London’s new barrier busting Jazz binge at The Cockpit Theatre.
The tension between commercial success and artistic integrity is a constant in the life of the jazz musician. Swing too far one way and soon enough you’ll meet the disdainful wrath of those who feel left behind and who profess to stand fast in their refusal to compromise:
“He only gets the gigs because he’s…”
“She only gets the gigs because she’s…”
“Man he can’t play changes for s***!”
“That guy? We’ve heard it all before. Where’s the innovation?…”
Yet swing the other way, and you’re likely to meet frustration at not being heard and not being heard means not getting paid. No one honestly wants that.
There are other complexities to the situation of course. Our scene is a fertile breeding ground for disenchantment and resentment. Anger about who holds the power to decide those who ‘make it’ and those who don’t or who’ll get a grant and who will not. Seething debates rage over ownership of the art form, and every so often the fault lines crack and the bile pours out.
Through one lens, the Jazz scene in London appears to be a small and close-knit community, yet through another you’ll see it can be fragmented, segregated and cliquey. Some dividing lines are merely drawn on stylistic preferences; social circle or where/when players went to college for example. Yet there are less pleasant, more insidious divides that exist, and that’s what’s sad.
We know that there are organisations and sets of musicians who have thrived on these divides and there are some groups that have been formed to challenge them. Yet there are many artists, and importantly many listeners, who look beyond camps and barricades to listen to each other, play, talk, support each other and share their love of this great mankind-embracing African-American art form we know as Jazz, along with all its glorious, joyful and sometimes rebellious off shoots.
For a number of years, several people, including economist Richard Wyatt, Dave Wybrow the Director of the Cockpit Theatre and Jez Nelson CEO of Somethin’ Else and presenter of Jazz on 3, and myself had been nurturing the desire to put on a night of live music with a difference that brought such people together under one roof. In 2011, serendipity brought us all together and step-by-step Jazz In The Round came to be conceived.
The ethos? Whatever is going on out there, we’ll help it get heard. Elders of the free improv’ scene, young guns who swing hard, sage-like jazz luminaries and riotous maverick step dubsters, whatever, whoever. Nu-Jazz, old Jazz, borrowed Jazz, blue Jazz, Afro Jazz, Euro Jazz, Anti Jazz, Free Jazz and Jazz made with the sole intention of forcing jazz snobs to eat shit! So far so good. Two nights of wonderful, contrasting music performed in an intimate, informal yet attentive environment that Noel Langley fondly likened to ‘being in an anatomists studio!’.
Before the bands commenced, Jez warmed things up in the bar with a DJ set, pumping out Impulse and Blue Note sides from his Hi-Powa Sound System to a remarkably varied audience, all of whom even more remarkably seemed to be ready to have a good night. Imagine, a jazz gig full of folk who want to have fun!
It was a London jazz star spotters paradise. A hipper version of platform 16 at London Bridge, as Jazz aficionados stood, quite literally, shoulder to shoulder with nu-rave hipsters, the well heeled and the barely soled, the clued up and the boozed up, the eminent and the seminal, and the rest of us.
There has been an expectant and celebratory mood to both gigs so far and the music has lived up to our promise to deliver a contrasting and barrier busting night. Yazz Ahmed’s haunting, Arabic tinged flugelhorn. Pat Thomas crashing ebony and ivory to smithereens and expunging deep dub electronic burps. Stuart McCallum’s melodic Mancunian wit. Ryan Williams flashing his mob. Andrew McCormack graceful and poignant and Shabaka Hutchings in your face groove fest.
There’s more to come. In fact we have a year of these monthly jazz love ins planned and who knows what will follow. Like a Jarrett solo, start and see where it takes you. Oh, and it’s only 7 quid to get in!