There’s no such thing as selling out.
Recently, I had a conversation with a musician that had a lasting impression on me. He said that if Jazz is to survive, then we should be saying yes those brand deals and collaborating with other kinds of art movements - because Jazz, as an industry, can’t sustain itself.
In the UK, so many of the core organisations in the Jazz industry receive funds and grants from the likes of Arts Council England, PRS and Help Musicians UK, whilst charities such as the Abram Wilson Foundation rely heavily on donations to support young musicians.
In London alone, where the mechanics of the music industry are most robust, we have Jazz re:freshed, Tomorrow’s Warriors, Serious (the organisation behind the EFG London Jazz Festival) and Future Bubblers (an artist development off-shoot of Brownswood Recordings) amongst those who are awarded public funding, enabling them all to do the amazing work that they do.
Arts Council England came under fire in 2018 after UK Music called them “too posh for pop”. Their research claimed that only 8% of their national portfolio at the time was allocated to popular music - contrasting disastrously against 62% that was distributed to opera.
“If we don’t want the wider public to turn their nose up at Jazz, then how can we turn our nose up at popular culture?”
Here’s the figures representing how Arts Council England have awarded Jazz NPOs in the years 2018-2022 (full list is here).
Jazz North - £190,000
Manchester Jazz Festival - £150,522
Jazzlines (Birmingham) - £80,464
East Midlands Jazz - £77,446
National Youth Jazz Collective - £64,439
Serious - £452,778
SoundUK (Bristol) - £100,580
Jazz re:freshed (London) - £130,795
National Youth Jazz Orchestra - £125,000
Oto Projects - £74,933
Brownswood (all funds going to Future Bubblers) - £89,000
Tomorrows Warriors - £208,744
J-Night (Hull) - £68,749
Here come the controversial questions;
Does pop perhaps not need the support as much as Jazz?
How can the Jazz industry become sustainable if it relies on public funding?
Would the Jazz industry collapse without it?
From where I’m standing, Jazz NPOs receive funding in the UK for an amalgamation of reasons:
Its previous cultural demotion from the popular music scene.
A high level of musicianship and music education - which costs £££
The willingness of the industry’s individuals to promote and dedicate time to the distribution of the music.
Racist / classist attitudes alongside International reputations*; Jazz began as an American tradition, which we adopted and adapted. Modern genres born in the UK, such as grime and broken beat, have been globally recognised and celebrated - as has the UK’s original and poetic take on hip-hop. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that funding bodies are as keen to promote these contemporary genres to anywhere near the same level as Jazz. A failure to support grassroots UK music - essentially, black music - is, by default, a success for Jazz and more traditional music forms.
* This isn’t a dig at individual funding bodies, but a wider systemic issue.
The Jazz industry would be misguided if it expected the support of funding bodies to be evergreen. It must find ways to sustain itself - Jazz must loose its anxiety over selling out.
We can’t continue to preach to the converted. Reaching new audiences means doing what hasn’t been done before - and some artists are nailing it on the partnership front:
Sons of Kemet and Nicholas Daley at London Fashion Week SS20.
Poppy Ajudha and Giorgio Armani.
Brownswood Recordings and Carhartt.
If we don’t want the wider public to turn their nose up at Jazz before they’ve given it a chance, then how can we turn our nose up at popular culture?
Don’t get me wrong; it’s fucking hard out there. Getting a brand deal isn’t something you can easily tick off of a to do list, and nor is it the right route for every artist or organisation. A lot of the NPOs above have their own line of merch, whilst most do ticketed events that feed back into the ever-emptying pot.
We need to both feed our own eco-system, and immerse ourselves into the wider one. This incredible Jazz scene is an echo chamber. When we talk about artists who’ve broken through - musicians as varied as Femi Koleoso and Jacob Collier - it’s not hard to see that their focus on reaching new audiences with social media has paid off, and in turn, spotlighted UK Jazz. Nubya Garcia for example, has always been vocal and active about playing a mix of traditional Jazz spots and sticky floor venues; some look at what others are doing in the Jazz scene and act accordingly. Others, who’ve been taking cues from popular culture, are now a part of popular culture.
It could mean difficult decisions, like turning down an offer to headline a much loved Jazz night in Clapton, in order to play at a Central London venue with a more diverse audience - and then bringing that diverse audience with you to the Clapton night a year later. The brightest torch bearers in Jazz are feeding the scene by flying from the safety of the nest - and returning to it with gains.
For artists who wish to play the same venues again and again because they love it there - great! Who am I to suggest where you play? But if artists are playing X venue on repeat out of a snobbery for popular culture, then it only perpetuates a conservatism in Jazz that will rot from the inside. We can’t keep feeding on ourselves.
We must, you and me, contribute to the ecosystem in order for it to be self-sufficient. Artists now, who’ve broken through thanks to the hard work of these NPOs, can reach a hand to those who are taking their first steps onto the ladder.
This isn’t a call to action, moreover a reflection on where we are and where we’re going. Organisations that I mentioned at the beginning, such as Future Bubblers and Jazz re:freshed, are doing an admirable job of diversifying their reach and income. I wouldn’t be surprised if NPOs like these don’t have a day off amongst them in a whole year. And without Arts Council England, the arts would be in a dire situation; they made £160 million in emergency response funds available this year, providing a lifeline to organisations across the UK. Arts funding is undeniably a force for good.
The Jazz ecosystem is a replenishing one, already; we do generally tend to put in what we take out. But in order for UK Jazz to blossom further, and to keep the momentum travelling, we need to immerse ourselves further into popular culture. By becoming one of the 8%, we’ll be far more self-sufficient.
Jobs & Opportunities in Jazz and beyond
Do check out the previous newsletter where some listings are still active. Jobs are mostly UK orientated.
Bristol based Noods Radio have a paid Label Assistant Internship on offer.
Don’t blow it! Gilles Peterson’s Future bubblers are hiring a junior project manager. Apply by New Year’s Eve.
In Brighton, Arts Council England would like an Assistant.
Polydor are hiring a Commercial Manager.
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama are hiring a Recording & Audio-Visual Broadcast Manager.
This makes me feel optimistic; Battersea Arts Centre want a Head of Live and Digital.
You’ve got until this Friday to apply for the role of Senior Corporate Communications Manager with PPL.
In LA, Kobalt are looking for a Creative Director (Hip Hop & R&B).
In France, Secretly are looking for a Label Manager.
Album of the Week \\ Scrapbook Mixtape - Vol 1: Refuge
This release hasn’t received anywhere enough attention since its release in late November. Scrapbook Mixtape are a collective of musicians who believe in doing the thing out of pure love - the personnel reads like a 2021 ‘ones to watch’ list.
STEAM DOWN’s Naima Adams, who’s now focused on pursuing her solo work, shares For Each Other, orbiting courage, positivity and black beauty with fluid groove. Meanwhile, violinist Rebekah Reid creates a layered bed of electronics on Streams and newcomer George Tatenda’s sultry vocal on My Baby tips its hat to lo-fi bedroom pop.
It’s hard for a compilation to achieve a flow that sounds as well thought out as this. This release sounds like London after dark - and London on pause. There’s an eerie tranquility that connects the dots on these deeply reflective tracks. Get it here.
News and Notable
The excellent 33 1/3 series have announced their next 15 books; Minnie Ripperton’s Come To My Garden is among them.
The revered Gary Crosby talked passionately about Mingus’ The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady for Classic Albums Sunday’s ‘My Classic Album’ series.
I interviewed Yazz Ahmed about her Ivor Norvello win, which you can watch here.
Alabaster De Plume gave a gorgeous - and very Alabaster - interview to Andrew Jervis on Bandcamp Weekly.
Speaking of Bandcamp, they’re no longer ranking their end of year album lists - and here’s why.
NQ Jazz in Manchester have announced their 2021 programme of gigs and masterclasses with the likes of Soweto Kinch and Mark Lockheart.
Another shameless self-plug; you can read about what it’s like to be a DJ in a pandemic, my first piece for The Telegraph.
A last minute gift for Jazz fans
Kintsugi: Jazz Poems for Musicians Alive and Dead is the debut poetry book of music journalist and former EZH Reviews Editor, Ammar Kalia. This is a short but poignant book of deep poems that are either inspired by conversations with artists or musings over them. There’s poems for Kamasi Washington, Moses Sumney and Japanese pianist Ryo Fukui amongst classic legends. There are several ‘close the book’ moments for contemplation and analysis - although you’ll be opening it time and time again. Ammar is also a talented drummer, which lead to him recording an audio book that’s an interplay of words and drums, adding another valuable dimension to his poems.
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Thank you, Tina x