What jazz on the Beeb?

No, there will never be enough, and the saga will continue, but last night at the Cockpit Theatre in London was a large mud-caked step in the right direction.

There is a report entitled: The BBC – Public Sector Radio, Jazz Policy and Structure in the Digital Age. It’s pretty critical of the current situation at the Beeb.

Along to answer the charges were Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3 and Lewis Carnie, head of programmes at Radio 2 and 6 Music. Adding a European perspective was Peter Schultze, radio producer and artistic consultant from Germany.

There are a lot of stats in the report about number of minutes of jazz on the Beeb and all that, which makes for nit-picking debate, and although the panel stuck to the script for the most part, the audience, as is the wont of a jazz audience, went off in all directions.

One of the things the report ended up asking for was a digital channel devoted to jazz. That would be nice but there is enough “ghettoisation” already, I think, what with dead of night scheduling and all that.

I’m all for more jazz integrated into any programme whatsoever – let’s mix it all up as Late Junction has been doing from the start (though I was interested to note that Roger Wright’s description of Late Junction‘s content was more accurate of the diversity shown at the outset than of the presenters’ preoccupations of late – enough with the Hardanger fiddles, already!).

More exciting, I think, is the suggestion of more regional coverage of jazz and more communication at the local level. Why not record sessions in Birmingham or Leeds or Manchester or Glasgow or Cardiff or Belfast and why not play them on local Beeb stations? Chris Hodgkins made the brilliant comparison, I thought, with Evensong – recorded once a week from a cathedral or church around the country – and with Gardeners’ Question Time. Someone suggested it was much more expensive to record a jazz gig than GQT but then that was called into question by other experts in the room.

There were tiresome moments. Thank heavens no one rose to the bait when the hoary question of “what jazz is” was raised. And how dull was the thud when Lewis Carnie, in trying to back up his claim that jazz was all over the Radio 2 schedules, said: “Chris Evans has played Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra on his Breakfast Show“? Carnie would have been better off had he stressed his intimate connections with the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, but most of the time he looked like he couldn’t really be bothered with all this jazz whining.

But there were encouraging ones, too. Oliver Weindling, of the Vortex Jazz Club and Babel Records, and Christine Allen, of Basho Music, gave valuable insights into the challenges they face and made constructive suggestions of the way forward. Musician Tim Whitehead brought it all back to the music and the passion and the dedication the musicians felt for this glorious art form, but also the struggle making a living out of it.

Notable mentions included the fact that we are living in a golden age of British jazz, that there are 200 new jazz graduates coming out of the conservatoires and music schools each year (though how we are going to foster their careers is of course the key question), that it’s a powerful movement all over the country and not Londoncentric, that still no explanation has been given for the axing of the BBC jazz awards, and that if the Beeb wants to put all this celebrity-generated rubbish and scandal truly behind it, it could concentrate on doing more British jazz on the radio and TV (though the latter was not really mentioned much – bridge too far?).

A pretty hard line was expressed on the need for the BBC to support British jazz to the exclusion of that stuff that is made in the US. Jez Nelson, of Jazz on 3 programme makers Somethin’ Else (yep, you might have thought it was made by the Beeb but you would be wrong, it’s made for the Beeb by his production company) showed concern about this view, claiming the listener had been forgotten in such purist talk, and the listener wanted a more international menu of jazz dishes upon which to feast. Of course, one riposte was that these are straightened times and the Beeb has a responsibility to British musicians, so Yankee Go Home.

There is no real room here to get into the details of what the report says, but you can read a bit of what it was all about at the organisers’ MusicTank website here and there should be a full report of it at the same website in due course.

Full marks anyway to Jazz Services and MusicTank and all the rest for organising both the report and the event, and full marks to the Beeb boys for turning up. This should be seen as just the start, though…

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3 replies

  1. What is Modern Jazz? It’s an educated creativity derived from popular music of the 1920/30/40s. It can be identified by lengthened dissonance and the use of certain progressions. It’s sounds is achieved from fuller chords and embellishments. (That’s my take on Modern Jazz anyway!) 🙂

    Jazz is a niché which has moved further and further away from the front-lines of popular culture, not because it is enjoyed less (I’m in a Jazz duo myself, so I know this to be a fact) but because the media choose not to broadcast it.

    I think the scary thing for the media about Jazz is it is more about the music than the life-style, and it is concerned that it will not be welcome in the eyes of popular culture as they are more interested in gorgeous celebrities or heart-warming stories (I’m thinking X-Factor here). I say play it and you will be pleasantly surprised!

    I am 25 and I grew up with grandparents who would sing Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London etc.. round the house and I’m probably one of many who loves these songs as they provoke huge nostalgia. Jazz is built upon this nostalgia and has continued to evolve (unlike some other genres) almost on a daily basis.

    Go on BBC; play some Jazz on at peak time… I dare ya! 🙂

  2. Excellent posting on this topic by the Guardian musicblog by John Fordham of the Guardian. Read it here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/jan/22/bbc-jazz-coverage

  3. Belated comment on the yankee go home argument. Jazz on 3 and any BBC programme needs to support what’s good not what’s geographical. Mr Nicholson’s suggestion that Brit jazz should be supported ahead of American sits uneasily with the fact that the self same yankees that jazz on3 support (Tim Berne is a prime example) have been massively influential on the development of many of our finest young bands – the self same bands that Stuart thinks need more support – the likes of trioVD, Led Bib, Troyka, Fraud and beyond all owe some sort of debt to Berne’s music and it is in no small way due to the support of Jez and his team that Tim has been such a regular visitor here.. we need to be very, very careful what we wish for….

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