All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

JazzLife UK

Autumn Falls

By Published: November 26, 2010
Polar Bear, whose music is so hard to categorize that it's been put in more categories than you can shake a stick at, proved once again to be one of Britain's finest live bands (I've deliberately left the term "jazz" out of that description). Leafcutter John still plays a mean balloon, drummer Seb Rochford still looks like he's doing nothing while he's creating some of the finest percussion patterns on the planet. They attract the crowds, too: all ages, both sexes, and looking far more cheerful than the average crowd of jazz fans despite having to stand up for the entire evening. Not much dancing in evidence, though.

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
Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon

saxophone
(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
Michael Garrick
Michael Garrick
1933 - 2011
piano
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
Nette Robinson
Nette Robinson
b.1979
vocalist
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
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
and singer Adelaide Hall
Adelaide Hall
Adelaide Hall
b.1904
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 category—the MOBOs are the highest profile of those, with Empirical winning the jazz MOBO for 2010—and 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 innovation—and 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.


comments powered by Disqus