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So Why Can't Jazz Guitarists Play Chords?

So Why Can't Jazz Guitarists Play Chords?
Bruce Lindsay By

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This edition of JazzLife UK starts about as far from Britain as it's possible to get in the USA without toppling head first into the Pacific. It returns to its spiritual and physical homeland of Norfolk, where it can happily hide from the real world until next time, and looks forward to a festival that combines music, literature and beautiful architecture. Then it pops into the Great Wen (thank you, William Cobbett) for a short visit to celebrate some jazz awards. Along the way there is good news, and just a teeny little hint of gloom.

Way Out West

Earlier this year, the excellent Oregon-based saxophonist Rich Halley released Children Of The Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle Records). It's a fine album, even though it has no connection with the UK as far as I am aware. What it does have is the spoken words of poet Dan Raphael. The combination of jazz and the spoken word harks back a little, making me a tad nostalgic for the Jack Kerouac books of my youth. It also, coincidentally, started a wave of jazz-meets-another-creative-art set of experiences. Jazz met fine art—Daniel van Doom's superb portrait of saxophonist Courtney Pine, part of the BP Portrait Award exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery. Jazz met animation—pianist Kit Downes' collaboration with artist Lesley Barnes at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. As always, it met photography and cinema. And, of course, it constantly meets architecture, benefiting from and fighting against it in equal measure.

The association between jazz and the (other) creative arts is strong in the UK, but not always acknowledged by commentators who too often view jazz as some sort of "outsider" activity that exists in a strange artistic vacuum. It's ripe for exploration—and so it will be, in the next JazzLife UK missive.

The spoken word, the written word, architecture and jazz look set to meet in fine style at the end of August 2011, at the first Voewood Festival. The festival, billed as a "Literary Garden Party," will take place at Voewood House—a fine Arts and Crafts country house—in Norfolk. It's almost a local event for JazzLife UK and has much to recommend it as a festival without even considering the line-up: it's not in a field, it doesn't involve camping, and much of the activity will take place indoors, under a proper roof and surrounded by proper brick walls.

Voewood House and Festival Organizer Simon Finch

There is, of course, much else to recommend it. While the event is mainly focused on literature, featuring authors such as Louis de Bernières, Diana Athill and DBC Pierre, there is also a fascinatingly eclectic program of live music. Beth Orton, Adam Ant and Glen Matlock (ex-Sex Pistols) are all slated to play, but for jazz fans the most mouth-watering event will be the one featuring vocalists David McAlmont and Cleveland Watkiss.

Awards Are Like Buses

You wait for ages, then three come along all at once. For it is Awards Season and jazz prizes have been flying thick and fast over recent weeks. The Parliamentary Jazz Awards, the inaugural Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize and the Yamaha Jazz Scholarships have all been announced and demonstrate once again the breadth and depth of talent in the UK jazz scene, especially among its younger members.

The Parliamentary Jazz Awards are the UK's première awards for jazz, going to broadcasters, educators and venues as well as musicians. Jazz lovers vote for their favorites online and the shortlisted nominees and eventual winners are decided by an ancient occult process that goes back to the days of King Arthur, or something like that. To me the winners always seem to be a combination of the obviously deserving—including, in 2011, bassist Coleridge Goode, Brass Jaw (pictured on page 1), Dame Cleo Laine—and the somewhat puzzling.

Tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo became the first recipient of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, awarded to a new graduate of the jazz course at the Royal Academy Of Music. The prize will enable Arcoleo to record his debut album, to be released on Edition Records in 2012, and it's definitely well-deserved from what I've heard of his playing. Arcoleo also won a 2011 Yamaha Jazz Scholarship, along with five other newly-graduated jazz musicians: tenor saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan, pianist Chris Eldred, guitarist Nick Costley-White, double bassist Chris Hyson and drummer Jonathan Silk. The scholarships provide the musicians with £1000 each, plus a recording date and some much needed publicity.


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