The jazz scene in Birmingham has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades.
Then, there was a smattering of regular gigs around the region, usually with bands of 50-year-olds playing fairly standard jazz tunes with an extra leaning towards the old New Orleans/Dixie styles. And then there were concerts by touring jazz groups, often with players from the US, or occasionally from Europe.
Those strands still remain, though the average age of the trad groups is now probably 70 or more, and the big-name, international touring concerts seem to be a little thinner on the ground, especially as there has developed a more robust British scene.
But there is a vital new strand. And it’s an especially important one.
I think we can mainly thank the introduction of Birmingham Conservatoire’s specific jazz course for bringing it about, and Birmingham Jazz for fostering it.
I remember sitting in one of the new Mailbox bars at about the turn of the century and a pianist barely out of his school clothes was playing graceful songbook tunes as background music. Here was a Conservatoire student paying his dues, and if he wasn’t being fully appreciated by most of the punters, that was only due to unfamiliarity on their part – and the overruling desire to get that alcohol inside them.
Those were early days; a decade on and it really has flowered remarkably. The students, who came from all over the country, had a chance to play outside of the practice room, and when they graduated, instead of decamping en masse to London or back home, many decided to stay in Birmingham. They played a wide range of music from the established jazz core repertoire to their own original material. And they played it with confidence, with knowledge, with energy, and with love. They also started organising themselves.
The Cobweb Collective is a united effort by graduates and current students to consolidate the production and marketing of the activities of these young men and women who have chosen the most difficult – some would say foolhardy – career path imaginable: to be professional jazz musicians.
So, let’s look at what they are up to in just the next seven days.
Tonight a quintet led by guitarist Joseph Howell, comprising Matt Gough on trumpet, Toby Boalch on keyboards, Hamish Livingstone on double bass and Jonathon “Silky” Silk on drums, is at The Yardbird in Paradise Place.
The music starts at 9pm, it turns into a jam session after 11pm and entry is free.
On Monday the David Grey Trio (David on keyboards, Nick Jurd on bass and Jim Bashford on drums) is at The White Swan, in Grosvenor Street West (that’s B16 8BP), the music starts at 9pm and entry is £1.
And on Tuesday trumpeter Mike Adlington, of the Sub Ensemble, leads his Sextet at the Spotted Dog in Warwick Street (B12 0NH). There’s an 8.30pm start and they have an “audience donations” policy.
And all this week there have been bands playing at the Old Joint Stock Jazz And Beer Festival Week. Tonight the Tobie Carpenter Group is on from 7.30pm, and on Saturday the Richard Foote Quartet starts at 2.30pm.
All Cobweb Collective gigs are recommended. Find out more at cobwebcollective.com