling that the music they may personally love is perceived by the wider public as old-fashioned and elitist, and that they’d better distance themselves lest they attract mockery from their more aggressively fashionable peers, most likely based on the Fast Show’s immortal Jazz Club sketch. I suspect that underlying this unease is the fact that a big proportion of the jazz audience is older, and a lot of arts journalists, caught up in a never-ending scramble for relevance, are reluctant to be associated with old people. There’s an irony in the fact that Jazz, once used to establish at atmosphere of louche hipness by film directors, now seems to be terminally uncool.
Nonetheless Brighton, repeatedly touted in the media as a wellspring of youthful vibrancy, is enjoying a bit of a grassroots jazz boom. I say ‘grassroots’ because what we’re talking about here is a constant turnover of gigs in pubs and bars being well attended by an interesting demographic cross-section of all sorts of people who are attracted to the passion and integrity music without seeming to worry whether it’s a hip gig to be seen at. A great proportion of this is being achieved on the initiative of the musicians themselves, driven by their love for the music; while there’s a minimum of support from public bodies such as South-East Arts, with the long-running Brighton Jazz club no longer able to sustain it’s excellent weekly programme of cutting edge nationally touring artists, there is a self-sustaining Jazz gig happening somewhere in the city every night of the week. In addition, the purpose-built Verdict Jazz Club opened it’s doors last year, while this summer saw the enormous mothership of the Love Supreme Festival landing in a field outside Lewes. While the former presents a real connoisseur’s line-up of artists aimed at aficionados, the latter was determined to reach out to the broadest cross-section of fans of Jazz-and-related-musics; between them they’ve been responsible for a higher count of top-quality Jazz artists performing in the area in the last 12 months than for many years. The education sector seems to be catching on as well, with both Chichester College Jazz Course and the Brighton Jazz School expanding their intake. And whatever your personal feelings about Electro-Swing, it’s popularity also feeds into the general plethora of unabashedly jazzy sound now echoing about the city.
However, the sad disappearance of the well-attended Wednesday Jazz nights at the bastion of hipness that is the Green Door Store is an indication of the fragility of the scene. It’s bereft not only of media support but also of stable funding; the bijou Verdict, the mammoth Love Supreme Festival and the Monday night gig at the bar down the road from you are all relying on commercial viability to survive, and there’s scant coverage from print or radio. Which is where you come in…
if you’re reading this , you must have some interest in Jazz-and-related-musics. If you don’t get to these gigs, they’ll fold and we’ll be back where we started. So buck the media trend, find out what’s on and go out and support live Jazz. If you can afford to spend freely at the bar while doing so, then so much the better for everyone.
Photo by Mike Guest.
This column was first published on Sunday 1st September 2013 and appeared in issue 1 of The Sussex Jazz Mag, available here.