While our public life remains mired in irreconcilable division and the prolonged period of uncertainty we were promised continues unabated, at least we’ve had a nice long spell of hot weather, to the delight and relief of all those involved in running or attending outdoor events. Festival season is upon us – we can sympathise with those involved with Camp Bestival, forced to close the site after they were hit with the only wet and windy weekend for 55 days, while unpleasant stories are emerging of WOMAD artists being deterred from performing after encountering a hostile environment when applying for the necessary visas – let us sincerely hope that this is not a foretaste of a post-Brexit musical landscape where foreign music will be deemed to have been rendered un-necessary, and is actively discouraged as detracting from our own, deservedly beloved indigenous folk-singing tradition. Closer to home, however, the sun shone on two contrasting but equally satisfactory events. Love Supreme is rapidly consolidating its unique position as the UK’s only greenfield festival for jazz-and-related-musics; numbers have increased to the point that the organisers have announced that a cap will be placed on further expansion to preserve the intimate feel, and while there was an irregularity with the beer supply, and an unfortunately ailing Elvis Costello was perhaps not universally appreciated as a choice of Saturday headliner, the festival is eminently succeeding in its aim of bringing jazz and audiences together. It’s particularly gratifying to see new wave artists like Nubya Garcia and Ezra Collective returning year after year to play to ever bigger crowds – Garcia filling the 4000 capacity Arena tent to the seams, after performing on the Bandstand only three years ago. Along the coast, and catering to a different but equally essential end of the jazz spectrum, the Swanage Festival rose from the ashes thanks to the herculean efforts of guitarist Nigel Price in his role as festival director and benefitted from his expanded vision to add a little more razzmatazz to proceedings.
As the market value of recorded music as a commodity has dropped precipitately, the live sector has continued to grow, as consumers both young and old are increasingly ready to spend money on experiences rather than consumer durables. It’s good to see that jazz is keeping up with this trend by providing a wider range of festivals – the major players like London, Gateshead, Cheltenham, Glasgow and Edinburgh being joined by a wave of new or revived smaller affairs. Here in Sussex the South Coast Jazz Festival continues to expand its remit, the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival stages a triumphant return with major name headliners, and exciting new developments are afoot as both Jazz Re:Freshed and Jazz In The Round have moved out of the capital for the first time to advance the vanguard of the new London thing into the Brighton Dome and St. Mary in the Castle in Hastings with exciting one-day events. But this good news, though welcome, is not universally distributed.
Portsmouth Jazz Club ceases activities in December; a message on its webpage announces “audiences have dwindled over the past three years and trying to ‘drum up’ new people to come along, etcetera, has become a thankless task and added to the pressures of our personal commitments, has become untenable.” Behind this story we can detect a set of factors at work across the scene; a club run on wafer-thin margins, sustained by the enthusiasm of a group of passionate devotees but unable to regenerate itself to ensure progression of the next generation of audiences. Jazz prides itself on its long and rich heritage, and retains its audiences through the decades, but outside the major cities the uptake among younger generations can be slow. The annual British Jazz Awards are collecting votes at the moment – the shortlists as ever feature a rich array of talent, but the pool of players is narrow, scarcely changing from year to year. While this in no way disparages the skill and artistry of the nominees, it provides an insight into the conservatism of the grassroots club-going audiences, and this can be an inhibiting factor in development. Even in the major cities, other negative pressures are at work – this month has also seen announcements of the closure of the Total Refreshment Centre in Hackney as a live venue, and a licensing threat to the Mau Mau bar in Portobello Road, reminding us of the fragility of the club scene as profits are squeezed and developers wait hungrily in the wings. Jazz education can help develop the skills and knowledge of the next generation of players, the jazz festival can showcase new talent and bolster established reputations, but the club is historically where jazz has developed and where it must find both its true voice and its connection to the audience. Let’s ensure that the sun continues to shine upon it.
(Photo of Amadou & Mariam at WOMAD Festival 2018 by Lisa Wormsley)
Petition to save the Mau Mau Bar: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/help-the-mau-mau-bar-on-portobello-road-survive?bucket=
Voting Form for the British Jazz Awards 2018: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1sIFM_wWlA-l9HLxQAvwbEtZB6JgfnucqZpQft1Usv7s/viewform?edit_requested=true
(voting closes 30th September 2018)