Celebrations arrived in the form of a birthday and a Birthday Honour. The Orient House Ensemble celebrated its tenth year of existence, opening its Anniversary Tour at Norwich Arts Centre. Reed player and occasional accordionist Gilad Atzmon (pictured right) leads the Ensemble: he's a charismatic front man and the band is a musical powerhouse capable of some of the loveliest, and some of the hardest-hitting, sounds around.
Pianist and composer Michael Garrick received the Birthday Honour, becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for 2010. Garrick and vocalist Nette Robinson played a beautiful set in Lowestoft's Milestones Jazz Club: a fine example of jazz crossing the generations. He received his MBE formally at Buckingham Palace on 20 October.
Garrick (pictured below) also published his autobiography, Dusk Fire (Springdale Publishing), this year. The book is an enjoyable insight into the life of a man who has spent over 50 years on the UK jazz scene, gaining critical plaudits and the respect of musicians, composers and writers but finding, like so many other jazz greats, that the financial rewards never quite matched his status. For many years Garrick's favorite mode of transport was the quintessentially English Reliant Robin, a three-wheeled motor vehicle: bassist Jaco Pastorius and singer Adelaide Hall both enjoyed their trips around the English countryside in this iconic car, according to Garrick. My own memories of careering around the Oxfordshire countryside in such a vehicle make me doubt this claim, though.
Awards: can there ever be enough?
I was reminded, in October, that the excellent alto saxophonist Benjamin Herman was awarded the title of Best Dressed Dutchman 2008 by Esquire magazine. That prestigious award, and Garrick's richly-deserved MBE, caused me to reflect on the British jazz scene's apparent lack of awards in contrast to many other countries. To be honest, Herman's award made me reflect at first on the distinct lack of sartorial elegance within the British jazz community. With a few, a very few, notable exceptions JazzLife UK rarely sees jazz musicians with more than a passing involvement with the tailor's art, though it pains me to say so.
However, as I am acutely aware that my own appearance seldom triggers the description "sartorially elegant" it's probably best to return to the thorny subject of awards. We Brits, self-effacing sorts that we are, tend to eschew the concept of the award once we reach adulthood: with the exception of real awards such as Knighthoods, of course. The British jazz scene appears to be eschewing awards to such an extent that it is actually reducing their number. In the recent past there were three major awards open exclusively to the jazz community: the BBC Jazz Awards, the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and the optimistically-titled British Jazz Awards.
The BBC ended its awards in 2009, for reasons which remain unclear, while the British Jazz Awards (which are organized by a small Midlands record label and tend to favor mainstream artists) show no sign of activity so far this year. Which leaves the Parliamentary Jazz Awards to fly the flag for the British jazz community. Yes, there are other awards that have a jazz categorythe MOBOs are the highest profile of those, with Empirical winning the jazz MOBO for 2010and the Mercury Music Prize always seems to include a jazz album in its 12-CD shortlist, but no other major awards are exclusively devoted to jazz. Is this a Bad Thing?
I'm not sure. Some countries seem to have so many awards for jazz musicians that every player has at least one. Give away too many awards and the result is a neutralization of their impact. There's also the argument that awards seldom go to the true innovators, the genuinely original, just to those who conform to the award giver's often limited concept of originality or innovationand just how does one define "Best"? None of my nominations for the 2010 Parliamentary Jazz Awards even made it to the shortlists: how could the judges have got it so wrong? The greatest song ever written, of course, is Captain Beefheart's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" (Clear Spot, Reprise, 1972): award-less, as far as I'm aware.