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Live Reviews

Take Five Europe: January 28-February 2, 2013

By Published: February 13, 2013
Take Five Europe: An Interview With Producer Martel Ollernshaw

Serious Associate Director Martel Ollerenshaw is the producer of Take Five Europe, and seemed to be in near-constant motion throughout the time spent at Bore Place, ensuring everything ran properly and on time. So it was no inconsiderable feat to nail her down for a few minutes, in order to get some additional background on Take Five UK and Take Five Europe.

"Even before we started Take Five, Serious had a reputation and desire to work with emerging musicians in various ways, both formally and informally," said Ollerenshaw. "A precursor to the Take Five program took place in 2000, supported by Arts Council England, with five artists. It was a series of sessions, concentrating on just the business. One of the artists went to [who would become] one of the long-term funders of Take Five, and said how useful this had been, and how more musicians would appreciate something like this on a more formal basis. So two foundations—PRS for Music Foundation and Jerwood Charitable Foundation—got together and put a tender out for a professional scheme for emerging jazz musicians.

"We were invited to apply, so we put together a program, applied, and that's what we've got now. The first edition was slightly—but not markedly—different from the current program. The fundamentals are a combination of music and business in a residential place where the musicians have this timeout period from their daily life.

"The first edition in 2004-5—it always spans a calendar year—was a pilot program, and we had a really interesting lineup; in fact, a lot of those people are still active on the scene. We had eight musicians: three women and five men, including [pianist] Matthew Bourne
Matthew Bourne
Matthew Bourne
; [drummer] Seb Rochford and [saxophonist] Pete Wareham, who both had, concurrent at the time, Acoustic Ladyland
Acoustic Ladyland
Acoustic Ladyland

and Polar Bear
Polar Bear
Polar Bear

; Laura Macdonald, a Scottish saxophonist; and [pianist] Dave Milligan, another Scot, as well as composer Max De Wardener adn two amazing vocalists, Seaming To and Eska Mtungwazi. So that was the first group—and it was a pretty interesting one.

"We had done seven consecutive editions of Take Five in the UK before we started Take Five Europe, but by edition four or five we saw the potential for doing it in other places—partly because it's a really good model that you can transfer, modify and adapt to different situations, but also because we'd been inviting our international peers since edition two. So we'd brought Sander Grande, from North Sea Jazz Festival, and he could see how it would work for Dutch artists; Jan Ole Otnæs from the Molde Jazz Festival, could see how it would work for Norwegian artists; Piotr Turkiewicz [of Poland's Jazztopad Festival], could see how it would work for Polish artists; and Xavier Lemettre [of France's Banlieues Bleues], could see how it would work for French artists. They're all people who we work with in other instances in Serious' live programming, and they saw what exceptional experiences these musicians were having. It wasn't very difficult to work out who the partners would be, when we decided to do an international version."

The second edition of Take Five Europe, with a residential running from January 28 to February 2, 2013, collected together a particularly special group of musicians. "With this group, it's been really interesting, because even from the very first day, the very first session—very few of them knew each other—what was very clear was that they had a common purpose for being here and they were very interested in working together," Martel explained. "They're very harmonious group; it's uncanny, actually.

"The music workshops are exercises in leadership as much as anything else. And that's what John [Surman] really does provide; he's been a bandleader for a very long time. I suppose there are ways that musicians can get that experience, if they have been leading their own bands and they have that trait in them anyway. But this mentoring is very empowering; the musicians know John's there, he's got their backs and he's there as a touchstone for them to do their work. He's really fantastic for this."

Take Five—both European and UK editions—continues to evolve and challenge its participants in ways they might never have considered. During the afternoon seminars, it was clear that, for some musicians, the necessity of having an active Facebook page, a strong biography and compelling EPK were against their natural instincts; for some, even cultural aspects came into play, as both Polish artists expressed discomfort at the idea of writing biographies and press releases about themselves which employed effusive promotional language. Even the concept of performance—how they look onstage and how they address their audience—was foreign to those who really didn't want to be about anything but the music. Still, arriving towards the end of the week it was clear that the message was getting through to all of them—though, for some, with a little more difficulty.

"Recently we've introduced Mary [McCusker], because the musicians themselves are very comfortable with John, and they are very comfortable playing—and you have to have the playing element, because that's what it's all about—but the concentration here has to be on the business," says Ollerenshaw. "They need to be informed about that, so they can move forward and sustain their careers. They're not necessarily as comfortable in those sessions as they are in the playing sessions, but it's important, because this is about someone's entire musical life. They're running a small business, whether they want to consider it that way or not—whether they want to acknowledge it or not. That's the reality of the situation.

"There is a very fluid and sometimes patchy infrastructure across Europe for jazz musicians, but it's not good enough to be just an amazing player; it doesn't mean you're going to have a long career or you're going to have a lucrative career. You've got to interact with the business. So that's what Take Five's about, and hopefully it demystifies the fact that, really, it's just people. Everybody has expertise, and an interest—a desire—to see not even just these musicians but the genre in general continue. Part of Take Five is that the networking is very important. And that's tied in with confidence and all sorts of stuff, aside from performance; it's tied in with performing when you're not playing.

"We'd been trying, for a long time, to find someone who would be able to work with the artists on that aspect. We brought in dancers and directors, and they did some interesting things, but they didn't do what I wanted. What I wanted was someone who would take care of the fact that the minute you step out of your house you are in the public eye; you may not be playing, but you could very potentially be in the public eye. How you behave in public platforms—in interviews and networking situations—is important. Walking onstage and talking about what your audience will be seeing. All these kinds of things. Mary has made a marked difference, and the musicians are often very uncomfortable about it, but she's got such a way; she's so thorough with her preparation, and has so much experience and takes no prisoners in the way that she works. They have to engage with her and this morning [when, before the rehearsals began, she conducted a warm-up session to help everyone relax both physically and mentally], you saw how they relax with her, and that's a good thing. It means that they're becoming a very strongly bonded group.

"It's more than just music and it's more than just being away for week. They go through this experience that is not necessarily pleasant, but is essential. It pushes them beyond their personal boundaries, and you can sense that even after five days, a bonding amongst them is starting to happen."

The rigorous selection process comes from Serious and Take Five's ever-expanding network. "What we do in the UK (because this is sort of the ground zero for it) is we ask our peers from around the country, from all the funding bodies as well as from other musicians who've been on previous editions, to nominate artists they think would benefit from the experience," Ollerenshaw explained. I call them all, and they have to be proactive in accepting the nomination. They have to provide original audio, and they have to provide a biography which shows a track record of what they're doing, and a statement outlining why they think they would benefit from Take Five—why it would be good for them. We then select the UK version, which is a total of eight artists.

"The nomination process is quite a big undertaking. It's about a three-month cycle. This year we had over 70 nominations, and over 60 who responded; it was a very big uptake. Take Five Europe is done similarly to how Britain operates in that they have a pool of artists. Each country makes a local selection, where they bring in a consortium of people, and they choose eight musicians who are brought to an international selection panel. In the UK you have to have been on Take Five UK to be eligible for Take Five Europe, so we've got a pool of artists who've been on Take Five UK and we extended an invitation to them, asking if they want to be involved with Take Five Europe and then they apply."

But how is a program like Take Five measured? Are the funders—which, for the 2013 edition, included producing partners Banleues Bleues, Jazz sous les Pommier, Music Center Netherlands, North Sea Jazz Festival, Jazztopad Festival, National Forum of Music and Molde International Jazz Festival, and funding partners Culture Programme of the European Union, Arts Council England, Adam Mickiewicz Institute, SACEM, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, PRS for Music Foundation and—looking for something tangible in return for their investments?

"Yes and no," Ollerenshaw replied. "They do want tangible results. Because of funding in the UK, PRS for Music Foundation and Jerwood Charitable Foundation are very interested in the creation of new works. So having John Surman here to do the [musical] work in the barn is key. Each musician brings a new piece of work that they share with group, so it's the creation and work-shopping of new work. The musicians can do that however they like and in their own style, whether it's pure improvisation or written music; that's why John is so good because he can cope with any eventuality.

"So, the creation of new work is one measure. Then, since about edition three or four [of Take Five UK] we've been tracking musicians, and last year we decided to survey the musicians who've been through Take Five and ask where they are, what they're doing etcetera. A good example is Dave Stapleton, who was here this week talking about his record label, Edition, and Dave was a participant in the second edition of Take Five UK, before his record label existed. So it's been really nice to follow him. He was already quite precocious back then, but Take Five definitely helped to expand his network."

As for the future of Take Five Europe, Ollerenshaw sees the possibility of even further expansion into other countries. "We're very interested in a lot of different countries," she says, "but we have to have the funding, so we've got to have eyes out and ears out in a variety of ways: who would be interested in doing it—who would be a good partner to work with—but also where the money would come from, because it's an expensive program and there isn't any box office attached to it, so it's all funded by grant income.

"At the moment, we've been talking to Ken Pickering from Canada [of the TD Vancouver Jazz Festival], about a possible opportunity including Canadian artists. Ken already does a lot of professional of development, so it sort of fits in with his philosophy , the way he is and the way he thinks. We're also talking to a range of countries in Europe. We're talking to Germany, Estonia, Finland, Denmark and a few others."

And, speaking of measuring success, the relationships established amongst the Take Five participants don't stop at Bore Place. "Rainer Kern [who attended earlier in the week], from Germany's Enjoy Jazz Festival, invited the artists from this edition to perform at his festival," Ollerenshaw said. "So [in addition to Enjoy Jazz] they're going to do five performances after this week, one at each of the partner festivals. It's up to the musicians how they want to play—as a ten-piece or broken down into smaller groups; this group has not yet declared its hand, so we'll see how that goes. But they may play as a ten-piece. The majority of them, if they're free, will go to France [for Banlieues Bleues]. They're playing in Wroclaw, under the auspices of Jazztopad, on UNESCO international Jazz day on April 30th, and they'll play North Sea, Molde and Manchester Jazz Festival in July."

There are no more performances after that, but who knows? The close connection already shared by the participants of this year's Take Five Europe would certainly suggest that some, if not all, relationships forged will continue on past not just the week, but the program's entire cycle.

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