The End of the Jazz Age?

The Lakefront Loungers featuring at The Ken Colyer Trust Autumn Jazz Parade, 2008.

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.

The Oriental Jazz Band

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.

Dew Drop Hall, Mandeville: Elite musicians including Barry Martyn, Greg Stafford and Dr Michael White.

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!”

“Eyes on The Master”: Jazz&Jazz Portrait of Amy Roberts and Sammy Rimington in Duet at the 2008 Ken Colyer Trust Autumn Jazz Parage, 2008.

Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz

Further Reading:
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:

Jazz is Dead! Long Live Jazz! The Jazzers’ Debates … From the Mouths of Jazzers!

Jazzers’ Debate No 1: Younger Jazz Bands and Musicians

JAZZERS’ Debate No 2: Younger Jazz Bands and Musicians

Jazzers’ Debate No 4: Swing Dance & LindyHop

Jazzers’ Debate No 6: Jazz Clubs & Ageing Fans

Jazzers’ Debate No 7: Ageing Fans and Cherry Pickers

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  1. Jeff Matthews says:

    End of the jazz age? Well, I don’t thinks so. It is changing though. It is certainly a small scene too. But so is pop music failing. The record industry is going through huge changes. But, I also see young bands taking the same jazz music to new is now retro swing. Often the same tunes ‘trad’ bands play. Just re-packaged for a different age. One big problem, and perhaps, bigger than ageing audiences, is the lack of suitable venues for any music today. The big pubs and the social clubs are closing at a rapid rate. Sky tv screens now fill the walls which once resounded with live music. This applies to all music not just traditional jazz. But, I have been contacted just this week by an enthusiastic hotel owner who wants my band on a regular basis. He sees not only the older audience but a new and younger audience getting interested in this music. It is still possible to turn the trend around. But it will need some re-thinking. Part of the problem will be for we older people involved in the music to keep going and not be too tired to embrace new ideas and approaches. Difficult I know. The energy of a roaring jazz lion has become the mewing of a tired old cat. What will keep us all going until the ‘chops’ fail us is the love of the music. It is very special. That’s why we began listening to it and playing it all those years ago. The music is the same. It is we who have changed.

  2. Mike Summers says:

    Hi jazz lovers. There is much truth in the article and the ensuing comments, but not all is doom and gloom. I think the article refers mainly to traditional. It seems that modern jazz is less under threat. I think there are two things we can do to keep traditional jazz (or something approximating to traditional jazz) alive.

    1. Traditional jazz can always be preserved by a very small number of artisits and fans, but new musicians will be needed from time to time, and this is why jazz education is so important. Sadly, few courses teach traditional jazz adequately, so musicians like myself should be looking for ways to pass on our knowledge of the style to younger musicians. I am beggining to do this in Spain, in both paid and unpaid classes and rehearsals for younger musicians. One such musician is now performing regularly The Jubilee Jazz Band.

    2. Music is dynamic and prone to change. Many of the young musicians will want to adapt “our” jazz to make it interesting for themselves and for new audiences. We should welcome and encourage this too, though we shouldn’t feel obliged to abandon our more traditional jazz projects.

    Traditional or vintage jazz is unlikely to die out completely, It may just get harder to find. But that is not always a bad thing. With fewer and fewer commercial opportunities it will be increasingly evident that the remaining exponents are playing their music for reasons of sincerity, and not for commercial opportunity. Also, jazz is global, and it’s easier than ever before to make exchanges with other countries. Traditional jazz may disappear in one location temporarily, but I think it will always re-emerge. So let’s be heartened!

  3. Mike Summers says:

    Have just seen your comment Jeff Matthews (published I think, while I was writing one of my own) and it seems we have said some of the same things.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the lack of venues problem, but at least in the UK you have new legislation on your side, permitting live performances. Here in Spain a special licence (almost impossible to obtain) is required. Venues try to function without, and then they get fined when a rival bar/restaurant gets envious and shops them. Many venues are too scared to book musicians now, and if they do, the musicians never know whether their next gig will be cancelled. And one officious beaurocrat is even trying to ban all live music from his city/region on the basis that it detracts from interest in the local fiestas.

    Certainly it is true that any popular music must be dynamic and changing/evolving. When it stops evolving it becomes marginalised – something akin to folk music. With ever more styles appearing, the marginalised styles are small indeed. Each band must choose which camp it wishes to belong to.

  4. Jim McIntosh says:

    In the early days we went to the local jazz club where EVERYONE was young. The bands and the audience. Would we have gone out for an evening with crotchety old codgers playing the music, crotchety old codgers waving umbrellas, telling us to keep the noise down? I think not. This is what is on offer nowadays to any youngsters going to a jazz club, being eyed by the ‘society’ or the ‘committee’, arms folded, nodding ‘studiously’ at the band, sitting there half asleep.

    Off with the old with the new. No committees, no societies (well perhaps High Soc…). Get round to the Crypt in the West End of London. Noisy, raucous, not ALL youngsters by any means – the oldies are of the more tolerant, raving, drinking (drunken even) variety – just like me! Dare I say it – “A dying breed!”

    Jazz is not serious – it’s fun, dance music, music to chat the opposite (not so in some cases, but what the heck!) sex up.

  5. Jim McIntosh says:

    On reading my views, I should have said SOME jazz clubs… not ALL jazz clubs, but then if the cap fits wear it…

  6. Jim McIntosh says:

    If you are a pro musician, playing for reasons of SINCERITY only is not exactly what comes to mind. Even Ken Colyer would agree with that!!!!!

  7. Gerry Travers says:

    There maybe hope yet when the “Tuba Skinny” group finally get over here to show N.O. music is not dead.

  8. Peter Butler says:

    I featured Tuba Skinny on Jazz&Jazz back in May:

  9. Jim McIntosh says:

    I agree about Tuba Skinny. Excellent musos and, somehow, already cult figures. Great stuff!!

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