A jazz musician’s letter to the Arts Council

Tim Whitehead

Tim Whitehead

Dear Mr Darren Henley

I would like to bring to your attention a grave injustice being engaged in by the Arts Council Of England.

One of your predecessors described jazz as one of the most important art forms to emerge from the 20th century.

However , your own figures reveal that 57.9% of the total music budget which you administer for 2015-2018 , is allocated to opera, whilst 2% goes to jazz. As you will no doubt be aware, the total annual audience for jazz substantially exceeds that for opera.

Please answer these questions.

1. Does this accord with the Arts Council’s statement
“Our mission at the Arts Council is Great art and culture for everyone.” ?

2.If you think it doesn’t, what actions are you taking or will you take to correct this?

3. By when will you have achieved this correction?

4. When will you be i) making and ii) publishing a policy for administering the music budget?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Tim Whitehead

That’s what Tim Whitehead, saxophonist, composer and bandleader, wrote back in March, and as a result he has a meeting with the Arts Council coming up this month.

He goes on to explain his motive, and to ask for ideas, thus:

It needs to be said that these figures refer to the budgets set for payments to National Portfolio organisations , and there are other payments to venues and musicians, e.g. touring support, which don’t form part of this figure.

But it isn’t that much more when compared to the whacking big chunk for Opera.
I’ve got nothing against Opera – well maybe the sometimes gigantic vibratos, and the often unbelievable plots – but I’m personally happy that opera has brought some great music to the world.

But so has jazz, at least as much, with probably a bigger reach of influence, and in a fraction of the time. It deserves at least as much care and attention from our gatekeepers of public funding, and it isn’t getting it.

I’ve been a professional jazz musician for 38 years, and in that time I’ve been fortunate to have won awards, played with some influential bands and received some lovely reviews of my work in national and trade press.

And making enough money just to pay the bills for me and my family has never been anything other than a struggle, despite throwing myself at some big challenges to my versatility, including co-writing and producing a children’s musical, co-founding two musicians’ co-operatives, self and co-promoting jazz gigs, concerts and summer schools during my career.

I’m sure there are different stories in the jazz world, but I also know that many, probably most, are not much different to mine. The human wastage rate is very high, much higher than it needs to be. It is a manifest injustice to publicly fund one art form thirty times more than another equally important one, while ignoring the fact that there is a bigger audience for the latter. Such infrastructure as there has been in the past has been allowed to wither away, and even, in the case of Jazz Services and previous regional organisations, funding has been withdrawn .

The injustice is not confined to jazz. Classical music has a much bigger audience than opera, yet its National Portfolio organisations receive half the revenue.
But I have only the responsibility to speak out for my constituency, especially with my very limited resources, though I would support others in their efforts to seek some justice for themselves, and enlightenment for their funders.

So, if you have any more ideas of how you would like to enlighten the thinking of our funding gatekeepers to create a better world for us to make our music in, drop me a line at timgwhitehead@yahoo.com, or make your voice heard in the way you think is right.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for a report-back.

  • Tim Whitehead’s blog site is here.

Categories: News

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1 reply


  1. What happened when one jazz musician went to see the Arts Council | thejazzbreakfast

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