Heulwen Phillips was appointed Project Director of Jazz Services earlier this year. The organisation has now changed its name to JazzUK and embarks on its first jazz festival in Coventry later this month. We chatted by email:
Q The #4Jazz Festival is a new project. Tell us a bit about it. What are some of the highlights?
A I was really inspired by my own experience of growing up in Brecon, being there at the very first jazz festival, and witnessing first-hand how the whole town responded to the music – it was at every street corner, in every public garden and car park. This was a real community event, everyone got involved and everybody benefited from it. This is what jazz could do.
Thus the little acorn of an idea for the #4Jazz Festival concept grew. Why Coventry? The geographic centre of England; knowing the city celebrated the old and the new; a tight-knit community; businesses, community groups and performing arts overtly working together.
As in Brecon, I wanted to see music in the streets, but also, as I have a passion for carnival and street theatre, I thought, why not a jazz score for the local carnival group Imagineer Productions, a jazz street theatre commission from Ego Performance Theatre in Westside Story mode, with two jazz bands fighting for prominence in the medieval streets, historic gardens and modern settings of Coventry’s city centre.
We’ve also got street performance cameos from Jazz Undead telling us the history of jazz and jazz for under 6s. This would be a great way to relaunch Jazz Services as JazzUK, and illustrate what the organisation’s new role would be – building new audiences for jazz, celebrating a wide range of jazz music, involving communities in presenting the music, reaching a range of people, and waving the flag for jazz.
Q You have some major jazz stars appearing but also some grassroots projects – what would you say is the overall philosophy and aim of the festival?
A We went through a very valuable rebranding exercise in August, looking at our past work, seeing what worked, what didn’t, and debating what our values were as Jazz Services, and what we felt was important for the future. We came up with this:
“A progressive organisation that unites the jazz and artistic communities by sharing the power of jazz music to increasingly greater audiences. Is inclusive, collaborative, open, dynamic, true to jazz, energetic, exciting, and of high quality. Enriches peoples’ lives by providing jazz music in all its diversity. Ignites the senses and frees the spirit with the rich and diverse colours of jazz.”
We had the idea for the festival back in February, but as plans progressed, we saw how we wanted it to reflect this new excitement. People hear jazz music in adverts, on TV and within film scores, and yet some say they do not like jazz. I wanted normal shoppers to fall upon it in the city centre, in bars, bookshops, museums, streets, public gardens, and enjoy the music with no preconceptions or barriers.
I wanted most of the concerts to be free, but also needed some ticket income to balance my books. Our sponsors Medwell Hyde Property Solutions inspired us to think of the nature of Coventry; more than 50 languages are spoken across the city, with increasing numbers from Eastern Europe.
Our JazzLab learning and participation project with Coventry Performing Arts Service was using jazz and Asian scales, working with 20 young musicians experimenting and improvising on tablas, sitars, saxes, trumpets, guitars, drum kits and keyboards.
We thought a great way to showcase the work was as part of the festival, in the wonderful Belgrade Theatre, appearing on the same platform as Arun Ghosh. We also have an Africa-Caribbean theme in some of our concerts at Urban Coffee in FarGo, a vibrant cultural part of the city by the university, with Black Top and Cleveland Watkiss. But we’ve also got young bands like Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet and Perhaps Contraption, and well established like Julian Argüelles’ Septet, performing in the music marquee we are erecting in the central city square Broadgate.
Something else we did is develop 2 new jazz apps with Perhaps Contraption and WorldService Project. They are great fun! You can play around with instruments against some great interactive backgrounds, hear each part in isolation or together, and find out more about the bands and JazzUK. These will be available to download from 27 November, and we shall let everyone know through Twitter and Facebook. We shall be developing more like this with our new touring strategy next year – it’s great traction for us and the bands.
We also wanted an opportunity of attracting commercial interest and bringing them together with key people of the city, and so introduced a VIP reception and concert event, with a performance by Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman. It is being held in the beautiful 13th century space of the Old Grammar School – old and new together.
Q The #4Jazz Festival is, as I understand it, the first in a series of festivals planned by JazzUK (previously Jazz Services). Can you tell us about these?
A The festivals are a lot of work obviously, but if they engage new audiences then I’m all for them. Part of our strategy for 2016, 2017 and 2018 is to develop more in different parts of the country (alongside touring and JazzLab projects); the Marches and Cornwall particularly, through isolation, I think are crying out for something like this, working with local organisations and businesses to animate cities and bring communities together. In Coventry, we had more than 23 organisations supporting us and working together, including the universities, City Council, and Coventry Bid for City of Culture 2021.
Q How do these festivals fit into more general plans to re-build JazzUK as a national supporting body for the music following the loss of Jazz Services’ public financial support?
A With 30 years of support from Arts Council England, the shock of there no longer being any funding, to the members of the organisation Jazz Services, and many thousands of musicians it had supported over those years, had a numbing effect. Everyone seemed to hold their breath. It felt like a bereavement.
ACE supported with post decision meetings, and Jazz Services’ positive and receptive attitude was key to their providing a small amount of transition funding. This enabled the organisation to undertake a business review, and explore opportunities it could pursue to secure its future. As you know, I was recruited in February, and my project ideas had to be developed with the current UK ‘jazz map’ of current provision in mind, whilst retaining the ethos of grassroots support which Jazz Services had been known for.
I had conversations with many lead jazz organisations, promoters and musicians, and could see where the gaps were, and indeed the gaps left by Jazz Services no longer providing grants to musicians and largely voluntary-led promoters. This all informed my framework for new projects, including touring, festivals and education programmes.
It will take time to build our work again nationally, but we are already leading a consortium for British Isles Jazz for JazzAhead! 2016, working with Jazz Promotion Network, Serious, MU, PRS, PPL, PRS Foundation, UKTI, and many others. Our plans moving forward relating to the new projects are all such that they can be replicated in different parts of the country.
We are aware that there is some excellent work being done, by such organisations as Jazz North, EMJAZZ, Jazz North East, Jazzlines and Norvol Jazz, and I like to think that we complement their activities, working with them to benefit the jazz sector and make it stronger, attracting more funding, from private purses as well as public.
Q What sort of role does JazzUK want to play in the future? Will it be seeking public financial support again? Is it going after more private finance?
A We have been very fortunate in getting major support from a private sponsor. Roger Medwell from Medwell Hyde Property Solutions. Roger started as an apprentice engineer at 16 years of age in Coventry. Worked his way up and building the firm into a major engineering success, NP Aerospace, becoming CEO.
We have had many chats about his love of jazz, but also he is passionate about engineering, and sees the performing arts as significant vehicles to get young people interested in engineering – the mechanics of a body in dance, or valves of a trumpet! He is very imaginative in his approach. We are very lucky to have his support – but so often I think it is down to personalities and their individual drive and enthusiasm which makes things happen.
Q How do you see the relationship with the new Jazz Promotion Network developing? Are both organisations not trying to do the same thing?
A We’re worked well together. They are a great platform for promoters to get together and work together. I think JazzUK’s focus is more audiences, supporting new projects instigated by jazz musicians, facilitating great practitioners inspiring young people (of diverse ages and abilities). I don’t see we need to be in competition – there’s too much to do out there! Tony and Nod are great, and we get on well. I really respect what they have done for jazz, and believe JazzUK’s new role will support them.
Q Do you think jazz in the UK will ever have the kind of support it enjoys in other countries in Europe?
A Ah… By support, do you mean audiences or cash? If you mean audiences, then, yes, I think we can really grow jazz as a popular genre. It has such infinite variety! Cash is another matter. But if we can continue to prove the value of jazz in communities, in economic terms, and work together, then jazz will thrive.
- For more about JazzUk and #4Jazz Festival go here.