Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Open Letter to the UK Jazz Community Pt III – recordings continued…

April 22nd, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

picture of Beth Rowley live at the Troubadour in LondonOne of the weird ways that a lot of the UK jazz players have been corrupted in their thinking by the pop world is the infrequency of their recorded output. As I said in my last post, cost has a fair bit to do with that. But the reason that cost has become a factor is that we’ve lost much of the spontaneity that made jazz so interesting, and instead have tried to match the production values of the pop world, where the life of a performance is wrung out of it, and then dropped back in by the ProTools surgeons…

The history of jazz is full of outstanding live recordings, of artists recording and releasing multiple versions of the same songs, of classic albums where you can hear the audience eating and chatting i the background. Do you think the people at the Village Vanguard listening to the Bill Evans Trio in 1961 thought about what they were hearing the way we do? Almost certainly not. You can hear them being distracted by conversation in a way that seems inconceivable to us now.

What made it possible was the routine recording of gigs – often just live to 2-track, many classic performances were preserved not because a record label gave the artists a 10 grand advance, but because some bright spark brought a recorder and a couple of decent mics with them.

We can do so much better now, so my next suggestions for the promotion and development of jazz in the UK are these:

  • Either the Arts Council, or one of the UK jazz record labels, or the venue themselves, should fund putting a decent recording set-up into at least a couple of the London jazz venues – The Vortex, the 606, The Bull’s Head… nothing hugely fancy, just the ability to multitrack to a degree each gig. The recordings should be given to the bands at the end of the night for a nominal fee, and can then be released. Same could go for any of the regional jazz venues..
  • Ditto for web-streaming. There’s no reason why everything from the Vortex shouldn’t be streamed via Ustream. Set up a camera, put the embedded player on the front page of the site, and get people watching jazz. Stick a tip jar on there if you like, archive the gigs, and let the bands do with the archive what they want.

If you’re streaming a gig that’s later available to buy as a live album, everybody wins. No-one in their right mind is going to stay in and watch a webstream instead of going to a gig – there’s no comparison – but a lot of people who first watch a webstream, knowing they can switch it off if they get bored, will discover music they never thought they’d love, and vow to catch the band live next time round.

Lobelia and I have found this time and time again when we’ve live streamed gigs. In fact, every gig we’ve ever streamed live has lead to more gig bookings. Every single one! That’s a pretty compelling statistic.

As the cost of making music available drops, we can make more and more recordings available, and tell stories about them. Putting up recordings of gigs gives us something to talk about, our audience something to share and web users something to stumble on by accident. Get recording!

Similar Posts elsewhere in this blog:


Tags: · , , , , ,

No Comments so far ↓

  • matt stevens

    All good stuff – couldn’t agree more about ustreaming stuff. I had a guy in a forum saying that ustreaming house concerts destroys the sense of community you get at one of those events. Crazy. I’m planning to ustream loads of stuff I seriously think it will be this years “big thing” – my last ustream gig was the most hits I’ve ever had on my site.

    Great post.

  • Bryan Chalmers

    Excellent stuff (as always).

    One thing that caused me grief was MCPS, in having to pay for the number of CDs printed rather than sold for each track for which copyright was not owned. I have no objection to the person who wrote a song getting a share of the profits but to have to pay up front seemed impractal unless you were big enough to be able to predict sales.

    I realise my knowledge is limited and out of date but are there not obstacles for musicians recording anything but original material?
    Has the regulatory framework changed enough for musicians to cover other people’s songs and put them out there without significant up front investment?

    All the best,

  • Steve Uccello

    Good points! Especially the idea of recording more live shows. There’s more chance of catching that spontaneous interaction that’s so vital to Jazz. That feeling too often gets lost when combos go into the studio, also, with all the potential ‘space’ digital recording affords, it’s not like anyone’s wasting tape, or creating media that will take up any physical room, it’s too easy not to do more!

  • james p

    i like the vortex, i worked there 2/3 times a week for months as a volunteer. forward thinking, they are not.

    and i think will has left, who was really the only real innovator there.

    from what i understand, artists do record their music at the venue…

  • steve

    hi James,

    you can get a board tape at the Vortex, but it’s not great quality (better now that they’ve got the new PA) – a simple multitrack would be a great addition to their set-up, if they did it right. 🙂

    Will’s left?? I’d not heard about that. Will have to do some research. I like Will, but he was a nightmare to get hold of when you were trying to book gigs 🙂

  • james p

    it really did feel that during the summer months of ’06 that british jazz would finally break from it’s shackles – but not, it’s gone back to hibernation. such a shame as so much brilliant young jazz out there – hugely innovative and challenging as a scene too.

    do agree with you steve on your multitrack point….art / cd copied straight from desk – say £5. Good work.

  • Alun Vaughan

    Great post, Steve. We’ve been looking into recording stuff at the Swansea jazz club for a while but haven’t got round to it yet. Definitely a good idea.

  • John Goldsby

    I read something Paul Motion said about the Vanguard / Bill Evans recordings: he liked the crowd noise and clinking glasses on the recording because it made him realize that there were real people there, digging the music live. I try and remember that when I am playing for a noisy audience.

    I agree that ustream could be the wave of the (2009) future. It would be better in most cases to be able to attend the concert live—but recently I have really enjoyed being able to peek into some venues via streaming and meet some fantastic new players that I might never have met otherwise.

    So to all the UK jazzers: See which club can you convince to go with a live streaming setup. Once one does it, I think they will all follow suit. I’ll be watching . . .

  • Trevor Raggatt

    Another great article(s), Steve. Thoughtful and thought provoking and so much (un)common sense. The big music paradigm is clearly broken. Here’s hoping that discussions like this are part of the organic process that goes into building a whole new paradigm.

    Interesting to see how many medium-scale artists (and a few biggies) on the pop/rock circuit are already starting to offer straight from the desk recordings of the gig you’ve just seen. I didn’t get to Nerina Pallot’s recent Roundhouse gig. I certainly shelled out a fiver to pick up copy of the CD off her website – and a fiver well spent it was. I understand that Crowded House (I think) were letting people buy/order direct from the desk recordings at their last tour. Simple. Obvious when you think about it!


    PS Hey that’s our Beth up the top there. We love Beth!

  • Chris Tarry

    Very nice article my friend. I haven’t attempted the live streaming yet but I have recently stopped actually making CD’s and just selling downloads. Most recently for my live album. Seems to be going quite well, you are the cutting edge ma man!

    Also, you are a blogging master! I’m just new to it but I’m going to link to this over in my space.

    Miss ya, hope you’re well,

  • Patrick

    I’m so glad I read this before responding to Pt2!

    Jazz is for me a live medium: even on recording, it is at its best wen that is a document of a live (even if studio based) recording.

    I thought technology was such tat in fact you don’t need a sophisticated get up at a venue – I know some musicians who record every gig they do on one or another form of digital recorder.

    The rest makes lots of sense.

  • Kevin

    I played with Paul Motian, no really!


  • steve

    …and I played with Elvin Jones. And sucked equally. 🙂 We should start a club.

  • Kevin

    The only difference from the Village Vanguard sessions was that the background noise was mostly of glasses being thrown.

  • Corey Mwamba

    You should have sent this ’round, Steve… very interesting reading. We’ll chat about it. After I’ve settled down a bit… but you do raise some very interesting points. Your graph of record company interest from the last section is inspired.

    I think I fit your model of a “good sideman” since I put down pretty much every gig I do on my site; but I definitely fit the model of a “bad recording musician”. I have stuff, as you know, but I don’t make the effort to sell it. I wing musos free copies if they ask [wink] but it’s so damn’ strange most people just leave it alone. Still, your post has been noted and I shall press on. So to speak.

    I have to admit to liking developing a relationship with people in front of me if I can – which usually means the live setting. Perhaps you have opinions on that, especially in the improv arenas?

    Are you going to add “It’s not all in London, my friends” as a next heading for your open letter? 😉

    Speak soon?


  • steve


    thanks so much for the comment (and the chat this morning 🙂 )

    Your point about ‘face to face’ is a good one, but I think it has to be ‘both/and’ not ‘either/or’.

    There are definitely things that I find easier than others, and all of this stuff is adaptable, but the web is an environment built to facilitate discovery. There’s no reason why you can’t write up all the things you found most interesting that you heard/talked about/saw at the end of the week. 🙂

    But we will chat more soon – maybe record it as a podcast.