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Fre-Formation

Freeform in the U.K.

By Published: August 16, 2012
Smaller London venues continue to provide supportive places for new players and that includes Klinker, in Stoke, Newington, which has a regular Tuesday night slot for improvisational music. Its restart has been very welcome, because it has always drawn in a varied audience drawn in by the eclectic mix of its players (according to Wilkinson).

Boat-ting on Temple Pier is held on a boat moored near the Pier and promotes freeform and avant-garde poetry and music, with events every first and third Monday of the month. It only holds 150 people but, since 2002, has been a venue for showcasing fresh talent.

The Luna Lounge, in Leytonstone, also offers freeform music and other genres, and Ryan's Bar has an open mic session on Mondays, where new talent can showcase itself—some are good, some not so but at least it is a venue where anything can happen. Flimflam is a regular feature and where free players like Wilkinson regularly play and The Forge, Camden offers a varied programme.

Hideaway, in Streatham, is a venue which showcases new and rising talent of various genres but includes some freeform players and bands. Pizza Express Jazz Club, on Dean Street, and the 606 Club, SW10, are other smaller venues to hear freeform as well as other genres. Kings Place, York Way, N1, is a London venue where you can catch freeform, amongst a range of art offerings.What is great about these venues is that freefrom is put alongside other genres, offering just as much creativity and interst and it is given equal standing.

Outside London, the venues for freeform are few and far between. The UK has a wealth of talented musicians, but it is hard for them to find places to play where non-mainstream music is welcomed. Many venues reply, when asked, that freeform is something they do not touch, or that evenings where they have invited freeform or improvising musicians to play have been poorly attended. However, things are changing and there is a definite sense of reemergence of interest in London. Support for the music has never really disappeared and some are opening their doors, once more, to larger audiences.

Payne observes that Cornwall is mostly still American country rock and trad jazz by ageing musicians wearing black shirts. This remains true for many regional parts of the UK. 'Jazz' is understood as the easy listening background tosh you get in many restaurants. Yet it remains a fact that visitors paying for a night out still want music they can predict to some extent, whether this is trad jazz or listening to standards like Gershwin played by 'cool dudes' in suits.

It remains true that in many parts of the UK, jazz is relegated to back room "speciality" evenings. "Jazz" is understood as the easy listening background tosh you get in many restaurants. This, of course, deserves an audience but unless it is provided by a good band, it can be banal also and more often than not it is provided by pre-recorded tapes which do nothing to help the music. Yet it remains a fact that visitors paying for a night out still want music they can predict to some extent, whether this is trad jazz or listening to standards like Gershwin played by "cool dudes" in suits. However, due to the uncompromising and defiant support, the London influence is expanding across the UK.

Further from London venues include The Albert, Bristol and Point Blank Theatre, Sheffield—(where "The Noise Upstairs" is a monthly event on Wednesday nights, where freeform and improvised music is showcased). Ipswich has its own festival and, this year, saxophonist Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
Courtney Pine
b.1964
saxophone
headlines. He also played Snape Festival in 2010. In Manchester, The Band On the Wall offers a mix of music taste including freeform.

Players like Sheppard promote improvised playing to a wider audience, by literally setting up in towns across the UK and Europe. Sheppard's Sax Massive project recently featured in the BT River of Music project in London. In the project, he gathers 200 sax players of different ages and abilities and creates an improvised sound. He has taken this around the UK and into Europe (see the Sax Massive article in the Scumbles column, also at All About Jazz).

Places like Snape Maltings in Suffolk, are more open to introducing the public to freeform music and , in their Snape Proms festival , free players like Sheppard (with Trio Libero) and Staff Bindi Bililli—a Congolese jazz ensemble bringing together manic street music and improvised material—are included alongside more traditional music like orchestra and brass ensembles. Freeform is given equal billing. Some small venues like The Fleece, at Stoke By Nayland, puts on gigs including players like saxophonist Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon

saxophone
and other freeform players, as well as more traditional bands.


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