Take Five Europe Bore Place Sevenoaks Weald, Kent, UK January 28-February 3, 2013
While solid jazz education for aspiring musicians is increasingly accessible, few programs tackle the harsh realities facing the emerging musician of the 21st century. With the dissolution of major labels, and a shift in revenue that often makes having a publicist and/or manager a luxury few can afford, today's jazz musicians are truly being forced to become small business owners, with their product being their music. But like any small business, success is not strictly measured on how good the product is; a myriad of business concerns enter the picture, ranging from how the product is presented to how it's funded.
Some artists find the transition to a multi-tasked career as musician, booking agent, manager and publicist an easy one, but for many, these are skills for which they are either completely unprepared or, even worse, thoroughly disinterested.
For a number of years now, Seriousone of the UK's leading producers and curators of live jazz, including the London Jazz Festivalin collaboration with a number of other sponsors and producing partners, has been hosting an annual initiative called Take Five. First focusing solely on the UK, it's an artist retreat that each year provides eight British musicians a timeout period from the daily grind, where they can focus on not just music-making but on networking and business skill development. The UK edition has already helped further the careers of a number of notable young UK musicians, including pianists Dave Stapleton
Looking at that roster, it's clear that the artists invited to participate were not fresh out of school or lacking some prior experience; instead, all in relatively early stages of their careerswith some recording and touring under their belt as well as some leadership opportunitiesthese were somewhat established players having already achieved a measure of success, but largely in the UK alone. In every case, these were artists in need of assistance to reach the next level in their careers by acquiring the business skills necessary to ultimately find a broader, international audience. And that's where Take Five came in.
After seven successful UK editions, Take Five expanded its reach in 2012, creating a parallel program, Take Five Europe. Ten musicianstwo each from the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Franceare chosen to participate. Taken to a relatively removed location where they are forced to forget their day-to-day routines, it gives each musician an opportunity to not just network with peers from other countriesand exposure to music that may well be out of their comfort zonesbut to also connect with people from other parts of the music industry, ranging from festival and club presenters, record label owners and artist managers to journalists, photographers and more, for a series of lectures and discussions, all leading to a better understanding that, in today's environment, being a good musicianeven a superlative musiciansimply isn't enough. Subjects range from project funding, getting the gig, attracting audiences and contracts/copyrights/publishing to gaining a writer's attention, agency and management and more.
The practical music sessions are hosted by renowned saxophonist/clarinetist John Surman
, a longtime bandleader with experience across the broadest possible spectrum of jazz. His role, as composer-in-residence, is to guide and facilitate the building of a repertoire in the short space of one week, to which each musician contributes one original composition or improvisational context, leading not just to a performance on the morning of the program's final day, but to a series of live performances at festivals hosted by some of Take Five Europe's producing partners once the week is over.
The event's purpose and curriculum has been honed and improved, year after yeara good example being the more recent recruitment of Mary McCusker to help better focus the artists on performance and presentation. Matters of language are addressed by ensuring that there are professional translators available throughout the week for those who need it. And the program couldn't take place at a better location than Bore Place, a charming eco-friendly retreat near Sevenoaks Weald in Kent that's a still-functioning farm now also used for educational purposesand which provides a comfortable barn rehearsal space, pleasant lodging and unexpectedly outstanding food, all from organic sources. Attending the three final days of Take Five Europe's 2013 editionparticipating in the educational program and sitting in on rehearsals, auditing The Dragon's Den (more about that later) and attending the final day performance of the group's entire repertoirewas an exhilarating and educational experience.
But before making the trek to Sevenoaks, a few days in London acted as a reminder of why the UK scene is so vital and, returning to UK capital after nearly 30 years, just how much has changed. It was an opportunity to connect with some friends, meet up with fellow All About Jazz contributors Chris May, Bruce Lindsay and John Eyles in person for the first time (after working with them for as much as nine years), catch a little music here and there, and, thanks to BBC Radio 3 host Fiona Talkington, get a chance to sit in on the recording of an installment of her popular Late Junction program.