The Art Of The Song
It's a refreshingly honest appraisal and the willingness to review earlier plans suggests that Jackson's strategy is likely to reap benefits. "Your job as a jazz singer or bandleader is as an artistic director," he says, "but you're also a brand manager and sometimes advertising executive, even an accountant; so you have to have a strategy in place. But there's no point if you're not creating good music."
Simmons' approach is looser, a project-by-project vision seems to be how she operates. The follow-up to Dandelion is now on her radar. "I'm thinking about the new album. I love projects, love the whole recording process. It's such fun. I know I had so much fun after I released Dandelions. I had the best gigs and I was really busy. But I don't really think about the process too much: the finished article is something to be proud of but I've never really desired to be famous even though I'd like to play the big clubs one day when the time is right."
James sits mid-way between Jackson's structured plans and Simmons' looser approach. "At this point I'm very definite about what I want to do, although I don't have it set out in stages. Someone did ask me recently what my marketing plan was," she pauses, thinks about it for a few seconds then laughs. "He sent me one; a very generic one, not related to the music business; and it frightened the life out of me. It made me think a bit more though. I've got some thoughts and at the age of 36 I'm more definite about things than I was. It's taken a long time to get to the point of being confident enough to say this is what I want. I've had a lot of jobs where I've watched people just float through life. That's not what I want to do but I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I'm more focused on making the most of it."
A Changing Scene
The changing nature of the music scene, increasingly fluid genre definitions and the changing/worsening economic situation all impact on the opportunities for musicians and singers alike. Jackson, James and Simmons have all met with these issues.
Even the use of the "J" word itself is problematic. As James says "It's a four-letter word. My press person says that if I called Day Dawns jazz or send it to too many jazz reviewers then lots of other people just wouldn't consider it. I don't want to risk losing that wider exposure. It's very difficult to move away from being labeled as part of that jazz circle. But then I sent it to one person who wrote back to say 'I love it but it's not quite jazz.'"
Simmons' first two albums contained a selection of jazz standards, but Dandelions is all her own compositions. As a result, she says, "In one big store Dandelions was in the pop section, the others were labeled as 'Jazz.' It was a problem getting PR support too: when I was recording Dandelions I contacted one PR company but they said that it wasn't jazzy enough and they didn't have the right contacts."
Jackson extends the issue, discussing his experience of the live scene. "One of the difficulties I had when I first promoted myself in the UK scene was the clubs. The jazz clubs that liked singers didn't like me because I wasn't the typical sort of singer. And the ones that didn't like singers didn't like singers. So I was left in a kind of no man's land. It does worry me about the UK scene that the singers at the very top don't seem to have broken through to the next level, the bigger venues. That's something I'm trying to consider, how to bypass that."
Churchill (pictured above) is pleased with the strength of UK talent, but expresses his concern about the issues facing the new generation. "There are some amazing voices coming up, but I think that they are under enormous pressure. They're not allowed time to really mature. They have to make major decisions at an early stagewhat repertoire, for example. But that kind of thing takes a long time to mature into."
The economic situation creates its own problems. Neither James, Jackson, nor Simmons can yet make a living as singers: Simmons is a guitar teacher; James has a day job outside music; and Jackson has his cocktail bar piano gigs. The live scene's opportunities are also contracting, as Simmons has found. "A few years ago I used to play lots of Arts Centres, but now funding is being cut it's harder to get into them unless you're a big draw. Playing overseas would be good too, but those chances are few and far between."
Does the economic situation affect the way in which they approach their music? Jackson reflects on this point and concludes that it might, at an almost subconscious level. "That's an interesting point. I'd like to say no, but I think it probably does. At the moment I'm not making any money from my writingthe album is going to make a loss which is fine, that was always going to be the caseand there's no money for me yet from publishing. The live gig scene is still vitally important for me."