I’ve been meaning to write this for ages, but the inspiration today came from trying to find a link to send out to Asaf Sirkis And The Inner Noise’s album ‘The Song Within’. I couldn’t find anything but 30 sec clips, and lots of links to buy it.
The frustration of this was no so much not being able to hear it (there’s plenty of other great music out there, and I tend not to get too hung up on specific things) it was the inability to tell people about a specific album that would help promote the music of some friends (both the guitarist and keyboardist on it are friends of mine). Added to that is the assumption that there’s some kind of commercial advantage in ‘hiding it’ over letting people hear it then pay for it if they
- want the hi-res files
- want a CD
- are grateful for the music and want to help out the artist
These seem to be points that are completely lost on the UK jazz scene, so I’m going to write a couple of open letters to them with some suggestions. This post – Part 1 – is my perception of where we’re at.
The psychological state of play as it stands isn’t great for UK jazz. Mainly because of the ideas informing its notion of ‘success’. This is so sad given its fantastic quality and originality. The potential audience for it is huge, given the popularity of equally experimental musical forms in the Electronic and Post-Rock worlds.
Sadly, so many of the UK’s jazzers are actually apologetic about their own music. Very few speak about what they do with any sense of pride or acknowledgement of its value, even to them. They look expectantly at The Mercury Prize panel or Q Magazine reviewers for some scraps of recognition, all the while ignoring the option to interact with their current and potential audience online. And to make matters worse, most are grimly hanging onto the idea that CD sales are everything, shop distribution is key to success and that they must keep their music ‘jazz enough’ for the jazz clubs to book them.
So here’s what I love about UK Jazz:
as compared to US Jazz, the simple and most startling difference is that almost none of us grew up listening to jazz. Even fewer were immersed in it in the way that so many young American musicians would’ve been. In the 70s/80s, it certainly wasn’t considered ‘our’ music, so those of us with an interest in difficult music gravitated towards prog and the more esoteric end of the pop/art-rock world. We grew up listening to Yes, Japan, Genesis, Marillion, Duran Duran etc. rather than Miles & Coltrane, Duke & Bird.
For most of us our route into jazz was via a gateway drug – for many rock musicians it was via the shred-guitar world – or more specifically – via guitar mags we bought because Steve Vai or Billy Sheehan were on the cover but also featured stories about Pat Metheny, John Scofield, and even Jim Hall or Joe Pass. For others is was singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell. For many it was King Crimson and their massively-ahead-of-its-time experimentation with jazz/rock and improv to prog and even pop audiences.
But on top of that we DO have a unique heritage in jazz, that has pioneered a movement worldwide – the free improv scene of the mid/late 60s and everything that’s happened since. It’s a sound, an approach and a philosophy about music that was more of a reaction against the strictures of jazz, rather than a step-wise progression on from them… So many of the UK jazzers have an element of that free ethos in their playing, even those who have little sense of the non-idiomatic ideology that informed it.
UK jazz is, at its best, what David Torn describes as ‘pan-idiomatic’ music – jazz is the easiest umbrella to group it under, but it’s also a limitation. While the music is certainly in the experimental lineage of the history of jazz, much of it would just as easily sit in a rock club or a dance music venue, a field at a festival or a gallery space. To limit it to the jazz world seems insane.
It’s vitally important that those of us who play non-pop, instrumental music do some serious thinking about what it is we do. At the moment, the terms are set by the supportive-yet-protectionist world of jazz journalism, jazz funding (Jazz Services perform a much-loved and vital role providing Arts Council grants for jazz and improvised music tours), and we really need to think bigger than that, while hopefully taking them with us…
So, in part II, I’ll make a few suggestions and throw it open to you lot to suggest other ways forward for the jazz scene in the UK…by