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"Dancing:" It's A Dirty Word

"Dancing:" It's A Dirty Word
Bruce Lindsay By

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JazzLife UK continued apace during May and June 2010, adding many more photographs to the project and hearing more great jazz in yet more odd and unusual venues. Early May brought more indications of summer to the British weather, and ushered in a General Election. JazzLife UK can now reveal—as promised in my previous article—that the winner of this era-defining event was: Liberal Democrat Leader, Nick Clegg. Britain's first coalition government for decades brought Clegg power, fame and influence far beyond anything he could have gained by keeping his party independent. After 13 years of Labour, the UK is now in the charge of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats—a LibCon coalition, or, my particular favorite, ConDem.

It's too early to say what impact the new government will have on the arts in general, and music in particular. Early indications look hopeful that the licensing regulations that have stifled many performance opportunities for local bands will be relaxed, but wholesale cuts in subsidies may yet see more damaging losses. Cuts of up to 40% in Government subsidies for the arts have been discussed and if this figure is true then many organizations face severe financial difficulties and some venues and arts groups may be forced to close. If there is an upside for the jazz world, then it lies in the fact that jazz currently receives relatively little Government funding—40% of a little isn't very much. However, the threat to small provincial venues could result in a reduction in places where jazz can be played, the withdrawal of grants for educational initiatives could mean that fewer young people get the chance to learn an instrument and less money for festivals or community groups could mean fewer commissions for new jazz works and a reduction in opportunities for more experimental work. Of course, there's always a strong traditionalist element in the UK jazz fan base that would see that last possibility as a benefit.

The picture for British jazz is a confused and potentially negative one—a nation waits. It's notable, however, that a shortlist of my Five Favorite UK Jazz Venues would not feature a single venue in receipt of Government financial support. But JazzLife UK has little time for such minor matters—for in recent months the serious issues of dancing, clapping and flooding have been center-stage. It's doubtful that the ConDems will bother to legislate on any of those.

JazzLife On Stage

Jazz performances have continued to pop up in some quite unexpected places. As well as the usual theaters and clubs, venues visited by JazzLife UK over the last couple of months have included a Victorian Pumphouse, an art gallery and the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament. The usual collection of bars, clubs and concerts have featured heavily, as usual, but in terms of atmosphere, innovation and value for money, some of the non-traditional spaces are ahead of the game.

Norwich Jazz Party, from left: Karen Sharp, Ian Bateman, Enrico Tommaso

The biggest recent jazz event was the 2010 Norwich Jazz Party, with over 30 musicians playing in many different combinations in the function suite of Norwich's main airport hotel during the May Day Bank Holiday weekend. The Party brings together some of the finest mainstream players in jazz—from the USA, the UK and Italy this year—and produced some joyous moments, with veteran players like Bucky Pizzarelli and Marty Grosz clearly enjoying themselves as much as, if not more than, the younger players. The event went a long way in showing that mainstream jazz can still be innovative and fresh and featured some fine young British players like saxophonist Karen Sharp and drummer Steve Brown.

Other performance highlights came from different points on the jazz spectrum. At Kettle's Yard Gallery in Cambridge singer Christine Tobin and pianist Liam Noble played a set based on their gorgeous album Tapestry Unravelled (Trail Belle, 2010)—a beautiful performance from the duo who invest Carole King's classic songs with new insights and fresh emotional power. JazzLife UK found the venue to be strangely unsettling, however. Many of the gallery's exhibits are extremely valuable and relaxation is hard to achieve with the knowledge that the slightest movement could result in damage to an irreplaceable work of art. The house lights stayed up for the entire night: probably a necessary action, but I always find the sight of fellow audience members adds little to my enjoyment of the music (they probably feel the same way).

Kettle's Yard does have a certain uniqueness as a jazz venue. I particularly liked the absence of any clear indication of the toilet facilities. In fact, unisex restrooms were available, through unmarked doors behind a hefty abstract sculpture—jazz fans in need of relief were directed to "either side of the Henry Moore."

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