We are on the eve of 2013 The Autumn Jazz Parade at Hemsby Norfolk. As will become apparent in this post, I owe so much to this festival that I feel somewhat guilty for being late of the mark in featuring it on Jazz&Jazz this year due to recent inordinate pressures on my time. Until 2009 the festival was organised by The Ken Colyer Trust but when the trust was wound up Pete Lay took over the organisation of this major event on the annual jazz calendar and long may it continue.
So, are we really at the end of the jazz age? Where to begin?
Back in the sixties prior to the Beatles, jazz was the in thing. As a fickle teenager I “digged jazz”, got involved in gigs, followed local bands, snuck into venues during intervals without paying, and enjoyed some great seafront parties where “Seven Golden Daffodils” and “Lift to the Scaffold” were the rage. And topping the pops: “Stranger on the Shore” and “Midnight in Moscow”. Not “trad” I admit, nor New Orleans Revivalist Jazz. But in those days there was also Sammy Rimington on home turf in Kent.
Fast forward to 2008 when my oldest and closest friend and fellow teenage jazz compatriot told me he “had got back into jazz”. To cut the story short that same year we spent a glorious weekend at The Ken Colyer Trust Autumn Jazz Parade in Hemsby, Norfolk.
Sammy Rimington and his International Jazz Band topped the bill – along with Annie Hawkins, Cuff Billet, Trefor Williams, Emile Van Pelt and Eric Webster. And there was a young star, just 19, Amy Roberts who played a saxophone duet with Sammy. Plus The Oriental Jazz Band – a brilliant YOUNG band from Holland.
I was smitten. The past came flooding back to me. Jazz had lured me back – but this time it was no teenage whim, I was genuinely ensnared. And so, saddened too to realise jazz’s decline!
The Dye was Cast!
So Ginny and I booked again for the 2009 Jazz Parade – the final festival under the Ken Coyer Trust banner. Incredibly “fate” intervened. Ginny won the Star Draw top prize – a trip for two to New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival. Words cannot express our joy and from that point on the dye was cast - for me there was no going back.
First I got to painting portraits of jazz musicians. Then I got involved in striving to keep jazz live in Lemsford Village, Hertfordshire, and in supporting Brian Smith (Smiffy) in launching and bringing live jazz back to Welwyn Garden City.
The next step was to launch my Jazz&Jazz website to further my campaign for real jazz and to assist in launching a brand new jazz festival, “Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle”. Following hard on the heals of that came my Facebook presence and Facebook Jazzers Group.
I am now receiving a mass of emails and messages each day covering all aspects of jazz, but many of them bemoaning the plight of jazz and its apparent demise – also a hot topic for debates on Jazzers. (My apologies if currently I’m somewhat slow in responding. I promise this is soon due to change.)
Back to the Stark Title of this article: The End of The Jazz Age?
Recently I posted on Jazz&Jazz a lament about the imminent end of Thursday lunchtime jazz at The 100 Club and cross referenced it to the Jazzers Group. This resulted in a spate of comments and an ongoing debate.
Jim Appleton wrote in response to the post:
“I’m afraid that the writing has been on the wall for a long time and there are several different reasons for it. Even 20 years ago Monty Sunshine used to look through the hole in the tabs before going on stage and say “there’s a lot of snow out there” referring of course to the amount of grey / white hair in the audiences. The older musicians are reaching the age when they either pack it in or pass away, so many in this last year or so, and of course the audiences are going the same way. Other reasons include elderly people not wanting to venture out after dark, the drink driving laws and no smoking venues haven’t helped and the current financial situation has taken its toll. The lunchtime 100 Club sessions was a great idea but as the article says the numbers attending have dwindled and transport costs / congestion charge etc. are an obstacle. I live in Gillingham in Kent and a return ticket is £23.00 to Oxford Circus off peak for a 1 hour journey by train and the Oxo + the admission fee to the club and a couple of pints and I won’t get much change from £40.
“The other point about getting the youngsters in is important and the older fans among us must try to remember the heyday of trad when they were noisy, brash and wanted to dance the night away and were probably a pain in the arse to the older people around in that time. Young people today aren’t a lot different to what we were, they are just young with a lot more choice about where to spend their money and if Jazz is going to last we’re gonna need them to carry it forward. There really are so many great kids out there playing and they need supporting or they’ll move on to something else. I did a gig years ago, I think in Chipping Norton, with Terry Lightfoot’s band and a lot of young people came into the theatre as first time jazzers. They really enjoyed it and a few of them got up in the aisle and danced to a couple of tunes. The reaction from the rest of the audience was so negative towards them that the youngsters never returned for the second half which was a pity as they were only dancing in the side aisle and not obstructing the view.
“If we can find a solution and bottle it up we’d make a fortune, may I suggest that the festival organisers try to get some form of sponsorship, which I believe the 100 club did with the converse shoe company to stop the club from closing, to help fund the festivals and move a little bit sideways to facilitate the younger bands and their followers … just a thought.”
John Petters commented on Jazzers:
“Peter, We are at the end of the jazz age which effectively started in 1953.
“I have to differ with you on this subject. Something very different is happening this year and it is related to the history of traditional jazz or perhaps ‘trad’ jazz and the age profile of those for whom it was their pop music. A 20 year old in 1953, when Colyer returned from New Orleans, is now 80. The boom lasted until 63. Those 20 year olds are now 70. Post 1963, the pop music was the Beatles and jazz ceased to be ‘pop music with a large following. Indeed it was regarded as old hat by my age group. I’m 60. We are facing a real melt down at clubs festivals and other jazz related events. Young people will not come to venues where old people go. To much traditional jazz played today sounds tired and offers little excitement. I think back to the days when I, as a teenager, discovered the music. I found very few bands had the excitement that Max Collie’s band could offer. Max’s band was a young band and was playing to a young audience. I saw Colyer with Colin Bowden and heard it there. Bands have to stop being polite. As a jazz promoter, who puts his money where his mouth is, I can see clearly what is happening. An example of the problem – which will get worse – is my Bracklesham festival last weekend I’ll re-post what I said on the Brothers thread – ” I don’t see a way to reverse this. We had about 5 percent of people who booked to come to Bracklesham last week who died. In effect the loss was greater because we lost the partners where appropriate. One regular suffered a heart attack, one lady in a group of three needed care – so we lost all three” People are booking later. It is not the problem of the product. According to many guests, last week’s festival was musically our best yet. It comes down to mobility and health. We all have to face this and I applaud your enthusiasm, Peter – but I don’t see an easy fix. The Swing dance scene is entirely different. That is a young audience – and they are there to dance. Attracting that young audience to traditional jazz events – particularly if played by tired old men with a lack-lustre approach will be a real problem.”
Kay Leppard commented:
“One of the biggest problems is that older fans tend to be far more intolerant than the younger generation and moan about the silliest little thing. ‘Someone is in our seats’, ‘The beer costs more than it did 10 years ago’. ‘They don’t play at the right tempo for the dancers’. ‘I can’t see if they’re dancing in front of me’. You name it we’ve all heard it. Let’s face it it’s not a case of the young people not wanting to go where their parents are, it’s now a case of not wanting to go where their grandparents are in many cases, and who can blame them.”
Jeff Lewis said: ”No way the end. It’s very much there, just changing a bit.”
Striving for a Way Forward
Very astute observations, one and all. But should we let it go at that?
Surely not, so I for one want to explore ways to bring all such thoughts together, analyse them and strive for a way forward. I’m hoping The Brothers will be open to my observations and if I can come up with a feasible project (I’ve begun sounding one out), back it! Finances? Always the big bug bear but an off the top of my head thought and perhaps a long shot – there’s such a thing as Lottery Funding!
Far better yet if we could get a spread of serious input from fellow Jazzers suggesting ways forward. So Fellow Jazzers, young, middle aged or getting on in years, your input would be hugely appreciated.
As Norman Grodentz messaged me: “Never give up, never surrender!”
Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz
Earlier this year I ran a series of 11 posts on Jazz&Jazz based on debates initiated on my Facebook Jazzers Group. Each post has a bearing but for those who take these matters seriously enough I recommend revisiting the following posts in particular: