1 January 2018

The Column: Eddie Myer – Minority Report

    There’s nothing like a selection of statistics to start the new year, so here’s a grab-bag for you to dive into. Firstly, the Guardian has quoted some figures, possibly gathered by Barratt Homes, that indicate over 85,000 Londoners sold up and moved to the South East between 2015 and 2016, with over 5,000 of those moving straight to Brighton. We can speculate that a sizeable quotient of these new arrivals are people entering in the middle-management phase of human existence who bought London property in the 1990s or earlier and now can’t believe their good luck. We can assure them all that a very warm welcome awaits them at our thriving local jazz venues, where they will be able to enjoy a level of empathetic musicianship that will make the visit fully as nourishing as all the big name concerts that they might have seen back in London if only they’d had the time and it wasn’t so expensive. Perhaps they are also part of the later-life demographic  who are contributing to the continuing growth of music streaming by belatedly embracing the medium – the annual Nielsen report trumpets a massive 60% growth in streaming revenues, driving the entire industry into growth for the second consecutive year, a phenomenon not seen since the era when our new DFL friends were still able to afford property in Zone 2. 

    Even jazz seems to be feeling the bounce – Spotify reports that music broadly labelled as 

‘jazz’ was streamed 56% more in the 12 months up til March 2017 than in the similar preceding period. However, there’s still a mismatch between jazz and streaming, as seen in the disparity between album sales revenues (1.5% of total for 2017, higher than folk and new age!!) and streaming revenues (0.2% – better than nothing, but only just), which you could characterise as illustrating the difference between paltry and measly. Despite repeated pleas and petitions, and Tidal finally coming on board, the major streaming sites still don’t include the meta-data (what used to be known as ‘liner notes and credits’ in the old, 4-dimensional days) which many jazz fans expect. The uncharitable might be tempted to dismiss this preoccupation with accurate factual detail about who played what and when, employing the inevitable scornfully unflattering metaphors involving anoraks and trainspotters (despite the former being very useful and the latter being entirely harmless), but who cares about the uncharitable? Fans of the tradition know that the enjoyment of a musical recording can be broadened and deepened by an awareness of the context of its creation, and that’s what connoisseurship is all about.  Until streaming services are tailored to represent jazz catalogues in a more presentable form, fans will prefer to stick to physical albums – as long as they still possess CD players capable of playing them, as vinyl releases are still the preserve of the hip and highly touted on the one hand, and the legendary but deceased via the endless stream of legacy re-issues on the other. 

    Two other reports out over the last 12 months tell the tale from the point of view of the producers rather than distributors and the consumers. The Musicians’ Union commissioned a major piece of research from DHA Communications, now out under the title ‘The Working Musician’, and the University Of Leeds has published a paper entitled “That’s the Experience: Passion, Work Precarity, and Life Transitions Among London Jazz Musicians.” Briefly summarised, they tell a tale of a highly qualified and motivated workforce creating superlative music in precarious conditions. The Leeds report is of especial relevance here as it highlights the particular challenges facing early career musicians in jazz. Sales of recordings and publishing rights are important income streams for other genres of music, but young jazz musicians can struggle to attract attention to their records when they are set against the richness and depth of the entire 20th Century recorded tradition. Too many jazz fans adopt the attitude inaccurately attributed to the Caliph Omar regarding the books in the Library of Alexandria, declaring (in paraphrase) that if a jazz record is similar to Kind Of Blue then we have no need of it, and if it is radically different then it should be destroyed. 

    It’s most heartening to hear from South Coast Jazz Festival that their event is selling briskly, and if you’re hoping to attend you should get onto buying your tickets without delay. They’ve assembled a mouthwatering programme of high-caliber artists, with a canny emphasis on familiar big names. Equally important is the support they’ve shown to emerging talent – Alexandra Ridout is appearing with Clark Tracey and is already a name to watch out for, and a real coup is the unique one-off talent that is Elliot Galvin, presenting a new trio and new material. With New Generation Jazz set to return to the re-furbished Verdict in 2018, there’s plentiful opportunities ahead to show your support for the future of the music that brings us together and keep the scene alive for our new pals from the Big Smoke.


Eddie Myer


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