Take Five UK 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Take Five UK Edition X
Bore Place
Kent, England
February 9 -14, 2015

Nestled in the heart of the Kent countryside is Bore Place, an organic farm that dates to the seventeenth century. Here, the mobile phone signal is unreliable and internet connection is dickey at best. The only sound is the tenor and baritone lowing of cows. It's the perfect place to plonk eight young jazz/improvising musicians for a week.

The musicians in question aren't here to detox though. After all, hedonism among hard-working jazz musicians is largely—like smoke-filled black and white jazz photographs—a thing of the past. Nor are they here to get their chops together, despite music being an important component of the six-day residency.

The overarching purpose of the Take Five UK program run by Serious, the UK's largest producer of jazz, world and international contemporary music is another. "The main idea," says Serious' Associate Director Martel Ollerenshaw, "is to demystify the business side of jazz."

The money side of jazz is one that many jazz musicians are uncomfortable with and often, by their own admission, inept at. This may have a lot to do with the by now deeply rooted notions held in many quarters that jazz is art and not commerce. As the recent selling of Paul Gaugin's oil painting When Will You Marry? (1892) for $300 million emphatically underlines, art can be very big business indeed.

Jazz: A Serious Business

It would be disingenuous to ignore jazz's relationship with daily commerce. "Even though, unlike pop, jazz is considered a non-commercial music it doesn't mean money is not involved," says Ollerenshaw. "It's most definitely involved." Though impossible to estimate with any accuracy, the jazz industry generates colossal sums of money.

The staging and promotion of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, for example -the artists' fees involved, tickets sales, transport and accommodation, food and beverage, merchandising and so on, moves many millions of dollars. Multiply that by the thousands of jazz festivals around the world, add the huge number of live venues of all shapes and sizes that promote jazz globally every night and the hundreds of institutions offering jazz courses to aspiring musicians and a rough figure begins to emerge. Jazz in the twenty first century is a billion dollar industry.

Admittedly jazz can't hold a candle to pop, rock or hip-hop when it comes to record sales, but if jazz musicians weren't concerned on some level with money then why would they go to the considerable trouble of making CDs in the first place? Or play gigs to a paying public? Or apply for funding?

Commercial success in jazz is often equated with "selling out" or associated with "inferior" music. However, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis all enjoyed million-sellers without compromising their artistic integrity.

Few young jazz musicians pursue a career in the music expecting to emulate such success stories but at the very least to make a dignified living is surely the goal of the majority.

A common denominator linking the eight musicians participating in the tenth edition of Take Five UK is ambition; all without exception talk of their desire to play the main stage at major festivals, to receive commissions to compose, to lead their own bands on international tours and to record their original music consistently.

Realizing such aims entails a multitude of considerations beyond the music-making process itself: "You need to be good at everything," says singer Lauren Kinsella, whose striking originality is apparent on releases such as All This Talk About (WideEar Records, 2012), My Guess (Diatribe Records, 2012) and Blue Eyed Hawk's Under The Moon (Edition |Records, 2014). "Rehearsals, meetings, gigging, and marketing—it's endless," says the London-based Irish artist.

Self-promotion, financial management, planning and the development of inter-personal skills are of paramount importance for all ambitious jazz/improvising musicians. To that end, the Take Five UK residency at Bore Place offers the eight musicians a rare opportunity to connect with a wide cross-section of experts involved in all aspects of the music business.

Panels Of Experts

The number and quality of guest speakers around which Take Five UK's programme revolves is truly impressive.

Day one offers Q&A sessions with Scott Cohen, founder of The Orchard, the world's largest digital distribution company; Deborah King, Director of the creative music organization Brighter Sound, which produces events and commissions; Ben Mandelson, producer and co-founder of WOMEX —the world's largest world music trade fair/showcase event; David Porter, Director of Creative Arts Promotion and the Hull Jazz Festival; Roger Wright, Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music and former Controller of BBC Radio 3.

On day two, the Q&A sessions involve Mike Bartlett, Director of April Seven Music Ltd., a marketing, management and consultancy company; Paulette Long, publisher at Westbury Music and PR specialist; Simon Frith, Tovey Professor of Music, University of Edinburgh, author and renowned music journalist; Piers Mason, Associate Director of Communications at Serious and marketing expert; Vanessa Reed, Executive Director of PRS for Music Foundation, the UK's leading charitable funder of music; Peggy Sutton, Producer of the influential radio programme Jazz on 3, which emanates from the independent production company Somethin' Else.

And if the eight musicans' brains aren't yet going into meltdown, day three serves up even more food for thought from Frank Bolder, Program Manager for the North Sea Jazz Festival and music venue Lantaren Venster; Simon Drake, Director of the award-winning Naim Label Group; Miles Evans, Head of Media Relations at Serpentine Galleries; Ameila Ideh, founder of Put Me On It, a communications consultancy; Graeme Leak, an independent composer, performer and musical director.

On the final full day of the program the lone guest speaker is James Hannam, Senior Grants Manager at PRS for Music Foundation, though Ollerenshaw herself conducts a post-lunch session on budgeting. All told it's an intense week, by any yardstick.

Serious leaves no stone unturned in its bid to sharpen the career focus of the eight musicans. It's what sets Take Five UK apart from numerous other schemes that are perhaps more geared to musical creativity and skills development.

"Most of the musicians who come to Take Five UK don't need that sort of skills development," explains Ollerenshaw, "because, usually, they've been through a university course and they're very highly skilled."

What many are not so skilled in are marketing and self-promotion. They also tend to lack knowledge of the workings of the music business, in all its complexities. Take Five UK offers a rare insight into the nuts and bolts of the business side of the industry and importantly puts the musicans in direct contact with the movers and shakers.

"It's not an opportunity that comes along very often to meet and network with a lot of industry contacts in a relaxed setting with no time pressure," acknowledges trombonist/composer Tom Green. "Usually you're catching people in a spare two minutes when they're thinking about other things, so to engage them over a cup of tea was very useful."

Green is a rising figure on the UK jazz scene, with his debut as leader, Skyline (Spark, 2015), garnering positive mainstream media coverage. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and winner of the 2013 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition, Green, like all the participants in Take Five UK, already has a foot on the ladder.

"I wish this kind of thing could be rolled out across the board to younger players," says Green, "to give us all a deeper understanding of the music industry. I feel very lucky to have got the opportunity."

The Selection Process

Just how do these musicians come to participate in Take Five UK? As Ollerenshaw explains there is a nomination and selection process: "We're looking for creative musicians with long term potential, and to access these musicians, we ask our peers around the country to nominate artists that they think would benefit. We ask the Take Five UK edition that's just been to nominate as well.

That process throws around seventy hats into the ring each year. Apart from Serious, the selection procedure involves the Take Five UK funders and three industry professionals—always one musician and typically two festival directors. "It's quite a complicated process," Ollerenshaw admits. "When we've chosen the eight, [Serious Director] John Cumming and I interview them to see what makes them tick, what they know, what they don't know and what they want to know, their concerns and so on. We use that information to inform the program for the week."

Surman' Sermon

What the musicans invariably do know about is music and on Take Five UK they make music in harness under the mentorship of saxophonist/composer John Surman. Each musician brings a composition of their own to the ensemble. The music is rehearsed in a beautifully reconverted barn, with everyone pitching in ideas as and when. When the music is more or less polished it's then recorded by Surman's longstanding sound engineer Bill Strode.

"The recording is secondary to the process of the work," explains Surman. "The cross-fertilization of all these people, finding ways of solving problems that are presented in the music making. That's the key thing."

Surman's is clearly impressed by this bunch of musicians: "They've been very, very co-operative," he acknowledges. "They've swallowed their egos and just got stuck in and helped each other. All I bring is fifty years of doing it and the occasional word to prod them in the right direction, perhaps. My way is laissez-faire; these are all creative people. I just keep it together so that we generally leave on time for lunch."

The food at Bore Place nearly all comes from the organic farm. Head Chef Sparky and his dedicated team serve up mouth-watering fare day after day: creamy risotto, al dente pasta, fresh-leaf salads, warm, rustic breads, cheeses and heavenly trifles. It's energy-giving soul food that revives the musicians and lifts their spirits. It's all part of Serious' holistic approach, one that considers all the musicians' needs.

Over lunch, Surman shares his thoughts on Take Five UK: "The really important stuff is all the interaction with the business side of it," he ventures, "which is what they wouldn't get elsewhere. The musical side really needs to be a release because otherwise you might lose your identity in the midst of all the talks, the advice on all the things you should do. It can make you quite insecure."

Surman, who started out as a professional musician in the 1960s, sees plenty of similarities between the task facing young jazz musicians back then compared with now. "In many ways I don't think there's a lot of difference. Most of the musicians here are on a similar level to me when I started out. We're all working musicians who have bands and we're trying to make our way in the world."

Plenty has changed though, as Surman recognizes in recalling the mid-1960s when he took his first professional steps alongside Mike Westbrook and Graham Collier. "Then there were no agents and it was strange to have management. Even taking a sound engineer with you was rare. Bill [Strode] and I were in the pioneering group doing it in the 1980s. It didn't become a norm until well into the 2000s."
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