Am I "Jazz People?"
The new jazz generation appeared in a couple of different guisesas fans and as playerswith two events in particular making JazzLife UK's heart leap just a little. The 2010 Yamaha Jazz Scholarships rewarded six of the best new graduates from British jazz degree programsone graduate from each programwith an award of £1000 each, a chance to record along with more established UK acts for a promotional CD, to be given away with Jazzwise magazine later this year, and a spot at the CD launch party in London's 606 Club. The money will no doubt be a great help to each of these players, but the exposure they will gain from the Scholarship and the CD may well prove even more beneficial in the long run.
This year's Yamaha Jazz Scholars were: tenor saxophonist Lluis Mather; alto saxophonist Andrew Linham; drummer David Hamblett; pianists Dougie Freeman and Chris Gilligan; and Peter Randall, a double-bassist. The presentations took place at the Houses of Parliament, thanks once again to the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group. The guest band for the evening was the Scottish quartet Brass Jaw, whose lineup of three saxophones and a trumpet dispenses with a rhythm section. Brass Jaw creates terrific sounds with its all-horn lineup and also delivers a great performance.
Brass Jaw: Paul Towndrow, Ryan Quigley, Konrad Wiszniewski, Allon Beauvoisin
The winning musicians also played at the end of the evening. Their musical skills are undoubteddespite a lack of familiarity with each other, they played well. But they never looked like they were enjoying themselves. Maybe it was nerves, maybe tiredness. Sadly, much of the audience responded by engaging in conversation.
At Snape Maltings I overheard an earnest and well-informed discussion between three audience members about the playing of pianist Neil Cowley, who's Trio was headlining that night's Prom concert. "So, he doesn't play like Django Bates?" asked one of the group. "No," his friend replied, "Django Bates played quite differently when we saw him (Bates had headlined two weeks earlier)." "Is he a bit more like Herbie Hancock?" asked the third fan. "A bit," the second responded: and so it went on as they moved out of earshot. The oldest of this knowledgeable trio was about 15 years old, the youngest no more than 11 or 12.
The audience for live jazz, as people far more insightful than me have said, needs nurturing. But much of this potential audience has some expectations that the jazz musician doesn't always meet and, as a result, it's there to be lost. Contemporary audiences for live music expect a showbut they don't always get one at a jazz gig. This is not about pyrotechnics, a cast of 50 dancers on stilts, flying elephants or revolving models of Mount Everest, it's about the people on stage recognizing that the people in the crowd have spent money and devoted time to come and listen. It's about those on stage actually acknowledging that there is an audience out there in the gloom.
So, wandering onstage in clothes that appear to have been slept in is not a show, mumbling "Hello" as you begin and "Cheers" as you end the evening with a brief mid-set attempt at introducing the rest of the band is not a show, sharing in-jokes with mates in the front row while 99% of the audience twiddles its thumbs is not a show, five minute band discussions about how the next tune should start, after a five-minute discussion about what the next tune should be, is not a show, and neither is a series of seemingly interminable rants about a member of the keyboard player's family. And yet I have had the dubious pleasure of witnessing every one of these events at jazz gigs during 2010.
"Ah, but it's all about the music" cry the true jazz aficionados. That may be true for a dedicated, but small, section of the audience but for most people it isn't. For most people it's about a good night out, something to remember, something that was worth the price of admissioneven going to a free gig costs time.
So, congratulations to those musicians who do deliver a performance rather than just playing the notes: musicians such as the Neil Cowley Trio, Brass Jaw and especially Courtney Pine (Pictured left).
Pine's concert as part of the Snape Proms was an object lesson in how to deliverenergetic, talented, engaging, Pine even persuaded the 830-strong audience to set a record for jumping up and down (we managed 200 jumps without stopping, apparently). There's a rumor that Keith Jarrett will be attempting to get his audiences to break that record on his next tour.
Maybe jazz musicians don't want to play for most people: perhaps they only want to play for Jazz People. So am I "Jazz People"?
I'm sure that the concept of "Jazz People" isn't new, but the first time it really stuck in my mind was when I heard Kurt Elling use it at the end of "It's Easy to Remember," on Dedicated To You (Concord Music Group, 2009). The singer tells the story of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, and concludes with: "We remember them both, we're jazz people and for us it's easy."
Elling's line gave me my first problem, because I only remember one of them. I never heard Hartman sing until 2010, when I sought out his collaboration with Coltrane to compare it to Elling's work. And who are the "we" that Elling talks about? His band? The audience? A collective consciousness? Is there a secret handshake I am not privy to? Will Dan Brown explain all in his next novel? If I don't remember Coltrane and Hartman does that mean, by default, that I can't be "Jazz People," even if I can remember every musician in Buddy Bolden's first band, or every solo ever recorded by John Zorn?
I have other problems, too: I don't live in a major metropolitan conurbation; I didn't spend the '60s down at Ronnie Scott's; I prefer to stand rather than sit at gigs (it's easier to boogie from a standing position); I continue to consolidate my policy of only applauding a solo if I have actually enjoyed it. And I don't go out late (don't care to go, I'm home about 8).
And, however much I love the music, I find it difficult to take it, or any other art, too seriously. So am I "Jazz People?" I guess I need to think about it a bit more.
All Photos: Bruce Lindsay