Jazzers’ Debate No 1: Younger Jazz Bands and Musicians

EXAMINING FUTURE PROSPECTS


Jazzers’ Debate No 1


Younger Jazz Bands and Musicians

 

Initiator

Peter Mark Butler

The best introduction to my one of my recent Jazz&Jazz features is from an email I received today from my close friend Ray in Castaic, California: “Good interview with Trefor Williams. One observation from a jazz outsider: it seems as if all the groups are quite elderly. Are there no up & coming younger jazz artists in the UK or the US or elsewhere?”

I replied, “There are, Ray, but admittedly they are few and far between. But that is changing as this feature and other posts in Jazzers show”.

Not just any old festival, this is an Inspirational Jazz Fest! www.jazzandjazz.com

Perhaps I should have rephrased my reply to say that could be changing, so before continuing the debate here is a very apt passage from Pete Lay’s Editorial in Just Jazz, March, 2013:

“We strive to promote youngsters in jazz, but I did get irritated when we received notification of the National Youth Summer School to publish. Great in principal but any youngsters wanting to attend are confronted with various criteria, funding applications, bursaries and more off-putting auditions. More importantly, I do not see any provision where youngsters will be instructed or lectured on the era of jazz which we promote and that our readers enjoy. It seems most young musicians who will attend will have already attained some level of proficiency. I do hope their teachers haven’t ignored Armstrong, Morton, Ory, Henderdson, Russell, etc!

“I understand that Alyn Shipton and Keith Nichols are certainly doing their best to keep the history of jazz alive with their pupils, and are to be congratulated. I just wish there were a lot more like them.”

Clare Gray was first to respond, commenting with a link to http://swungover.wordpress.com and an article on A Quick Note On Training Bands To Play For Dancers.

Ken Taylor then recommended we watch this video recorded at The Hive, Shrewsbury – “the young band “Brownfield Byrne Quintet went down a storm!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqznrXpp0QQ

upon which Chris Barber commented “nice thoughtful version of one of my favourites..congratulations.”

This set the ball rolling and  to give the debate a boost I posted:

Peter Mark Butler 

IT’S TIME FOR JAZZERS TO GET INVOLVED!

Time to reinforce the aims and goals of Jazzers and Jazz&Jazz.com.

“The art of life is to know when to seize on accidents and make them milestones.” Chairman Humph. (A gem from Humphrey Lyttelton’s autobiography, “It Just Occurred to Me”).

I stumbled back into jazz just a few years ago, started to paint portraits of jazz musicians, joined the Southern Sounds New Orleans French Quarter Festival tour in 2010, and realised that jazz has reached a woeful low in the popularity stakes.

Frankly put, with ageing bands, musicians and fans, if action isn’t taken soon, jazz and in particular New Orleans jazz will simply fade away, even in New Orleans. Yet there are younger bands, musicians and fans out there to carry the torch, and they need all the support and encouragement we can give them if they are to stay on track.

One solution lies in the forging of relationships between the “oldies” and the “young’uns” – bands, musicians and fans! Cross fertilisation of the skills and thrills of jazz … forging a partnership between older, well established bands and dynamic younger bands and setting a pattern for bringing New Orleans back to the UK.

But it’s not just a matter of watching this space. We want members of the Jazzers Group to get involved. How? By inviting bands, clubs, musicians and fans to join Jazzers and work together to achieve a not so impossible lift off to a sustained revival of New Orleans Jazz, the source of all of our popular forms of music.

I would welcome a proliferation of posts along these lines from north, south, east and west. Let’s get the show on the road.

Read the “About” section of Jazzers. It has more to say about these goals.

Peter Butler
Founder of Jazz&Jazz.com & Jazzers

The following exchange of views ensued:

Martin Bennett As a generalisation, one of the main reasons for what seems to be a lack of interest in the young, is the venue itself. Most of the venues are places modern youngsters wouldn’t be seen dead in. Places full of chairs and tables are of no interest to them. People under 25 prefer to stand – as you will see at festivals and many jazz clubs in Holland, all of which have cheering youngsters to a point of overflow – places where the over 40s wouldn’t want to be seen dead in here in the UK.

Peter Mark Butler A very valid point, Martin, which we need to pay attention to! Such limited venues include pubs yet even pubs are turning jazz away these days. But fans are not prepared to pay sufficient for their jazz to make that difference. As Pete Lay recently wrote to me: “That is why the audience mentality has to change, and it will do, if we can get the younger audience on board – they are used to paying for their nights out.” Somehow we must learn from Holland and Germany. Perhaps it will take a concerted effort to get daring with venues! In fact I included a post on Jazz&Jazz recently based on developments at the Leeds Jazz Club addressing just this point: http://www.jazzandjazz.com/?p=2206 Perhaps we should check up on how Leeds is doing now.

Martin Bennett Leeds Jazz Club runs a Jump Jive dance group in conjunction with the jazz nights. It works very well and all of the Jump Jive dancers are under 30. There is a similar group of dancers from Greater Manchester which turns up at clubs suitably set up. There are no clubs I know of in Manchester working on a regular basis so they have to travel – usually to Jump Jive Bands. Leeds has it sorted.

Peter Mark Butler I believe Jeff Lewis and Speakeasy Bootleg Band are doing something similar in Liverpool, so it can happen. We need to get more on board! As I’ve stressed in my Just Jazz articles and on Jazz&Jazz, fans and even bands must learn not to be so precious and be prepared to “mix it a bit” if traditional jazz is to regroup for a revival.

Clare Gray Jive swing and similar is absolutely thriving at the moment – go to the TwinWood website http://www.twinwoodevents.com/index.html to see what they have on and pics of this year’s great events. We went and although big band is a different ‘fish’ to what most folk in this group are aiming at, there were some other decidedly more jazz-orientated bands there also, as well as a lot more of the 50’s vibe. I’m not suggesting Twinwood is the ideal venue for Trad, Dixie etc, but I think it’s likely that the young ‘keenies’ that we meet at our LindyHop classes will naturally progress to the cooler shades of jazz – in fact I am noticing a lot of them ‘liking’ tracks and bands that definitely are smoother and just as good for them to dance to. So the upshot is, keep the music alive and as public as possible. Keep on pushing it out there and they will come. I agree that it might be that pubs are a dying source – they’re up against so much attack on their profits (non smoking, rising beer prices, more people drinking at home etc) that they can’t really take a punt on bands that might not bring in the drinkers (a lot of these youngsters only drink softies anyway these days – horrors!- whatever the media says about binge drinking). So perhaps the secret is to start looking for big, open venues where jazz events might be held and start building it from there. There is interest in dinner jazz from smaller restaurants and while I know that some bands might blanche at that idea, its all getting the good stuff out there, so don’t knock it if you can get it.

Twinwood Festival is The No. 1 Vintage Music & Dance Festival! www.twinwoodevents.com Twinwood Events hosts the annual Glenn Miller Festival and Rhythm Festival at the historic Twinwood Airfield.

Martin Bennett Jeff’s a good chap and certainly does his bit over in Liverpool and has developed a wider range which works very well.

Clare Gray Good for you Peter. With your determination and contacts you’ll get this party started! Am really hoping the scene starts to open up a bit soon. I’m itching to get into something new – using the Trad, blues, dinner, dance band and other ‘grooves’ I’ve got into since the late 90’s. I’m determined to find some folk to enjoy that with. As a ‘younger’ jazz fan I find it frustratingly difficult to break in with the hardened older players who seem to enjoy ‘noodllng’ (nothing wrong with that) but don’t really want to gig or to push it much. Can’t say I blame them, but where are all those players who want to make a noise??? Get them out of the woodwork and you’ll start a fire!…..

Chez Chesterman Trouble is, if you mention the word jazz the kids will not turn up. To them jazz is a naughty word. Call it swing, play the right tempos and they’ll come flocking in. Forties swing is the one that gets everyone hopping.

Clare Gray I agree. Amongst my fellow jive swing/lindy dancers (many quite a bit younger) there’s a nose-wrinkling at the ‘J’ word – yet they’re tapping their feet and swinging along to it all the same. Perhaps you’re right – give it a different hat and they’ll all want to put it on!

Dave Mayor Members of the Bude Jive club also belong to the Bude Jazz club, most welcome they are too.

Peter Mark Butler It seems all is not lost. Yet, taking the comments received so far, there is a long way to go. To Chez and Clare I’ll respond with a conversation had at the Hemsby Autumn Parade last year. Barry Price asked the girls serving behind the bar if they liked jazz. “No!” was the answer. So, pointing to the stage he asked, “Do you like this kind of music?” And they said yes they did! So he told them this was original, traditional jazz. So the jazz that put them off could well have been ultra modern jazz – you know, the self indulgent stuff you can’t even tap your feet to!

Clare Gray Funny you should say that Peter. When I first started doing the Trad stuff with Bob Thomas, a friend and former colleague laughed when I told him and said “you’re not doing all that dreadful scatting stuff and singing to Shakespeare sonnets are you?” He thought it was hilarious and took the mickey whenever I said we had a gig . One day I was playing some trad in the car when he came with me on a business trip. He was really enjoying it and I turned and said “this is what we do”. He was quite impressed, and although I would never say he’s going to be listening to it by himself, he came along to a gig and had a good old time. I was a bit worried I might offend the group mentioning the truly ‘modern’ jazz, but in my opinion it is that stuff – where no one is playing the same tune or in the same key it seems, and the drummer appears to be building flat pack wardrobes in the background – that puts people off sometimes. This probably makes me sound like a total Philistine, but if we want to draw people in, we must start with what good old Bob calls ‘Happy Jazz’ as well as ‘Dance-y Jazz’ and then we have a better chance of keeping this bird in the air.

Peter Mark Butler I’m keeping this vital debate on the boil on Jazzers for more members to have their say. I will also cross reference it to Jazz&Jazz.com and invite followers’ comments there. We’ve reached the blatantly obvious conclusion that if “traditional” jazz is to make a comeback we, fans and musicians alike, need to be less precious about the purity of the genre. I’m all for “mixing it a bit” and am not against mainstream per se, but we shouldn’t forget the roots of New Orleans jazz and of jazz dance, because I believe if that could be reintroduced the kids would go for it and follow jazz, even if they adapted the dance styles to their own modern tastes. “New forms of jazz dance developed with new music, such as the Charleston, swing, rock and roll, and the Caribbean reggae” (Dancin’ Unlimited: http://goo.gl/X1lOu).

Oh, to be young again!

Jeff Matthews I named my band ‘The Chicago Swing Katz’ because the word ‘Jazz’ has a bad name with many people. Very sad really. I have left ‘jazz’ concerts early because even I was bored with the music. And I am an enthusiast of all kinds of ‘jazz’!

Jim Lodge For me, part of the problem seems to revolve round the “purist” attitude. Some bands and listeners (and some musicians) project an “if it isn’t a carbon copy of (insert original of choice) it’s wrong”. This leads to a situation where we end up with a glut of what “Popular Music” refers to as “Tribute Bands”, and their musician equivalents. Such a path can only lead to a joyless stultifying conformity, without life or excitement.

Jeff Matthews Ref: Jim’s purist comment, I know musicians who say that “if you are not black and born in New Orleans before 1939, you don’t play jazz”. My trip to New Orleans to attend the jazz course there showed me that many purists are equating all New Orleans jazz with the revivalist Music they heard which didn’t reflect all the different jazz and characters involved. It was a city filled to the brim with music of all kinds played by musicians of different technical abilities. Most had remarkable facility and many were highly proficient music readers. They had to be in order to survive. And there is room for all styles. It’s all wonderful music.

Tim Penn Well Jazzers – I think this may be what Peter may be talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9esH2rw-wF8&feature=g-upl Note – saxophones and electric bass!!! And this was preceded by a version of Junco Partner and followed by Ray Charles’ ‘What I Say’ (His birthday on Sept 23rd – so we paid a few tributes this night). The evening finished off with a funky version of The Meters Hey Pocky Way – which veered off into using some of the Miles Davis “So What” minor inversions and a little bit of Cecil Tayloresque Free Form piano over the Funk.

Is this a step too far for the traditional audience for Jazz? I guess only time will tell. But many of us see this 20th century evolution of New Orleans based music as something to be celebrated and embraced. But then I remember my dear departed friend Mac McGann telling how he was summarily kicked out of the trad jazz band he was playing in in the late 50s / early 60s – because he brought a guitar along to a gig instead of the tenor banjo.

Peter Mark Butler Right on the mark, Tim! If jazz is to make a comeback fans have got to accept change, or as I put it, “mixing it a bit”. After all, the story of jazz has always been about improvisation, mixing it a bit, and it’s no different today. Especially if we are to appeal to younger fans.

“Kicked out for playing guitar instead of banjo,” you say! Don’t tell Tony Rico this. Martin Bennett recently commented: “There are plenty of clubs I could name that won’t have bands that don’t have a clarinet as the main reed. Saxophone is a dirty word that has to be kept away from clubs that promote what they refer to as British Trad. This has been said to me by several club organisers who refuse to book bands with saxophones – and there are hundreds of jazz followers who think that way. Howard Murray, our reed player, was challenged by a man in Colchester Jazz Club who severely berated him for playing saxophones and soon left but not before HM had said to him ‘when I started playing music I didn’t have you in mind!'”

Peter Mark Butler An elderly fan recently cornered me to voice his criticism of a particular very impressive trombonist for being too flamboyant, “not subtle enough, not smooth enough.” At that very same gig I heard a youngster asking his mother if she could she buy him a trombone because “I want to play jazz like that!” This speaks a thousand words! Because jazz isn’t inert, it’s exuberant, dynamic as well as soulful.

Jeff Matthews May I add to the discussion by first stating that a style is a style. New Orleans, traditional jazz is a style and different sound hewed out of the western scale by years of experience and love. Although originally from New Orleans, it was developed and embraced by people around the world. It is still extremely popular wherever it is played. But since the demise of Louis Armstrong as Ambassador for jazz and in the UK, the finish of Kenny Ball’s appearance on TV in the Morecambe and Wise show, traditional jazz has had no profile. You can have the best product in the world but if nobody knows about it….!

There are many forms of trad played up and down the UK to enthusiastic fans but it is almost a forgotten style of music because of the deliberate culling of music in other forms, apart from ‘pop’ music which is played ‘for the many’ for the financial benefits of the few. The wonderful interpretation of traditional jazz by Brian Carrick is just as valid as any other even if it’s band members and fans are in the senior part of their lives. Age is not the issue nor is whether a sax is acceptable. Most bands are well past that point. Let’s just play the music.

But, what is true and to me is the null point of all of this is promotion. Not a changing of the music to accommodate ‘pop’ culture, but a promotion of the best elements of the music to the general public which consists of people of all shapes, sizes, colours, education and age. We need some of the ‘names’ in trad jazz to step forward and promote New Orleans/Traditional/Dixieland/Chicago style jazz. Call it what you may. A new set of ‘Ambassadors for the Tradition’. Where are you guys?

All that ‘ageing audience’ stuff will take care of itself if the music is brought back into the public eye. Get some good looking musicians ready who play the music well – not bending it to rock ‘n roll – but playing what we already have with heart and conviction. Then get those ‘names’ involved. Where are you Jools Holland? Where are you Jamie Cullum? Stop mis-educating people about what real jazz is and stick to some time honoured definitions.

It’s time for us jazzers to start influencing our ‘world’ and look for ways to insist that we have a cultural right to play and ‘broadcast’ our musical art. Time to make the general public aware of our music and embrace it once more. The rest will follow. And there will be bands in the Ken Colyer mode as well as those who will play jazz in a more R&B way. But people must hear it and have a choice. By the way, there are already enough ‘knock out’ musicians in the UK, young and old who already hold the professional stage. Let’s get THEM heard on jazz shows and on TV shows. Good presentation, good arrangements, good foot stomping tunes, that infectious NO rhythm. We did it in the recent past. Why not now!

Peter Mark Butler Excellent, Jeff! A couple of your lines are worth emphasising: “We need some of the ‘names’ to step forward and promote New Orleans/traditional/Dixieland/Chicago style jazz. Call it what you may. A new set of ‘Ambassadors for the Tradition’. Where are you guys?”

BETTER YET: HERE’S A CHALLENGE FOR STAR BAND LEADERS, FOR ACKER BILK, CHRIS BARBER, TERRY LIGHFOOT AND SAMMY RIMINGTON. FOR THE SAKE OF NEW ORLEANS JAZZ, TO GIVE IT THE MASSIVE REVIVAL IT NEEDS AND ENSURE IT’S FUTURE, HOW ABOUT SHARING YOUR ENDURING FAME WITH THIS YOUNGER GENERATION OF MUSICIANS? BECAUSE THERE ARE SOME GREAT YOUNG BANDS READY FOR THE FULL BLAZE OF THE SPOTLIGHTS. SO THE CHALLENGE IS TO SHARE YOUR STAGES WITH THEM, TO BUILD ON THE PUBLICITY THIS WOULD ATTRACT AND SO LAUNCH A JAZZ REVIVAL TO DEFY ANY BBC CLAIMS THAT “JAZZ IS DEAD”. AND PLEASE REMEMBER TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE, SADLY KENNY BALL PASSED AWAY THE VERY DAY OF POSTING THIS DEBATE – 23RD MARCH, 2013.

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