Jazz Lamentations, “Peanuts and Poor Turnouts”? Let’s Up The Ante!

So often we hear laments about the plight of jazz. Hard pressed musicians, tired bands, ageing fans, languishing memberships, club closures, fewer festivals, waning enthusiasm. And longings for a return to the golden olden days!

Ian Bateman

Ian Bateman summed it up acutely on his Facebook page on 14th August: “Three gigs scrubbed from my diary in 24 hours. I think the Job Centre beckons! From asking around other jazzers, it seems I’m not alone…”

He added: “It’s due to a lot of factors. Traditional jazz, where I’ve plied most of my trade, has almost disappeared from the theatres with the passing in a very short space of time of the great bandleaders that I worked for such as Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Humphrey Lyttelton and Terry Lightfoot. Their audiences are of a similar age group and of course are reducing in number too.

Ian with Acker Bilk’s Paramount Jazz Band, Wylliots Theatre, Potters Bar, 2102

“I have other outlets in jazz and other genres that pay well and keep things interesting but its not enough to earn a living on. In the main, jazz gigs are cheap compared to other genres. With a few exceptions, its in pubs and jazz clubs now who have a very low ceiling on what they can pay and it isn’t generally attracting the younger generation. Even so, venues are not staying the course – a couple of failures and they drop it – and we’re talking hundreds, not thousands of pounds – just shows how much jazz music has been devalued. Apart from a few festival organisers, there are
no professional jazz promoters any more.”

2011 at Ramsgate Seaside Shuffle.

Jim McIntosh, in his September, 2017, Just Jazz Magazine editorial, wrote: “It’s not rocket science to realise that at the end of the day, considering the time involved, the average take home pay of a jazz musician (50 quid), it is well below the national hourly minimal wage.This is not a whinge, but a reminder to all jazz fans that, in truth, jazz musicians embark upon a lifetime ‘labour of love’. Lest we forget …”

He questioned promoters’ laments about bands getting “too expensive” and their failure to take account of, let alone recognise, the costs bands and musicians have to shoulder, simply to get to gigs: “the total expenses of getting to the average gig … petrol £150? Wear and tear £40? ‘Hidden’ expenses such as telephone, running repairs on instruments, PA systems, etc £40 … already we are up to £230.” 

Reports about poor turn outs at jazz clubs proliferate. As do gripes if clubs happen to charge extra for occasional special events. Yet with their next breath members ask why their clubs can’t feature younger jazz stars and bands – I myself have received pleas to press for overseas bands such as Tuba Skinny or The Sant Andreu youngsters from Barcelona to tour the UK.

Brilliant Young Stars!
Let’s leave aside Tuba Skinny and Sant Andreu for the moment. The UK has its own brilliant rising stars, equally in demand. To name them here would require quite a list and to name, or include photographs of just some of them, might be taken as favouritism. But if you search this website and you will discover a good many of them featured along with YouTubes.

Yet the gripes continue: “But these bands star in the city venues – why can’t they come to
our clubs!”

Yes, many do favour thriving city venues – because that’s where they can best boost their popularity. That’s where their fans gather – and where jazz is very much live and alive. Was it not ever so? Ken Simms wrote about young jazz fans swarming to city venues in his younger days – when travel wasn’t nearly as easy as today (“Telling It As It Was: Sharing The Memories of Ken Sims”).

They Are The Future of Jazz
A fellow jazz fan stressed recently that jazz clubs dotted around the country can’t be expected to book these bands for “peanuts and poor turnouts”. He added that complaints that younger bands charge clubs too much take the biscuit! They are expected to travel miles to gigs, play for two/three hours and then make their return journeys – or drive on to other clubs – all for a pittance!? And on top of that what about overnight expenses?

But they do it! They enjoy livening up the jazz scene for us. Perhaps not as often as we would like because they have to ensure their younger fans take priority – they are their future – and the future of jazz!

Is it really the case that us oldies haven’t a spare bob or two to help keep jazz live and alive – for ourselves and our proteges? Or have we come to take “convenience” jazz for granted?
Let’s up the ante!

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

(Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz)

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  1. Malcolm Hurrell says:

    Hi Peter. Just add to the above, the time band leaders sit at their computers trying to get gigs. Also fixing up accommodation. I have a band coming down to the west country next Easter and have tried to get a booking for Good Friday in and around Somerset. The band is Brian Carrick, Peter Wright, Chas Hudson, Malc Murphy, Hugh Crozier. Derek Jones, and me, We are appearing at The Wessex Hotel on the Saturday, and in Bristol on the Sunday. Just can’t get the one more gig on the Friday to make it viable.
    Shall keep trying.
    Love Jazzers.
    Regards Malc Hurrell.

  2. Peter Butler says:

    Thanks for commenting here on Jazz&Jazz, Malcolm, Jazzers is OK but I wish I could route all exchanges via this site. In my opinion that would be much more constructive – even in solving your Good Friday booking. But it’s 6 months away so let’s not give up just yet!

  3. Jillian Pepper says:

    Time to mention again that some jazz clubs (notably in the midlands) are killing off their membership by refusing admission to under 18 year olds? Do they think that, without being introduced to jazz by their parents or grandparents, these children will suddenly grow up and, at the appropriate age, decide that they want to join a jazz club? If I were cynical, I could almost wonder whether they are selfishly wanting jazz to fade out when they do! It won’t of course – not in the towns where our really talented youngsters play – but what about the rest of us in the sticks? And you never know, perhaps an up and coming younger audience would actually be willing to pay the going rate for being entertained! We need to grow our audiences – never saw a youngster yet that didn’t love their first taste of jazz!
    Jill Pepper, Cornwall.
    (Lucky to belong to the 51 Jazz club that welcomes children, of any age, with open arms)

  4. tad newton says:

    Absolutely Jillian….children are free at my Walnut Jazz Club in the Midlands!
    Tad Newton

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