Does UK jazz need these national networks?

Once we had one called Jazz Services and it had substantial financial support on a stable contract from the Arts Council; now we have two – the Jazz Promotion Network (JPN) and Jazz UK – neither of which has regular public funding. The result is that their impact on the lives of jazz musicians, on those volunteers putting on gigs and on those of us who attend those gigs, is minimal and patchy.

jazz uk logoJazz UK – the revamped Jazz Services – put on a mostly free festival in Coventry in November, thanks mainly to a private sponsor, and is a lead player in the UK’s stand at Jazz Ahead, the “trade show” for the music held each year in Bremen, Germany. This year’s Jazz Ahead is this month and the two bands representing UK jazz are Led Bib and Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur.

JPN has quite a few members – I am one – but without funds of its own must restrict the What We Do section of its revamped (I am pleased to report) website to a “what we could do” theme. What it is doing, albeit in a patchy fashion, is connect jazz people – especially promoters – so that they can more easily collaborate and potentially make their own applications to the Arts Council, etc.

So, for example, Emjazz, the jazz development organisation in the East Midlands, is organising a Midland Jazz Symposium – with Arts Council help though that might just be in the form of a venue – in Birmingham later this month in order to try to make stronger connections between East and West Midlands jazz activity. Could this have happened without JPN? Quite possibly, yes. Would it have? Emjazz would be able to answer that question.

JPN logoIt’s also the case that without Jazz Services to help them tour, bands are making their own Arts Council applications, and some are being successful. Musicians, I understand anecdotally, have sympathetic leanings towards Jazz UK, probably because they got touring money from the organisation in its previous incarnation, but are less inclined towards JPN, partly because its name seems to exclude them and partly because they fail to see how it might benefit them. There may also be some lingering resentments regarding some of the personalities involved though these seem fuelled by rumour rather than based in fact.

So, do we need these national networks? Is this a bit like asking do we need to be part of Europe?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is: do you think joining up with like-minded people in order to have increased influence with the powers that be, and to share ideas and information could be beneficial to your jazz activity? In other words do you think networks like Jazz UK and JPN are – or could be – “a good thing”?

If your answer is yes, what do you do next?

In the case of Jazz UK I’m not sure, other than throw some money their way. And in the case of most jazz players and jazz fans that’s a tough call. The Jazz UK website doesn’t really give more clues than that.

In the case of JPN, yes, you could attend the Jazz Promotion Network AGM and planning conference which is being held alongside the opening of the Rhythm Changes conference in Birmingham next Thursday 14 April. If you are a member or join JPN between now and then, attendance is free; if you aren’t a member you can still attend but it will cost you £30.

  • Find out more about Jazz UK HERE.
  • Find out more about the Jazz Promotion Network and its 2016 AGM/planning conference HERE.
  • As always, your comments are welcomed in the section below.


Categories: News, Opinion

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8 replies

  1. An interesting article.
    I think the problem is that we all know the real answer which is that we need proper intelligent Arts Council funding for jazz. At the moment what happens is that funding goes to the best organized bid writers, to those artists prepared to devote hours to filling in forms; to the big commercial organizations that have professional fundraisers, and it’s all piecemeal. There doesn’t appear to be any underlying strategy. The amount allocated to Jazz is too small of course, but I suspect it’s no smaller than it used to be – it’s just scatter-gunned into random places.
    What percentage should be allocated to touring, to big festivals, to new commissions, to artist development. What percentage to the regions. Who should choose?, who makes the artistic judgements? IS there any artistic judgement?
    None of this is difficult, but it doesn’t appear to have been done, and until it is, the amount of money will appear less than it is, and everyone will be unhappy.
    There are different ways of achieving this. The Arts Council could step forward and cause the creation of a single Jazz Development Agency that unites all the disparate Regional and National groups under an umbrella. Or it could set up a strategy consultation and make these decisions itself, or it could simply publish a strategy. The current situation is that they allowed Jazz Services to descend into oblivion and are now hoping people won’t notice.
    As you say musicians and regional organizations are stepping in to fill the vacuum but the situation is far from satisfactory!

  2. As Mr Bacon knows, the Jazz Promotion Network will be meeting next week in his home town. And in discussion the JPN’s members (74 organisations and individuals at current count) will be discussing how to move forward with or without funding. Which the JPN Board and some particular members have already been doing – and the members, Mr Bacon included, will be hearing all about it.

    On the question of ‘do we need a network?’ I’d just say this: Lots of people asked that question of Europe Jazz Network (EJN) in its early days (when it had a handful – maybe a dozen or so – of members). The people who believed in it worked voluntarily and quietly behind the scenes for quite a while to establish a structure and plans that could carry the network forward and achieve funding and collaborative projects. Over the past ten years EJN has progressed to having 110 members (in about 30 countries I think), several high profile pan-European projects (see their website), 3 full-time members of staff and a grant for the EU of €250,000 per annum for 3 years. (Which also answers the question ‘Do we need to be in Europe’.)

    See you in Birmingham!

    Nod Knowles (of the JPN, obviously)

  3. As usual – and this isn’t necessarily a fault, as the subject needs to be addressed – this discussion seems to be focused on professional networks which effectively exclude audiences except as a kind of implied afterthought.

    As someone who spent many happy and well-informed years as a member of the Jazz Centre Society, I’m convinced that there’s an argument for a national membership organisation to which listeners as well as promoters, musicians and anyone actively engaged in the profession can belong. I’ve previously proposed an approach based on the best bits of the Art Fund spliced with the best bits of the EFDSS. Apart from anything else, anyone seeking funding for any aspect of jazz will at least be able to point to such an organisation as indicative of the level of support for the music.

    It’s perhaps telling that, when devising a readership survey during my editorship of Jazz UK (when it was a magazine!), I had to modify an inherited research model that categorised potential respondents as musicians, promoters, DJs, managers and so on, because there was no category that included ‘listener’.

    • An excellent point Roger. As a trustee of EFDSS I can tell you that it’s membership is a mixed blessing; but as an indication of the level of interest it is valuable – and a big source of income too !

  4. Sorry, I’ve no idea what a ‘photgrapher’ is. No wonder I’m an ex-editor. : )

  5. The Arts Council doesn’t seem to like supporting jazz promoters so we have to help ourselves. The phrase “hang together or hang separately” is very appropriate. Inevitably some jazz networks work better than others – the Northern Voluntary Promoters network (Norvoljazz) for example works really well. It doesn’t attract the sort of money that goes to individual the Arts Council funded jazz promoters, but like so much of the volunteer bits of the jazz sector it makes a little go a hell of a long way! Norvoljazz network have organised club development programmes, an international touring series, a great website/gig guide, a Northern Jazz Live blog, and are just about to produce marketing material that highlights the 17 jazz festivals that take place in the North.

    Co ordination is hard work, but vital. You need to be patient, you need to build trust and relationships, and most importantly focus on the grass roots of jazz. That all takes time and it’s not very flashy or rewarding. I’ve been a board member of JPN for the first couple of years just because it it trying to do those things. I won’t be continuing in April but that’s due to personal time pressure not because I don’t believe in it. It is well worth supporting JPN, NorvolJazz, EMJazz etc. We need more cooperation between jazz promoters not less!

  6. Rather than reinvent the wheel the solution to the problem of the lack of infrastructure for jazz in the UK is addressed in my letter to John Whittingdale Secretary of State for Culture Media and sport on the 2nd April 2016

    I read the Culture White Paper and I have a number of comments that I trust you will find helpful

    1 I was disappointed to see that in the list of consultees there was no representation from jazz organisations, folk music organisations or Brass Band England all of whom are funded by Arts Council England. Also from the list of consultees no consultation with the Musicians’ Union or Equity.

    2 In 2015 I published a paper on public investment of jazz. I enclosed a revised paper, Public Investment in Jazz. In summary the paper deals with a number of issues pertinent to the lack of funding of jazz by the funding system and covers the following topics:

    • A level playing field for jazz
    • The paucity of public funding for jazz
    • The lack of a coherent policy for jazz and music in the UK
    • The education sector and the supply of jazz musicians and live music
    • Keep music live

    3 To summarise the position as succinctly as possible here is my letter to the Guardian 20th February 2016

    Darren Henley’s article, “The ENO must evolve for its own sake” (17.02.16) is disingenuous and highlights the problem with the Arts Council and arts funding; a lack of an art form policy that holds the organisation to account for its funding decisions. Before the last funding round in 2015 the Arts Council conducted a comprehensive review of ENO resulting in a £5 million cut in its funding from £17 million to £12 million, but ENO was offered an inducement of £7.6 million to help in the transition of its business plan. In 2015 ENO was awarded National Portfolio Status judged against strict criteria, two of which were an effective business plan and sound governance. Shortly after passing these tests ENO was put into “special measures”. Darren Henley seems to think in this age of harsh austerity two opera houses cheek by jowl in London is fine; this all demonstrates that it is the Arts Council that lacks credible ideas. The Royal Opera House has absorbed vast amounts of lottery and revenue funding and is ripe for privatisation. It is time that the Arts Council is replaced with a leaner, innovative organisation that can deliver a policy for the arts that ensures equitable distribution of public funds across regions and art forms.

    I trust that these points will be take into account and the under representation in terms of public funding for jazz, folk music and brass bands is addressed in any legislation arising from the Culture White Paper.

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