Monday, 3 May 2010

12 Points Festival (and the lost groups).

After a conversation with Tony Malaby whilst sitting drinking a beer and 'chewing the fat' after a gig with Stephane Kerecki's trio. The conversation (among other things) was about the amount of money going into jazz education and of course the money being spent by well off, or at least better off parents able to buy into the jazz system, or one could almost say investing in their sons futures. Tony Malaby also talked about the benefits of trying to get onto the Banff course in Canada, where nowadays most of the young 'nu-jazz' stars have been at one time and not only spent an intensive time playing music but more importantly (*) have made contacts for the future.

Anyhow, whilst reading my monthly copy of Jazzwise I noticed a couple of interesting articles which made me wonder if jazz has finally become a bourgeois art form. More and more rarely do groups play in clubs and cafés where they are on equal footing when it comes to being discovered, as their predecessors did. Nowadays you attend a conservatory, are nurtured, and told how to play. You don't develop your own voice over time (with experience) by playing live for many years. In the past there were less cultural institutions controlling what was to be seen by the public - for their own good - and of course as mentioned just more gigs, which after all is what it's all about. Imagine only being able to see rock bands, or at the time punk bands, in your local arts center on a European sponsored arts tour (**)

So where are we going wrong? Why all this money being spent on promoting one particular group(s) rather than letting the market find it's own way? In Jazzwise two articles that attracted my attention which highlighted this situation. The articles on the 12 Points Festival, one of these new institutions (since a few years), and Look North, an article which takes a look at the Norwegian Jazz scene and on cultural exchange programs, one being Birmingham and Trondheim in the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
What do these festival's and other initiative based exchange programs do, and why do I find such developments in jazz depressing?

What are theses initiatives? The 12 Points festival - a festival where twelve European groups are chosen to represent the cream of up and coming jazz artists in those countries. Artists may be no older than 30. The Birmingham/Trondheim exchange at Cheltenham jazz - 'a special collaboration between players from Trondheim Conservatory and Birmingham Conservatoire, two of Europe’s most creative jazz institutions. The performance will feature three bands, containing a mix of players from both countries, performing their own original works. A chance to catch the jazz stars of the future.' And more and more of these initiatives are cropping up all over Europe. Belgium's Flemish Jazz Meeting (as an example), takes 13 groups from flanders and presents them to a group of invited guests - jazz journalists, promoters and the like from throughout Europe. These groups are presented as 'the' best jazz to be found in the country. Interestingly no french speaking groups from the southern part of Belgium were chosen. 

Who chooses these artists and what makes 'them' the cream of the crop?
What about all the other groups and musicians in theses countries?
What happens if you're aged 32 (or +) and making very original or/and exciting music?
Why is it that these initiatives rarely promote more avant-garde (improvised) jazz?

To answer these questions one has to be on the selection committee of course, but one wonders why jazz has been, or is being, taken out of the hands of the public and so denying taste and curiosity take it's own directions. Little by little we are being told that 'this' is the next thing to listen to, where as in reality it is often just the tip of the iceberg and not even the most interesting tip. In most cases it's also just because someone on a committee knows (or likes) someone who has a group and often not based on valid judgments concerning the quality and real potential of the music or musician concerned. After all we don't want to blow anybodies mind, or not too much anyhow!

What are the consequences of this? Well, it seems that one has to pass before a committee, or rather your CD does, to get a gig, or more often a festival or subsidized tour. We complain about subsidized opera but jazz is fast becoming that same culprit and one has to wonder whether a better solution would be to put music back into the hands of the public, more live music pubs, cafés, bars and the like and less  cultural centers and committees. Rock festivals are often based on 'names' and their puling power and so jazz is turning in this direction, no name, no gig! Of course if you can persuade someone on a committee to give you and your band a break in some well funded high profile festival, exchange program or tour then you to may become a household name.

(*) = I say more importantly as I wonder why we are unable to have such courses running in Europe. It seems that since the number of players attending the courses in Banff are made up from a healthy number of European musicians it would seem more logical to have the same course based 'here' in Europe somewhere. Another discussion without end on why we feel the need to head stateside to learn jazz, why aren't our teachers and players more recognized here and why spend your money taking a plane to the other side of the world when ..... etc. 
(**) = I'll write a short article on this phenomenon at a later point as it seems that our 'gigging' system is gradually becoming controlled by the establishment, which is never a good thing when it comes to choice and who gets the money.


  1. Wow.

    Where to begin?

    How about a little dialect re: "Jazz Ed?"

    "Who chooses these artists and what makes 'them' the cream of the crop?"


    great blog!


  2. Thanks Jason.

    I've added yourself and Chris Kelsey to the 'blog' list, this way I can catch up on what you're both saying on a regular basis.

    In the meanwhile, hopefully other people will check up on the links you've left ..... I'm off to read them now!



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