Listening to Jazz – June

Jazz and Sponsorship

Talking recently to a musician at a local gig, he pointed out that there were an increasing number of musicians and bands seeking gigs at a time when both the number of clubs and sponsorship for the music was becoming smaller and smaller. This situation is reflected in the listings of artists performing at jazz festivals, not only in the UK but also in other countries. Yet looming at the jazz press it seems as if the number of festivals in the UK is on the increase, though each also appears to run for a shorter time than before. One or two have been on the edge of disappearing, as Appleby has, whilst Swanage, one of the favourites, has only survived through the crowdfunding efforts of guitarist Nigel Price. Jazz parties, such as those at Blackpool and its successor at Norwich are long gone, so that the chance for fans to hear a wide range of musicians mixed up into different groups, each playing an hour-long set, has gone. And one of the good things of these events was the chance to meet and chat with some of the musicians.

Festivals depend largely on the amount of sponsorship they can attract, perhaps rather more than on the numbers of people attending, and sponsorship is on the decline. This is particularly true of financial assistance. Arts Council rants for jazz have always been on the small side, but nowadays are even smaller. Local authorities have seen their finances cut to the bone, though some still see a jazz festival as a way of promoting their area. And not many places can call on the largesse of a multi-national company of large public sector body for assistance. Local clubs maybe able to raise a little sponsorship in kind, thus helping with raffle prizes which swell the income at each gig.

Lacking adequate financial support means clubs and festivals have to fill their programmes with lesser known musicians. With the possible exception of the London Jazz Festival and one or two others such as Cheltenham, most festival organisers can no longer afford to attract well-known American musicians who would ensure a large audience, whilst even the best of the British may push the budget – leaving organisers to fill the rest of their programme with either less well-known musicians or local ones. And one sees a similar experience in other countries. For example, France, which I know well, has a long tradition of supporting jazz through its celebrated Hot Clubs de Jazz, and one can still see long lists of festivals advertised in the French jazz press. But I also note that the festivals run for shorter periods, also have fewer star names appearing, whilst the number of clubs with regular sessions has declined over the years.

One result of this situation is that festivals, clubs and jazz generally get into a vicious spiral of decline rather than a virtuous circle of improvement. Whilst jazz is not yet dead or dying, nor is it likely to disappear from our musical experience completely, especially given the number of young musicians following degree courses in jazz at universities and conservatoires around the world, jazz fans may well hear less of the music they know and love in the flesh….so support your local jazz outlets!

Mike Goldsmith