Hot fun in the summertime

Summer  officially begins  once the June issue of SJM hits your inbox, and with it a crop of festival events to tempt you to spend your hard earned dollar on tickets, folding chairs, real ale in plastic beakers and all the other usual accoutrements  of civilised outdoor fun. The big one in Sussex is of course Love Supreme, now back for its fifth year to prove conclusively that everyone who said a greenfield jazz festival just wouldn’t work are now even more wrong than ever. We’ve touched on the subject of controversial headliner policies before – regular readers of this column will know that we take an ecumenical view, believing that there is a season for everything and that music can indeed be a universal language if freed from the burden of snobbery, so we’re eager to hear from anyone who witnessed Mr. Rick Astley’s performance with the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra at Cheltenham to hear how the famously constant crooner got on with the standards repertoire.         

   Love Supreme’s big draw this year is Elvis Costello, and some of our older readers, who may remember Mr. Costello as the sneering new wave firebrand of the angry 1970s, have found this an unusual choice, but let’s remember that his daddy was Ross McManus, trumpeter for Joe Loss, his missus is Diana Krall, and Burt Bacharach is one of his best buddies, and keep an open mind. Those of us resistant to the charms of his undoubted talent will find plenty of other treats, from a host of new wave Brit jazz artists like Nubya Garcia to undisputed titans Dave Holland and Pharaoh Sanders, plus the usual prospect of intriguing new discoveries waiting to be made. New Generation Jazz will be back once again to programme the Bandstand and the Friday Arena with a host of superb local and upcoming talent and we’d be very happy for you to just spent the whole weekend with us. 

    Looking ahead, there’s the Rye Jazz and Blues Festival in August with an ever more impressively designed website reflecting its increasing reach and stature. Details are still arriving on this one but there’s usually a good representation of artists from our locality. The equally idyllic summer destination of Swanage is also still firmly on the Summer jazz map, thanks to the heroic efforts of guitar supremo Nigel Price to keep the show on the road in his role as the new festival director, while still somehow keeping his diary full with his own gigs. Look out for the special gala event at the Mowlem theatre: The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars feat. James Pearson and Alex Garnett – ‘The Ronnie Scott’s Story’ with live jazz, narration, rare archive photos and video footage documenting the gritty history of the legendary London club with support from our own local megastar Claire Martin OBE and Nigel himself on guitar. It’s scheduled for Friday 13th July, so what could possibly go wrong? 

Bees Mouth - May

28th May

How are you, as this Bank Holiday draws to a close? Feeling blessed as some “New Look” royals at their wedding disco? Running for cover from big Brexity thunderclouds getting ready to dump their sh*t all over your sh*t? Lost as Taylor in Swansea, smashing it like Stormy D, raging like Ramos or sad like Salah? Quit your kvetching and get yourself down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where we’ll be living it large and colourful as the last reflected embers of the sun sinking into the glassy sea, thanks to the tireless talents of Luke ‘By Royal Appointment’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Angus ‘The Dank Commander’ Bishop (drms) as they take us on a magic carpet ride of swinging blues-to-bop-to-whatever, high, high into the air over the scarlet castellated ramparts and crimson minarets, into the pellucid vault where the swifts dart, the scented air alive wth their tiny cries, the towering nimbuses edged with gold, the first star hauling into sight above the darkling forests of the horizon… I’ll be doing something or other on bass, the nameless legions of the night will come and go in the echoing street outside, the immaculate naiads and dryads of the bee’s team will be on hand to make with the quality beverages, we’ll be playing some stuff and you can come and join in so don’t sit in the smelly darkness getting your measly data harvested yet again by some non-GDPR compliant digital vampire, put on yer huaraches and come and give it yer all, time’s a-ticking.

21st May

There’s no more Great Escape to fill the streets with the musical expression of a thousand pairs of introspective skinny jeans… there’s no more expensive pageantry for Republicans to practice their furious indifference on… even French Montana’s new Boohoo line seems to have run dry of creative inspiration.. it’s enough to make you click on ‘Opt-Out’ on the big GDPS e-mail of life as we go back to the dreary unspooling Brexit farce .. but wait half a mo! JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is still there, waiting behind the numinous shimmering warmth of midday til the evening comes and we unleash another dose of electric kool-aid acid test sound and colour thanks to the positively synaesthesic talents of Luke ‘By Royal Appointment’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Jean-Paul Marat’ Thomas (drms) as they turn on the taps to release an endless refreshing torrent of hot licks and cool grooves to speak to your own inner kandy koloured tangerine-flake streamline baby….I’ll be doing something on bass, the regular Bee’s team will be there to make with the libations of top-notch hooch, the nameless legions of the night will be doing their thing on the endless pavement outside, and we’ll all be pulling together to keep our microcosm on the good side til the End Times come to take all the hate mongers away so put the sweary fun of Deadpool 2 aside for a little longer - if you’re lost and alone, if if your feelings about Rapture-inducing embassy relocations can no longer be expressed by even the dankest of memes, if you’re caught in the irreconcilable culture gap between Solo and Deadpool 2, don’t sweat it, grab yer axe down off the shelf and come and join us, join us, it’s gonna be ok.

14th May

Ahoy! Time to cast aside the creative ambiguity and make with the positive engagement cos summer is sorta here, we’re nearly done with shivering in the chilly Spiegeltent and wondering at the timeless grace of non-binary performers from the exotic east, our beaches have already been blessed with the scarlet-and-blue of tattooed sunburn and perfumed with the chemical stench of disposable barbecue, and JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is rolling on it’s way in Helios’ scorched wake into the depths of the awaiting summer, with those prophets of the canicular days Luke ‘Lightspeed Champion’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Angus ‘Phew Wotta Scorcher’ Bishop (drms) ready and eager to whip up a storm of hot swinging blues-to-bop-to-whatever, aided by me on bass, as the aetherial beings of the Bee’s team wait, more radiant than ever, poised in majestic readiness behind the well-stocked bar… if you seem to hear a thousand twangling instruments humming about your ears, that’s just the inevitable massed ukeleles of the fringe festival, and if in dreaming the clouds seemed to drop such riches upon you that when you waked, you cried to dream again, well we’ve all had weekends like that, haven’t we, but don’t let them get you down, the Trumpkin hasn’t managed to blow everyone’s house down yet no matter how he huffs and puffs, so grab yer axe off the shelf and come and join us, join us, life’s what you make it.

Forward to Victory

The New York Times ushered in the New Year with a blog feature from its pop critic Jon Caramanica in cahoots with  Giovanni Russonello, who covers jazz for The New York Times, and Natalie Weiner, a staff writer for Bleacher Report who writes about jazz for Billboard and JazzTimes. The presence of a female journo was perhaps not accidental – among the topics they covered in their overview was the issue of female representation in all areas of the jazz world; or rather the way that the continuing lack thereof is increasingly attracting attention as societal attitudes towards gender continue their accelerated evolution. This column glanced at the issue earlier in 2017 in the context of some rather ill-judged remarks by Robert Glasper as reported on Ethan Iverson’s blog, and the ensuing online furore that left both men seeming rather baffled and, eventually, conditionally repentant. Not to overlook the towering presence of the unique Val Wilmer, it must be conceded that the UK scene certainly has similar issues to deal with – promoter/musician Issie Barratt’s sterling work to raise awareness deserves recognition here, both through her own campaigning and with her Interchange project, and it was great to see her welcomed by South Coast Jazz Festival to deliver a seminar as part of their inspiring additional events programme. 

It’s equally gratifying to see that our New Generation Jazz concert and workshop series is able to make bookings that reflect  the shift in attitudes among the rising generation – the first, sell-out show of 2018 featured the superbly precocious trumpeter Alexandra Ridout; previous gigs have been led by Nerija,  Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi, Trish Clowes and Camilla George, and looking ahead we’re excited to be welcoming pianist Sarah Tandy among many others – watch this space!

The NYT article was headlined ‘Is Today’s Jazz Finally Outrunning the Past?’ – a deliberately provocative leading question which we’ll allow you to unpack at your leisure. A move away from gender stereotypes was acknowledged and welcomed, but that wasn’t the only eye-catching statement contained within. As well as noting the 2017 centenary of such unassailable titans as Thelonious Monk,  Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Rich, the writers also pointed up what they saw as the most vital flourishing contemporary jazz scenes. One was Chicago – the other was London.  For New York’s leading quality paper to feature the UK scene over its own backyard is surely something to celebrate back here at home. Another article in this month’s issue of venerable cultural gatekeeper Rolling Stone is even more explicit in its linking of London, jazz and feminine empowerment; under the no less loaded headline “Britain’s New Jazz Vanguard is Funky, Fun, Vibrant and May Cross Over” it writes “Nubya Garcia’s solo debut, Nubya’s 5ive, shows what really makes the London scene distinct from most of its American counterparts: a holistic embrace of women as bandleaders and instrumentalists.” 

It’s a direct consequence of the efforts of the JazzRe:Freshed crew to promote a sector of the UK scene – or, more specifically the London scene – to overseas audiences. In August they took over a package of UK artists led by ubiquitous reedsman Shabaka Hutchings and drummer/leader (and another former New Generation booking) Moses Boyd, and the resulting gig made waves in NYC’s brimming pool of talent. In December, Nubya and drummer Yussef Dayes were in São Paulo, Brazil, with Jazz Re:freshed – later this March she’s in Austin, Texas at the SXSW Festival with Boyd, Zara McFarlane, Blue Lab Beats, Ezra Collective, and Ashley Henry – the latter three all previous New Generation artists. 

It’s a particular vision of jazz that, in the wake of Kamasi Washington’s breakthrough success, has crossed over to the kind of young and diverse audience that throngs cities around the globe. Many of the same artists can be seen on the bills of cross-cultural festivals like Brixton’s Field Day, and news reaches us that all-female jazz sextet Nerija have been signed to the uber-hip indie label Domino, whose eclectic vision encompasses everyone from Robert Wyatt to Franz Ferdinand but which has not previously been noted for embracing the jazz scene with any enthusiasm. Jazz Re:Freshed’s  Justin McKenzie has stated “We had a space for musicians who were in the jazz world and wanted to experiment, or who were doing stuff that the jazz world was frowning on” and while players like Boyd and Hutchings are as steeped in the tradition as any of the regulars at a Ronnie’s Late Show it’s their youth-orientated, dance-friendly interpretation of that tradition that is deliberately reaching out across the barriers that the jazz world sometimes seems to have erected around itself. This sets this particular group of players, despite their burgeoning international reputation, as a minority within the wider UK jazz scene, which sometimes seems to exist within a somewhat hermetic environment of its own devising. 

A regular feature of the jazz calendar are the flurries of carping comments that swirl around the internet like returning swallows as the major international festivals announce their headliners – inevitably to have those headliners derided for not possessing sufficiently echt jazz credentials to satisfy sectors of the community. One can sympathise to an extent – jazz music is a deep and complex art form requiring a lifetime’s devotion, and it can indeed appear galling when a pop star suddenly adopts its idiom, seemingly as casually as changing a stage costume, and is instantly elevated to the top of the bill above truly dedicated practitioners of the art. Jazz, however you define it, does mean to many people a musical form that is qualitatively different from other genres, and which requires its own delineated space, away from the supposed vulgarities of the mainstream,  in which to flourish. You can’t argue with people for liking what they like, of course.  Yet it is also true that the Great American Songbook has its origins in commercial ditties that were created as part of popular musical theatre productions and meant for ordinary people to enjoy, and the founding figures of jazz were equally concerned with making music that would be popular, so that regular people could listen and even dance to it. It seems unnecessarily self-limiting to see music as a zero-sum game, where the success of one artist, one scene or one genre must be at the cost of all the others. Jazz can be unfairly stereotyped as inward-looking, elitist and obsessed with its own self-defined history – surely the path towards the future lies in preserving its heritage while embracing the forward motion towards a diversity that surely encapsulates its free-thinking, untrammelled spirit.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/arts/music/jazz-refreshed-london.html

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/review-we-out-here-and-more-of-uks-new-jazz-vanguard-w516707

https://weouthere.bandcamp.com/

Bees Mouth - April

16th April

Spring is here, the blackcaps have returned, the blossom is heavy and sweet upon the bough, Kenny won Masterchef, and best of all, we’ve chilled out on the the complete-Armageddon-mutually-assured-destruction trip that was really negging our vibe over the weekend, so better celebrate by getting your unfragged corporeal envelope and it’s precious spark of ineffable essence down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where you can celebrate the continuing existence of that much contested entity, Western Civilisation, with all it’s cute little quirks that generate up so many of your status updates, and bask in the otherworldly aura shining forth from those twin supernovae Luke ‘Lightspeed Champion’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Dark Matter’ Thomas (drms) as they sketch out glittering arcs of musical radiance through the heavily scented air, aided by me on bass, as the ever-ready Bee’s team wait, poised, in the velvet dusk behind the well-stocked bar, ready to slake your well-earned thirst with all kinds of quality hooch…. time to leave your newsfeed to it’s dreary little sockpuppets, the pointlessly depressing spectacle of Mrs May weeping softly in the cupboard under the stairs, Mr Corbyn dithering away like the dear sweet useless old thing he is, Mr Trump huffing and puffing like a morally corrupt hippopotamus, Mr Putin doing… what, exactly? - what is he doing? A murrain upon them all, come and jam some swinging shit with us, keep on keeping on. Ketogenic marathon survivors welcome, come and put yer feet up.

9th April

Face up to it, you feel dirtied even looking at fb now that we all know that your carefully curated persona is just grist to Mark “Who, ME?” Zucker’s data mill, and your lovingly tended feed, so artfully garnished with American Chopper memes and links to stuff that nonchalantly signals all the right types of virtue, is actually sticky with the grubby fingerprints of the nameless trolls who brought you BrexiTrump… time to sashay out of cyberspace and into JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH, pausing only to post to say you’re leaving fb, then sharing to insta and all other platforms - you know it's guaranteed to refresh your flagging sense of self-worth cos that’s where we’ll be feeling the feels for real thanks to the unwavering commitment of Luke ‘No Filler’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest salty dog Tristan ’T-Bone’ Banks (drms) as they make the softness of the vernal night come alive with a rushing torrent of bebop creativity, underpinned by my efforts on bass, while the shimmering ascended beings of the Bee’s team stand by ready to offer healing libations of quality liquor to our valued customers and to soothe the inevitable influx of late night nutcases with their soft words and jedi mind control powers… it’s time to re-connect with the good stuff, leave all the pointless negging to the pickup saddos, gird your loins, reset your shattered visage and get back on the good foot…. don’t wait, don’t hesitate, join us, join us..

2nd April 

How will YOU be taking back control this glorious bank holiday? Basking in the gallant British rain? Hastily whitewashing over a fearless British mural? Greeting your macho Aussie pals by pretending to cry like a girl? Quit all that sorry shit and get along to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where you can rediscover your bad self as the layers of quotidian bullshit get scoured away quicker than a car-park valeting service under the inspirational jet-wash of pure musical good vibes wielded by those masters of free-flowing hot licks and good grooves Luke ‘Riptide’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Babyfather’ Thomas (drms), plus me on bass, while the intra-dimensional beings manifesting themselves on this plane as the Bee’s Team stand by ready to make with the quality liquors at your request ... don’t hide away watching the indie-flick antics of whimsical stop-motion dogs, don’t expend more of your precious energy on yet another convoluted fb justification while those busy little algorhythms strip-mine a little more of your soul, liberate your mind and come and join us, celebrate good times, come on.

Bees Mouth March 2018

March 26th

So spring is here, Big Brother is finally revealed to be a camp pink-haired Canadian, the Beast From The East continues to gain depth as a metaphor while Stormy Daniels is revealed as far, far more than a high-pressure weather front, Zizzi has become the edgy frontline of a new cold war amidst the outrage of the nation’s saturday shoppers, and Nigel F*cking Farage is still with us, pissing about with some dead fish….. confused? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH provide your disordered cerebellum with some context to sort out the wheat from the chaff and the sheep from the goats, by sending a rushing torrent of musical good vibes in your direction thanks to the tireless ministrations of Luke ‘Sturm’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Drang’ Thomas (drms) plus me on bass, and the regular crew of highly evolved multi-dimensional beings waiting behind the well-stocked bar to pour you libations of the finest liquors known to man, plus the regular crew of shimmering shapeshifters, nameless creatures of the night, schlemils and schnorrers, schmoes, weepers, jeepsters, souses, hopheads and the occasional stuffed shirt…. if the turgid sludge of disinformation pushing it’s way onto your compromised newsfeed is messing with your vibe, if all your data has migrated onto the darkweb and is now trying to kill you, if you just can’t tell which way is up any more, then just remember your device isn’t implanted yet, hit ‘off’, grab yer axe off the shelf and come and join us… soon the voice of the cuckoo will be heard across the land, the woods at dawn will be alive with the wild cleansing cacophony of tiny cries, out across the swelling tide the herring will begin to spawn, the world turns on it’s axis, we’re still here and so should you be…

March 19th

Bored of weather that only climate change deniers are enjoying? BoJo’s Latin tags failing to raise a smile? YouTube’s freshest face plants barely raising a callous smirk? You need to get out more, so photoshop yourself into a big furry hat and snowshoes and get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where we’ll be raising the temperature with the torrid stylings of Luke ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Thermonuclear Sweat’ Thomas (drms) as they cut loose with another turbulent yet perfectly choreographed melee of bop-to-blues-to-beats-to-whatever, aided by me on bass, guaranteed to warm your non-gendered cockles despite the unintelligible protestations of that chilly Dr Peterson and his online army of intersectionally aggrieved gonks, while the lambent pellucid denizens of the mysterious shadows behind the well-stocked bar wait, vibrating imperceptibly, to pour you a libation of quality liquor under the watchful eye of dauntless fret-meister Jack Rowan... quit pining for the carefree Zorbing days of summer, stop your twitchy little fb fingers delivering the last vestiges of your so-called personality into Cambridge Analytica’s bottomless maw, put yourself and your opinions temporarily beyond the reach of Vladdy ‘Laughing Boy’ Putnik’s busy bots ... don’t get mad, don’t even try to get even, just get down to where the good vibes are, we’ll be waiting.

Bees Mouth - February 2018

February 26th

The chill winds are here, the snow swirling like the frozen tears falling soundlessly from Iain McNicol’s sad centrist eyes, eddying the lost souls trying to stave off their inevitable demise with military fitness in the blasted parks, the politically de-homed trying to survive the city centre winter in their discount tents, the working stiffs shivering at their mundane bus stops, the hardened thrill-seekers setting out in search of love or lulz… JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH will have you in out of the cold quicker than a Pyongyang downhill luge team just by rocking up and basking in the musical radiance pouring forth in an untrammelled stream from those twin creative hypernovas Luke ‘Big Chill” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Big Ill” Thomas (drms) as they transmogrify themselves into clear channels for transmitting the purest essence of swing-to-funk-to-bop-to whatever to drive that spiritual hypothermia away and get your core temp back up to where it should be… I’ll be on bass, the gently shimmering ascended beings of the Bee’s team will be on hand under the watchful eye of dandy highwayman Jack Rowan, ready to make with the quality liquor at your merest whim, the vibe will be strong and the juice will be loose… as those fun-loving Italians go all retro-mad for fascist vibes, as sweetly beardy Mr C boldly mounts two horses midstream, as poor mad Mrs May runs slowly but surely out of political sellotape, as musical recycler Rag n’ Bone man sweeps up after setting fire to the West Pier like a badman, why don’t you just leave em all to it for an eve and give yourself a trip to the good side with us, you know you won’t regret it…

February 19th

Hello, you! Still here? Maybe your BAFTA invite got lost in the post, maybe the Olympic tea-tray downhill team deleted u from the Whatsapp group, and now you’re starting to fade out of your highschool yearbook photos and behind your brave tats n’ piercings there’s just a howling void of interdimensional emptiness, like something from an HP Lovecraft joint (but without Howard’s fave white supremacy angle, natch - it’s 2018!) - well, rest easy, cos JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is right back here to pick you right back up onto your mahabi shod feet and back into the world of the living, the bold, brave and beautiful… jump aboard with Mr Luke ‘The Fast’ Rattenbury (gtr) and returning hero Mr Loz ‘The Furious” Thomas (drms) as they set off on a journey of musical adventure, hot licks, dope grooves, sick beats and augmented harmony so there’s something for everyone, aided by me on bass, while the shimmering sylphs and naiads of the Bee’s team wait expectantly in the scented shadows behind the well-stocked bar …maybe Mr Weinstein never returned your calls, maybe other people are barely bothering with Othering you anymore, maybe even the Russian bots aren’t that interested, maybe your yoga shred put you in A & E and then you found there was no A & E because of UNDERFUNDING…. whatever your woes we’ve got the juice to cut you loose so don’t get mad, don’t even try to get even, just get on down to where the good stuff is..

February 12th

It’s a jungle out there.. in the cruel wind your hapless pedestrians are scurrying home to a vindictive evenings work doxing each other at will.. bad allies are buying up the Britney tickets .. the whole gender face swap thing is awakening feelings that the feelers never knew they had as everyone else is getting kinda creeped .. JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH can be an island in the stream of endless poststructuralist goo flowing past your poor quivering frontal lobes as your mindfulness turns to mindf*ckery and your fragile identity cracks and splinters in the unforgiving frost.. let jolly boatman Luke ‘Charon’ Rattenbury (gtr) and pirate chief Tristan ‘T-Bone’ Banks (drms) ferry you safely across the turbulent waters, aided by me on bass, and let the healing power of hot licks cool grooves and top quality blues-to-bop-to-whatever calm your troubled soul ... as the nation’s leaders rage impotently at each other while the nation watches helplessly like a traumatised child huddled at the top of the stairs while his angry drunk parents yell at each other about ‘separation bills’ and ‘transition periods’, as the smiling Koreans keep skating, skating, skating away, as everyone suddenly feels all icky about those cheap box sets they bought from Oxfam, as more and more wierd shit reaches out from your telescreens to grab you, we’ll be keeping it warm and funky just for you, so don’t get mad, get on down and join us.

February 5th

Cry havoc and lets loose the dogs of whatever.. while you’ve been stuck at home, trying to offload your enfeebled cryptos to a bigger cuck or desperately tweetdeck your way out of the hole, your fitbit ready to burst keeping up with your stress levels, your mindfulness vids on youtube repeat view nausing you out with their subliminal flat-earther messages and an inner well of loneliness brimming over no matter how hard you right-swipe - JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is back today, ready to shower your parched psyche with the healing rains like a stick, like a stone, like the end of the road, like the aguas de marco, pouring down in an endless rushing stream from those twin founts of talent Luke ‘The Weatherman’ Rattenbury (gtr) and everyone’s favourite pirate chief Tristan ’T-Bone’ Banks (drms), with some form of assistance on offer from me on bass and the usual radiant ascended beings of the Bee’s team manifesting on this earthly plane just for you…. let’s face it, what else are you going to get from the online? Another piece of brobdingnagian offensiveness from Mr Trump and his busy scurrying cynical little twitterfingers? Another evening weeding out your DVD collection, you sad Babyboomer, as another 70s star of stage or screen gets MeToo’d into the outer darkness? Another concoction of tendentious tripe from whatever attention seeking opinion generator the algorhythms are sending your way on this cold bleak beautiful night? Switch it all off and come and join us where the vibe is free, the music is hot and sweet, the mysterious creatures of the darkling hours are out in force, everything is beautiful…

Variety is the Spice of Life

As January recedes into the chilly mists, we can warm ourselves with the memory of  another triumphant South Coast Jazz Festival. Unfortunately an unforeseen host of pressing prior commitments prevented me from attending all but one of the gigs, events, panels and workshops on offer, and I must refer you to my esteemed colleague and fearless editor Mr Charlie Anderson for his report elsewhere in this issue. However I was able to keep up with things from a distance and it was great to hear reports coming in of another gig sold out and another workshop packed with attendees. The one-off Brotherhood Of Breath reunion in particular seems set to enter into legend, and is an example of the way that festivals of this sort can take a lead in commissioning events that regular promoters cannot, and thus serve to both preserve, curate and propagate the tradition. 

This month sees the return of New Generation Jazz, with Alexandra Ridout as the first in another year-long series of workshops and gigs by young up-and-coming jazz artists, aimed at connecting those artists with existing audiences, and with bringing in new audiences from the younger demographic.  Alexandra, of course, was featured with Clark Tracey’s band at South Coast Jazz, helping to bridge both projects as well as the musical generations herself. The New Generation team – which includes myself –  were delighted to be able to assist in a small way at South Coast Jazz by lending some promotional weight to their show featuring the mercurial young pianist Elliot Galvin alongside students from Brighton’s BIMM music college. Galvin is just the kind of artist we support, and it made perfect sense to move the gig into the town-centre location of The Walrus on Ship Street – an intimate basement bar that has potential to develop as a sympathetic jazz venue. This is the one event that I was personally able to attend, and I was struck by how well the potentially unlikely mix of young singer-songwriters and wide-ranging piano trio improv actually worked. This column has often returned to the issue of how jazz takes its place in the wider fields of Art with a capital ‘A’ and Showbiz. There’s a viewpoint that its values are so endemically specific that it can only thrive in a specially created artistic habitat, and while there’s a truth in this, it can also result in jazz becoming segregated into its own discrete ghetto. Yet even the most senior of jazz listeners will now have grown up in the rock and roll era, and most of us will have arrived at jazz via a progression of different musical forms – why can’t gig billings reflect this? In the late 60s and early 70s, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, and John McLaughlin toured with rock bands in the freewheeling spirit of the times – is jazz so fragile that it can’t flourish alongside other genres and compete with them on its own terms? In addition, the term ‘jazz’ now encompasses many widely divergent forms of musical self-expression, and it seems incongruous that a contemporary piano trio should be seen as incompatible with a singer-songwriter, but yet suitably matched with a thunderously swinging big band, just because both are filed under ‘jazz’ in the record store. It’s an ongoing debate and plaudits are due to the South Coast team for working to bridge the genre gap while simultaneously working diligently to uphold the tradition that provides their core. 

Speaking of audiences, a lively debate ensued on Facebook after musician Joe Caddy posted a series of questions about the future of live jazz, which seemed to point an accusing finger at promoters for allowing the scene to decline, and for failing to support musicians adequately by paying them commensurate with their ability. A considered reply came from Birmingham Jazz’s Brian Homer, which i make no apology for quoting at length.. 

“most of the scene is maintained by enthusiastic musicians or non-musicians in mainly smaller clubs/venues and festivals. And much of the time these things lose money on the night/weekend etc. So to keep things going people dig into their own pockets or raise some sponsorship or arts funding or whatever and generally spend a lot of time and effort mostly for no pay at all. Of course musicians deserve proper payment but let’s not forget the much of the scene is kept going by a motley crew across the country. The issues are complex and why some gigs do better than others is a mystery to many of us but I don’t think poor promotion is the major factor. Of course many promoters are amateur in the sense they don’t get paid but we do take it seriously and worry about getting the message out and how best to do it. Here’s some thoughts: 1. Audiences are fickle or maybe it’s just they have lots of other things to do so only go to particular things. 2. Recent research indicates that dedicated “jazz fans” are perhaps not as numerous as we think or would like. 3. There are many, many too many Free to Enter gigs. It devalues the “market” or as ACE would have us say “the jazz ecology”. The argument is that (apart from those pub and restaurant gigs) FTE gigs “help get people into jazz.” Apart from a handful of people in my experience this is bollocks. People used to paying nothing for top quality jazz may get into jazz but they rarely want to pay a proper price for it. 4. We’ve had some surprising full houses recently but the reasons are diverse. Sometimes it’s because bands have a particular following or are playing music that attracts non-specifically jazz fans or because they are a particular draw to certain social groups. 5. “Jazz” has become a portmanteau word covering a vast range of music. I’m not sure how useful it is anymore. It’s too easy for some people to say “I don’t like jazz” while actually not realising that in the jazz firmament there is probably something they will like.  6. This leads on to how we describe the music. Badly most of the time. We rely too much on “in” terms (that’s both musicians and promoters) when most of the audience don’t get the terms. 7. I think the current jazz scene is very lively with lots of new music but one aspect that perhaps could help is that musicians seem to have got out of the habit of playing each others’ music. I’m not advocating trying to re-run the classic years but when music is written – played on a CD and on a tour then rarely played again I think we are missing an opportunity for audiences to get to know ‘new standards’.” 

Much food for thought here, and we’ll be returning to these issues in subsequent columns. In the meantime, the more gigs we go to, the more gigs will get put on – it’s a simple, self-perpetuating mechanism, so keep coming out and supporting the scene!

 

Minority Report

There’s nothing like a selection of statistics to start the new year, so here’s a grab-bag for you to dive into. Firstly, the Guardian has quoted some figures, possibly gathered by Barratt Homes, that indicate over 85,000 Londoners sold up and moved to the South East between 2015 and 2016, with over 5,000 of those moving straight to Brighton. We can speculate that a sizeable quotient of these new arrivals are people entering in the middle-management phase of human existence who bought London property in the 1990s or earlier and now can’t believe their good luck. We can assure them all that a very warm welcome awaits them at our thriving local jazz venues, where they will be able to enjoy a level of empathetic musicianship that will make the visit fully as nourishing as all the big name concerts that they might have seen back in London if only they’d had the time and it wasn’t so expensive. Perhaps they are also part of the later-life demographic  who are contributing to the continuing growth of music streaming by belatedly embracing the medium – the annual Nielsen report trumpets a massive 60% growth in streaming revenues, driving the entire industry into growth for the second consecutive year, a phenomenon not seen since the era when our new DFL friends were still able to afford property in Zone 2. 

Even jazz seems to be feeling the bounce – Spotify reports that music broadly labelled as ‘jazz’ was streamed 56% more in the 12 months up til March 2017 than in the similar preceding period. However, there’s still a mismatch between jazz and streaming, as seen in the disparity between album sales revenues (1.5% of total for 2017, higher than folk and new age!!) and streaming revenues (0.2% – better than nothing, but only just), which you could characterise as illustrating the difference between paltry and measly. Despite repeated pleas and petitions, and Tidal finally coming on board, the major streaming sites still don’t include the meta-data (what used to be known as ‘liner notes and credits’ in the old, 4-dimensional days) which many jazz fans expect. The uncharitable might be tempted to dismiss this preoccupation with accurate factual detail about who played what and when, employing the inevitable scornfully unflattering metaphors involving anoraks and trainspotters (despite the former being very useful and the latter being entirely harmless), but who cares about the uncharitable? Fans of the tradition know that the enjoyment of a musical recording can be broadened and deepened by an awareness of the context of its creation, and that’s what connoisseurship is all about.  Until streaming services are tailored to represent jazz catalogues in a more presentable form, fans will prefer to stick to physical albums – as long as they still possess CD players capable of playing them, as vinyl releases are still the preserve of the hip and highly touted on the one hand, and the legendary but deceased via the endless stream of legacy re-issues on the other. 

    Two other reports out over the last 12 months tell the tale from the point of view of the producers rather than distributors and the consumers. The Musicians’ Union commissioned a major piece of research from DHA Communications, now out under the title ‘The Working Musician’, and the University Of Leeds has published a paper entitled “That’s the Experience: Passion, Work Precarity, and Life Transitions Among London Jazz Musicians.” Briefly summarised, they tell a tale of a highly qualified and motivated workforce creating superlative music in precarious conditions. The Leeds report is of especial relevance here as it highlights the particular challenges facing early career musicians in jazz. Sales of recordings and publishing rights are important income streams for other genres of music, but young jazz musicians can struggle to attract attention to their records when they are set against the richness and depth of the entire 20th Century recorded tradition. Too many jazz fans adopt the attitude inaccurately attributed to the Caliph Omar regarding the books in the Library of Alexandria, declaring (in paraphrase) that if a jazz record is similar to Kind Of Bluethen we have no need of it, and if it is radically different then it should be destroyed. 

    It’s most heartening to hear from South Coast Jazz Festival that their event is selling briskly, and if you’re hoping to attend you should get onto buying your tickets without delay. They’ve assembled a mouthwatering programme of high-caliber artists, with a canny emphasis on familiar big names. Equally important is the support they’ve shown to emerging talent – Alexandra Ridout is appearing with Clark Tracey and is already a name to watch out for, and a real coup is the unique one-off talent that is Elliot Galvin, presenting a new trio and new material. With New Generation Jazz set to return to the re-furbished Verdict in 2018, there’s plentiful opportunities ahead to show your support for the future of the music that brings us together and keep the scene alive for our new pals from the Big Smoke.

 

Bees Mouth - January 2018

29th January

Signs of flux and change are all around.. the streets are full of sad-eyed President’s club regulars, looking for love in their stained and rumpled black-tie, the Tories are in thrall to a spider-toting fireplace salesman like something from Bond as scripted by Partridge, the privileged and connectivity-empowered are flinging hashtags back and forth at each other while everyone else ducks for cover.. let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH provide you all with a much-needed break from the sheer, y’know, longness of it all, and create a lovingly curated heterotopia where you can forget about your ongoing struggles to zuzh up the meagre collection of tics and tropes that you think of as your identity and just lie back in the rushing torrent of good musical vibrations bursting forth like an ever-flowing stream from the twin creative powerhouses of Luke ‘Timeless’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Tristan ’T-Bone’ Banks (drms), gamely aided along by me on bass, your senses soothed by a healing libation proffered by the spectral avatars manifesting on this plane as the Bee’s Team under the command of their bold leader … as the Trumpkin pretends he’s never even looked at the wedding list or knowingly linked the word ‘first’ with any sovereign nation, as the Maybot squawks and flaps her dusty wings, you just kick back, let dogs delight to bark and bite, let trolls lurk in their smelly rank ditches beneath the virtual bridges over which you once delighted to trip-trap, let the endless round of frantic signalling continue as out there beyond the perimeter things get ugly, ugly, ugly….. don’t get mad, don’t even try to get even, just get down to where the good groove is happening, it’s ok, we’ll be waiting.

22nd January

Here you are, midwinter, huddled in your flimsy heterotopian refuges like flyblown cattle, gazing through giant tear-dimmed eyes at the sorry parade of fatuity as it scrolls across your tethered devices, a carnival of filibustering know-nothings fretting and strutting their little hour upon their media platforms - don’t get mad, don’t try to get even, get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH and let the whole sorry crew go hang, cos we’ll be creating our own plastic-free microclimate thanks to Luke ‘Isobar’ Rattenbury (gtr) generating areas of high pressure, hot licks and imperturbable swing, and Loz ‘Solar Storm’ Thomas (drms) tapping into some deep geothermal grooves, plus me on bass, and the bronzed harbingers of endless summer who comprise the Bee’s team standing by with offerings of the finest liquors known to man... winter’s hired goons may be waiting at your door ready to lay their tiresome seasonal trip on your poor freezing bones, yet out across the darkened fields at the edge of town the sap is starting to rise in the withered hedgerow and in the inky depths of the sea the herring are starting to spawn ... join us, let’s get the fires burning.

15th January

Is this the best that 2018 can come up with? Journos saying ‘shithole’ on the radio? UKIP glamour models expounding eugenics for morons? Waiting for Jezza to say something he hasn’t already said in the 80s? Marillion jokes about Carillion? Jeremy Hunt and Chris F*ckin Grayling? Thank your interdenominational deity (if any) for JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where we’ll be keeping it so fresh and so clean thanks to those twin titans of good groove Luke ‘The Velvet Fog’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Tristan ‘T-Bone’ Banks as they bust loose with an overflowing cornucopia of hot licks and life-affirming grooves ... if you already feel jaded, if the grey is getting to ya, if all around you seem sunk in pusillanimity and vacuous posturing, if even your most committed signalling on social media just seems like screaming into an empty stinky void, if the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity, if you still can’t say ‘veganuary’ with a straight face and your woke chums are getting totes vexed, then you need to hang up your hang ups, get on the good foot, grab yer axe den off the shelf and come and join us... it’s all to play for, what are you waiting for? Come on, come over...

8th January

G’wan, admit it, you’ve got the winter blues! Even with all 3 TV screens going full pelt, your shirts on the floor, your toothbrush under lock and key and a triple cheeseburger in your chubby little orange paws, you still feel the frigid iron breath of winter whispering over your comb-over, pulling at your heels, messing with your Netflix n’ chill - it’s time to get onto the good foot, and JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is here right on cue to take your poor frightened hand and lead you into the light, thanks to the matchless skills of Luke ‘Game Of Thrones’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Thermonuclear Sweat’ Thomas (drms) as they unleash a blast of pure healing musical good vibes in every direction, iaded by me on bass and the aetherial beings of the Bee’s team ready to make with the quality liquors… the seasonal family guilt trip of Xmas is past, you’re over pursuing the phantom of pleasure through the guilty maze of dissipation, the frantic search for the ultimate hedonistic fulfilment on NYE has turned out to be a wild goose chase yet again… far away in the stuffy double-glazed corridors of power Brexiteers are sweating and plotting, Ms May is reshuffling her stacked thumbed deck, that kindly old Mr Corbyn - remember him? - is beaming beneficently at everyone while Jon Landesman looks up ‘youthquake’ in the OED for the umpteenth time, Toby Young is leering guiltily at himself in the mirror, like a man farting in a hot car while eating a scotch egg, the usual suspects are psyching themselves up to deliver whatever fresh farrago of bullshit they can spray at us all for the usual tendentious justifications… no need to run, and hide, it’s a wonderful wonderful life, come and grab yer axe down off the shelf as join us as we light a fire, its going to be a fine night tonight.

Hat and Beard

This year would have been Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday, and the plethora of tributes from critics, musicians and fans alike have been ample evidence of his continuing importance on the contemporary scene. It’s interesting to compare his current stature with that of his contemporary, Dizzy Gillespie, also born in 1917. It could be fairly said that Gillespie’s career was more successfully managed than Monk’s, and his reputation more consolidated, during his own lifetime – both started out being labelled as bebop rebels, yet Gillespie managed to move into the mainstream while simultaneously gaining the lion’s share of the accolades as bebop’s founding father, while Monk, despite his Time magazine cover and long-standing contract with Columbia, struggled financially throughout his career. Yet this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival accorded Gillespie a single concert in tribute, while Monk’s celebrations spread over two whole days, cumulating in a re-creation of his legendary 1959 Town Hall concert with a specially-convened big band of foremost UK players led by Strata-East kingpin Charles Tolliver. Jazz musicians return again and again to Monk’s repertoire; he holds the distinction of being the second most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, but while the Duke’s composing credits run into the high hundreds, Monk’s entire output consists of around 70 tunes. Once seen as an eccentric outlier, as known for his fancy headgear and bizarre behaviour both on and offstage as his artistic output, he has moved closer and closer to the centre of jazz’s core identity as the years have passed, as each succeeding generation of musicians finds themselves drawn to try and interpret the musical conundrums he set up. 

    Monk’s life and legend alone are enough to fascinate; as more details emerge of the man behind the myth, so do the contemporary resonances in his story. As a black man in America, he suffered from police harassment and racial discrimination, as still sadly evident in today’s USA; his eccentric behaviour is now interpreted as a consequence of mis-diagnosed and mis-treated mental illness, possibly bi-polar disorder, reflecting our own contemporary willingness to acknowledge the often unseen prevalence of such issues. His biographer Robin Kelley mentions possible prescriptions for Thorazine (an amphetamine) and Librium (a depressive), and his son T.S. Monk has also confirmed his father’s struggles with mental health. In contrast to the very masculine world of 20th century jazz, Monk’s life story was dominated by women, from the Harlem neighbour who taught him stride piano to the un-named evangelist whose tent show provided his first experience of touring, to his early mentoring by Mary Lou Williams, to his wife and lifetime companion Nellie, and the Baroness Pannonica who gave him shelter in his final years when he withdrew into silence and isolation. He was a musical rebel who never altered his vision to suit contemporary tastes, a proud black man who refused to knuckle under, a self-contained mysterious presence who gave few interviews; yet also a hardworking, jobbing musician and family man, who sustained his marriage, shared hands-on childcare duties, and put his children through private school; a loyal friend who sheltered the vulnerable Bud Powell from drugs charges by taking the rap himself; and a sly, humorous joker who wasn’t averse to acting up for the cameras when it suited him. 

    Monk’s piano style is as hedged around with legend, conflicting opinion and contradiction as his personal life. Early critics thought he sounded heavy-handed, clumsy and wrong, and criticised his supposedly limited ability. At the EFG Centenary concert in Cadogan Hall, longtime Monk aficionado Jonathan Gee’s interpretations of classics like ‘Blue Monk’ and ‘Rhythm-a-ning’ were spiced with the smooth, fluidity of touch, and the lush extended chord voicings that have become the standard language of jazz piano, deriving from Debussy and Ravel by way of the timeless mastery of Bill Evans. Monk’s own playing, full of awkward pauses, unexpected intervallic jumps and stark root-position chords delivered at sledgehammer intensity, is far harder to assimilate; you can here echoes of it in the playing of Stan Tracey, but tellingly his nearest stylistic twin is Ellington, whose own unorthodox voice on his instrument is often overshadowed by his importance as a composer. To ears accustomed to the immaculately poised performances of the post-Evans school, Monk’s hesitant, crashing solo recordings sometimes invoke comparisons with the deliberate ham-fistedness of Les Dawson, and many contemporary critics – in particular the acidic anti-modernist Philip Larkin – assumed that he simply couldn’t play properly. Yet this was a man who at thirteen was apparently banned from the legendary Harlem Apollo talent contests because he always won, who was equally able as a teenager to perform works by Rachmaninoff, and mastered the demanding stride style of James P Johnson and Teddy Wilson early in his career. Biographer Kelley refers to rehearsal tapes in the possession of Nellie and Baroness Nica, which document how Monk methodically and laboriously practiced his ideas, deliberately developing his stiff-fingered, hammer attack, stripping out more and more notes from his voicings to arrive at his unique creations of ordered space and dissonance. Even the basic details are contested – Leonard Feather claimed that Monk’s technique was due to his unusually large span, Kelley speaks unequivocally of his ‘small hands’ . 

    If Monk’s piano technique remains as difficult to quantify and unapproachable as the man himself, the continuing fascination of his compositions endures and deepens as their deceptive simplicity continues to reveal layers of depth and relevance. You can hear intimations of the next 60 years of jazz in everything he wrote, from the modal explorations hinted at in the bridge of Monk’s Dream to the challenges of complex form in Criss Cross and the rhythmic displacement in Straight No Chaser and the deliberate challenge in his embrace of angularity, straining at the boundaries of conventional harmony. Even at his careers’ height, Monk always seemed like an outsider – as time goes by the centrality of his legacy becomes ever more apparent. 

    I must admit to a certain prejudice in favour here, as the first jazz record I ever bought was by Monk. It was the Columbia issue Monk from 1964, with Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales on bass and the sadly recently deceased Ben Riley on drums,  and had been misfiled in the reggae section of the Notting Hill Record and Tape Exchange. The black and white cover photo featured Monk smoking a suspiciously hand-rolled cigarette and fitted in neatly between the Peter Tosh and Burning Spear records. The music inside was a revelation; in the overcast monochrome musical climate of the post-punk early 80s, it was like a refreshing shaft of light breaking through the clouds. Here was a joyful embrace of melody allied to a tough, assertive musicality; a confident, self-contained hipness worlds away from the shouty orthodoxy of the time; a sense of virtuosity borne lightly, committed yet nonchalant at the same time; and above all, a glorious flexible rhythmic dexterity. At the time, my acme of musical sophistication was the rambling mono-chordal prolixity of Frank Zappa, or the elephantine, self-important galumphings of King Crimson’s ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ – Monk’s music seemed at once lighter in spirit but deeper in meaning. His 60s Columbia output isn’t generally reckoned to be his best, but it’s deserving of re-evaluation, not least because the recording quality makes them an easier listen than some of the harsh-sounding  Blue Note and Riverside issues, and Rouse has been consistently under-rated – after all, it’s hard not to suffer by comparison when you’re in a chair previously occupied by both Coltrane and Rollins. Monk’s music seems to me to contain the very essence of what makes jazz so special, and his continuing relevance is tied in with the enduring appeal of the music.

Bees Mouth - December 2017

18th December

As we hurtle through the gathering equinoctial darkness, our twitchy fingers skipping across the keyboard as the 1-click ordering gathers pace, as our poor overstimulated cerebellums yearn for the Jungian memory of the days when all that the season expected of us was to get naked and dance around a bonfire, as the freezing night is rendered foul with the stench of mulled wine and the harsh carking cries of disgruntled Brexiteers … JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is on hand to provide sanctuary for your own bad self, so come and deliver yourself, not into the dreary frustration of the metaphorical sorting office or neighbour’s porch, but signed-for and straight into the welcoming sonic sanctuary created by the matchless talents of Luke ‘Hermes’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Tristan ’T Bone The Barbarian’ Banks (drms), aided by me on bass, while the heavenly messengers of the Bee’s team will be waiting, arrayed in garments of matchless splendour, under the watchful command of their leader, the dandy highwayman Jack Rowan, to make with the quality liquors at your command - so bring your top game and your Migos flow down to the party and let’s have ourselves a time… another cycle is nearing it’s end, Fortuna’s wheel is about to rev itself up again, so time for everyone to climb aboad - fighters, lovers, losers and winners, malignant spambots, broflakes snarling thru their tears, presidential twitter trolls and penniless Brexit agitators down to their last 73-grand-a-year, signifying vegans and recreational outrage addicts, bitcoin revolutionaries turning into Daddy Warbucks thru the magic of capitalism, pro footballers and other outcasts, amateur dancers, multi cultural royals and Uber drivers… give up yourself unto the moment, the time is now…

4th December

Calling all you woke gender-diverse humanoids hacking your way thru the kek-infested forests of 4chan, all you porn-addled Brexiteers gripping white-knuckled onto the loosened steering wheel, all you virtue signallers, lulz addicts, fitness disciples being shouted at in chilly parks, proselytizing vegans, Alpha-course saintly homophobes, compulsive FB signifyers waiting hungrily for the next pile-on, fashionistas, baristas empty vessels and whited sepulchres.. JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH can give you the space you need to just, y'know, get a little distance from yourselves ... come along and let us tear a big blissful open space in your crowded buzzkill of a schedule, and let your poor trapped spirit escape through it and be borne aloft on trembling wings upon the effervescent updraughts rising in giddy spirals around those twin lithic titans of groove Luke “Mezozoic’” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Holocene Invader’ Thomas (drms) as they lay some truly righteous life-affirming sounds upon you all… I’ll be there doing my thing on bass, dandy highwayman Jack Rowan will be in command of his troupe of aetherial beings, ready to minister unto you with libations of the finest liquors known to man, all manner of folk will be passing by, from students making ready to release their brains from the burden of knowledge to haggard Family Guys just trying to do the right thing by their little creatures blinded by the headlights of approaching Xmas, from steely-eyed Momentum apparatchiks to simpering Moggistas, from Mail reading royalists to stern republicans both wrestling with simultaneously feeling overjoyed and appalled by the Markle factor, to wide-eyed ingenues embarking upon their first tentative steps into the world of showbiz via their teenage screamcore combo, to regular working stiffs trying to make their way thru the century as their bodies turn to house-dust… It’s all to play for, come and join us, join us …

Bees Mouth - November 2017

27th November

Giant fireballs have been spotted in the sky, heralding today’s announcement of an upcoming orgy of royal oageantry, with the promise of potential royal scandals and decades of royal conspiracy theories to follow up, while the kids get al excited, the nation steels itself against the inevitable coming tide of work-related seasonal parties followed by seasonal hangovers and a rich cloying stench of mulled wine permeates the crowded streets Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE'S MOUTH come to your rescue, as you hunker down in your digital foxhole, your poor infiltrated brain unable to distinguish Merkel from Marklle, Bitcoin from bubble, or right from wrong; let the music take control, hang up your hang ups and let it all blow as the musical doctors Luke “Lazarus’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Big Daddy’ Thomas (drms) write you a personal prescription of premium strength jazz-to-swing-to-whatever, aided by me on bass, plus the regular team of ascended beings manifesting themselves behind the well-stocked bar to lay some good liquor on you in exchange for lucre, the spinning head of destiny weaving it’s magic spell and the gallant figure of Jack Rowan at the helm, piloting our ship of good vibes through the sorrowful night laden with the groans of the wicked, the imprecations of the disappointed and the blandishments of the sellers of empty vessels and the inchoate howling of hordes of feral Brexiteers as the reality sinks in and the money drains away…… leave it all behind you, go to Abi’s fundraiser at the Paris House then come over and join us as we set sail for the good side …

20th November

Only 5 more weeks of Amazon Prime delivery dates before Xmas, so don’t just hunker down in your damp overpriced dwelling like some kinda stubborn Bobby ‘Laughing Boy’ Mugabe, while Mr Putin’s busy little bots crawl all over your webspace trying to subvert your carefully wrought FB persona for their devious ends - time to pull on your snood and your Ed Sheeran hoodie, wipe the weekend’s glitter from around your sunken eyes and get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where we’ll be keeping it lit and saying goodbye to peak times with the mandem Luke ‘Big City’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘The Lozzfather” Thomas (drms) as they spin a magical web of shimmering sonic architecture to dazzle and delight the senses, aided by me on bass, while the bronzed guardians of the well-stocked Bee’s bar wait imperturbably under the command of their leader, dandy highwayman Jack Rowan, and the myriad hordes of interplanetary drifters swing by on their way to the end of the night for a refreshing snifter… let the high and mighty cower as the stinking spectres of their egregious misdeeds come tap tap tapping at their reputational windows, let mournful liberals delete Louis CK from their Youtube favourites, let the masters of Brexit foam at their slack-lipped mouths as they cry ‘mutiny’ and prepare to unleash the dogs of, you know, whatever it is that’s supposed to happen next, we’ll be here doing our thing, so come along and make it your thing too…

13th November

So how are you going to stave off the atavistic fear terror as the Dark Half encroaches, drawing you into it’s chilly embrace? Stay home, play FIFA, indulge in a little light sexting, calculate how rich you’d be if you’d bought Bitcoin, watch Strictly, pretend you actually watched Stranger Things, weep quietly into the curtains, put the John Lewis ad on repeat, panic binge on acai and blue-green algae? You’re cracking up, mate - hurry down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where those fearless cosmic cowboys Luke “Odelay” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Vybz Cartel” Thomas will be waiting to restore your sanity and rejuvenate your mojo with a great big life-affirming statement of good grooves, hot blowing and cool swing, like there’s nothing really wrong at all… I’ll be there on bass, the kindly denizens of the Bees Team will be on hand to dispense healing draughts of quality liquor, the regular cast of otherworldy spectres and fearless explorers of the golden void will be dropping by to hang, the air will be warm and laden with promise… out there the chilly gloom may resound to the dreary discords we’ve wrought, the flatulent eructations of Bojo, the muffled sobs of poor Mrs May who still can’t go yet cos they need her as a human shield, a whole pack of fell beasts, their hour come at last, slouching towards Brexit to be born, the weary groaning of whole IT teams removing all trace of Kevin Spacey from all movies past and future (too late), the uneasy braying and bellowing of alpha males across all sectors wondering if they’ll be next, the distant hooting and gibbering of the Trumpkin from far far away across the sea… come and join us, don’t be afraid, come catch some good feels with us, it’s gonna work out, you’ll see…

6th November

As the upright citizens of Lewes furtively wash the boot polish from behind their ears and scrape the burnt cork out from under their fingernails, as the nation’s doggies start to recover from their PTSD and the kids come down from a week-long festival of dressing up as horror movie characters followed by a jolly evening of burning people in effigy, how will you deal with the downer as evocative autumn slides inevitably into boring old winter? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH top up your spiritual vitamin D faster than an Essex tanning studio - just bask in the invigorating rays pouring forth from the interplanetary talents of Luke ‘Sunspot” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Thermonuclear Reaction’ Thomas (drms) as they generate another solar storm of swinging jazz-and-related-musics, aided by me on bass, while the highly evolved denizens of the shadowy spaces behind the well-stocked bar wait, vibrating imperceptibly, to lay some good beverage upon you all …. stop trying to offshore your pitiful earnings to Bermuda in the hope that you’ll enjoy a right Royal tax break, give up trying to work out how to mine Bitcoin in Minecraft, don’t sit at home waiting with bated breath for Mr Trump’s ‘What I Did on My Asian Holiday’ podcast, or trying to see how a multiple shooting can be Not About Guns, or sit on your sagging bean-bag lost in jaded speculation as to who will be next to feel the icy grip of a Sexual Impropriety Scandal around their grey, terrified neck…. grab your axe down off the shelf and come and join us, let’s get into the groove and keep the gathering dark at bay….

Autumn Leaves

In the showbiz calendar, Autumn is often the month of relaunch, as weary musicians wrap up their summer touring, the last function gigs herald the end of a season spent under canvas in dozens of catered marquees, and those mysterious and all-powerful denizens who preside over booking schedules and press campaigns return, refreshed from the sybaritic pleasures of their summer holidays. As the nights draw in it’s good to look ahead and see that the pace of jazz activity in Brighton and further afield continues to maintain itself.

A couple of events deserve a mention due to their sheer popularity, even though they’re currently in abeyance. Herbie Flower’s Jazz Breakfast series at The Dome may not be on the radar of the dedicated fans but it consistently attracts the biggest crowds of any event dedicated
to jazz-and-related-musics apart from the ever-increasing groove behemoth that is Love Supreme. Let’s hope that Herbie’s health will permit this to continue. Equally, Pete Morris’ lunchtime sessions at All Saints in Hove have been quietly building in popularity, and the final session of the season, featuring an all-star cast of top local players fronted by Julian Nicholas and Imogen Ryall, attracted a record audience of 160. We hopefully await news of both these events, and, looking a little further afield, it’s heartening to see the response to Nigel Price’s call to arms to save the Swanage Jazz Festival, which many Brighton musicians have performed at over the years. Let’s hope his herculean efforts, and the plentiful support he’s summoned from the wider community are rewarded by the festival’s future being assured for years to come.

Closer to home, New Generation Jazz continues its winter programme, following the superb Charlie Stacey’s knockout gig with a succession of ever younger and more ridiculously talented tyros - stay tuned for announcements for 2018.

The South Coast Jazz Festival triumphantly returns for the third year under the dual stewardship of Claire Martin and the aforementioned Mr Nicholas, whose increasing visibility both locally and nationally is richly deserved. They’ve got 8 days of concerts, workshops, film and special events coming your way - defiantly resisting any unfortunate associations that railway metaphors may evoke amongst regular sufferers on Southern Rail, they’ve billed it as ‘a whistle-stop tour around the world of jazz’ and it’s due to call in at the Ropetackle in Shoreham from the 20th of January. The launch party featuring Oli Rockberger was a storming success as well.

For those prepared to brave the endless vagaries of Brighton mainline, November also brings
the EFG London Jazz Festival, and alongside such guaranteed box office favourites as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Robert Glasper you’ll be able to catch a host of young UK acts in some of the smaller venues across town. From our vantage point at the Bandstand Stage at
this year’s Love Supreme we caught glimpses of what seems to be a real grassroots movement of new young British talent starting to find it’s own voice in the clamorous throng of jazz-and-related-music. Artists like Alex Hitchcock, Maisha, Poppy Ajudha, Ezra Collective, Yussef Dayes, Triforce, James Beckwith, Zenel Trio and Nerija are working to meld together an intriguing blend of jazz language and contemporary urban sounds that has the potential for real breakout appeal, with the ubiquitous Shabaka Hutchings leading the pack in terms of visibility. It was good to
see Zara McFarlane fronting a band of faces from the scene on BBC 2’s Later this week, many
of whom have appeared at New Generation events over 2017 - let’s hope that they continue to include Brighton in their itineraries. The Verdict is now fully open, under new management and regularly presenting jazz four nights a week - the full spectrum, from Safe House’s uncompromising dedication to free improv to the return of Dennis Simpson’s enduringly popular Small’s Jazz programme of all-acoustic mainstream swing. What other venue, anywhere in the country, offers such a range?

With a host of well-supported casual pub sessions on offer as well, the continuation of Neal Richardson’s Splash Point series at the Marina, and the jam sessions thriving across town, there’s never been more jazz on offer in Brighton. So use it, don’t lose it! 

Bees Mouth - October 2017

30th October

Farage… Assange… Trump…. Bannon…. take a look at their bulbous eyes, their wierd spongy foldy necks, their weaselly shifty little eyes.. sense their oily presence, their wheezy, shallow breathing, their gross little grunts of excitement as they lurk behind your fb feed, their damp fingers pawing at your browser, dripfeeding their retarded agenda into your poor overstimulated cerebellum… cut that sh*t right out of your life and get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where you can rinse it all right out of your hair and bathe your bad self in the endless torrent of clear healing musical good vibes gushing forth from the tireless cornucopias of groove known in this lifetime as Luke ‘Lux Aeterna’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Lozquake’ Thomas (drms) as they unleash their flow yet again, aided by me on bass… the undimmed splendour of the Bee’s team, under the direction of dandy guitar-slinger jack Rowan, will be waiting behind the well-stocked bar to pour you libations of the good stuff, the mewling waifs and strays from the end of the night will gather to warm themselves at our constant flame…. as the nation celebrates the feast of Samhain in their own age-appropriate way, with the children preparing for an hectic evening of haribo-fuelled importuning, the nation’s young adults recovering from a premature weekend of sexually charged cosplay, and everyone over 50 reminding each other that it was never such a big deal in their day, come and take a break from it all, recharge your mojo, get on the good foot, liberate your mind, move move move every mountain, come and join us yet again, my friends, yet again, before the year withers upon the vine, but not for ever, not for ever……

23rd October

As the town reels from the twin assaults of uncharismatically monikered Storm Brian and the annual influx of students anxious to turn their massive loans into pure empowering knowledge via the transmutational power of lager, how will you be spending your Monday night? Glued to twitter in the hope of more salacious Hollywood revelations to decry on Facebook, or vice versa? Stuck into some light trolling? Chasing those Snapchat streaks? Get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH and letting all the trash corrupting your poor bewildered 21st century consciousness wash away, as you bathe your mind in the torrents of healing musical magic pouring forth from the enlightened beings manifesting on this plane as Luke ‘TurboBoost” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘The Terminator’ Thomas (drms), aided by me on bass, as we lay down a wholesome smorgasbord of bop-to-swing-to-latin with plenty of good nutritious groove… forget the oncoming seasonal gloom and the impending Haribo-fullled hedonistic car-crash of Halloween, cos here in the warm scented darkness we’ve got great music, special guests, the oracular spinning head, the highly evolved beings of the Bee’s team waiting, poised effortlessly in the velvet shadows behind the well-stocked bar, all ready to make with the absolving powers of alcohol at your timid request, and the usual cast of hucksters, barkers, shills, roustabouts, dweebs, feebs, fakers, shakers, tipsters, hipsters, and heroes drifting in out of the clammy darkness… as Spain prepares to slowly tear itself into little scrappy pieces under the eager gaze nationalist blowhards everywhere, as the Halloween Trumpkin continues to singlehandedly perfect the new art of Tourette’s diplomacy, as May continues to insist that nothing has changed, nothing has changed, nothing has changed, as strife and idiocy rampage unchecked through the muddy autumnal fields, catching their unshod feet on the slimy stubble of the rotting harvest, it’s time to get to where the good vibes are, let’s light the fires.

16th October

As the sun turns a hellfire puce and darkness engulfs the earth, leaving the cowering populace to decide whether it’s the End Of Days or just a very costly promo for Blade Runner 2049, do your thoughts turn to all those things you meant to do but didn’t get around to? When the Big One goes up, will you rue the witty put-downs you never tweeted, the statuses you didn’t share, the WhatsApp groups you didn’t pointedly leave? Have you actually been to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH yet? cos if not, we’re back once again with the renegade masters Luke ‘Apocalypto’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Dan ‘The Law’ Breslaw (drms) as they defy the coming storm to weave their intoxicating webs of musical enchantment, aided by me on bass, and the aetherial beings who manifest on this temporal plane as the Bee’s Team wait, poised and ready behind the well-stocked bar, to dispense libations of the finest liquors known to man…. if you’ve finally realised that most of your online friends are bots, if you’ve just been sent an invite to a Miramax slumber party, if you swapped all your bitcoin for pound coins, if you’re wondering just exactly what terrible thing is going to happen next, time to give yourself a break, fight off your addiction to online outrage, tear your weary gaze from the glowing screen that does nothing but reflect your deepest fears and worst impulses back into your terrified eyeballs, and come and join us here in meatspace where there’s music, life and laughter and positive vibrations from actual life-forms in real-time 4-dimensional space .. try it, you’ll love it.

9th October

Your life needs shaking up a bit, doesn’t it? Why not host your own referendum? Those things are the best way to guarantee an almighty tear-up that’ll keep everyone you know at each other’s throats for years to come.. or you could try starting a groovy Tory party youth movement.. or invite Harvey Weinstein round to meet your mum .. or come along to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH and get things turned around back to the light side along with your ever-rocking team of Luke “Lightspeed Champion” Rattenbury and special guest Dan ‘The Law’ Breslaw on drums as they build magical castles of hot sweet groove into the air, aided by me on bass, as the young heroes of the Bee’s team under the command of dandy highwayman Jack Rowan wait, poised in the scented dusk behind the well-stocked bar, as the darkling streets echo with the whoops and yells of the newly arrived student population as they extinguish their thirst for knowledge with deep draughts from the well of lager-fuelled self-importance, as each window frames a shadowy figure hunched over a glowing screen, as the shadowy creatures of the night shamble forth upon their mysterious errands, as attack ships catch fire off the shoulder of Orion and C-beams glitter in the dark neat the Tannhauser gate… grab that sackful of pound coins you were saving for your retirement fund, get yer axe down from off the shelf and come and join us, join us.

2nd October

As Spain proudly re-engages with its rich tradition of brutal state suppression, as the Tories prepare to demonstrate their well honed skills at screwing everyone over upon themselves, as yet more evidence emerges of the freedom-enhancing efficacy of US gun laws, as a tidal wave of howling idiocy threatens to carry the world on a careening terror ride, like an unlicensed Uber driver high on his own price surge, JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEES MOUTH will be operating according to our usual beliefs of tolerance, equality, diversity and pure hot swinging grooves delivered by those maestros of good vibrations Luke ‘Killer Joe’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Lozquake’ Thomas (drms), aided by me on bass, while the cherubim and seraphim of the Bee’s Team wait, poised, their gilded wings folded behind their sculpted backs, their radiant eyes shining just inside the spectrum of visible light, their incarnate beings vibrating at a higher frequency as they prepare you a libation from their selection of the finest liquors known to man.. the atmosphere will be alive with purest osmium as the last colours of the summer drain imperceptibly from the smoke-scented air, the creatures of the air prepare for the long journey southward again, Fortuna’s wheel takes another turn and the earth shifts upon it’s axis … in the dreary reaches of the compromised corridors of power Boris may be preparing some fresh concoction of sinister buffoonery, Davis may be drunk and asleep, Hammond may be demonstrating his utter panic by threatening to sack everyone before they sack him as May huddles, weeping, in the stationary cupboard, while all the time the Corbynistas’ chanting echoes through the walls like the neighbours in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and the Brexit train rumbles ever closer on it’s rusty crooked wheels, but we’ll keep on swinging til we can swing no more, so grab yer axe off the shelf and come and join us … out here in the perimeter there are no stars, out here we are stoned, immaculate.

It's my party and I'll play dominant subs if I want to

Party conference season is upon us once again, and the barriers have not yet been removed from outside the Brighton Centre, where they’ve been on duty all week protecting the Labour Party as they set out their stall before the public. Local musicians who’ve been on duty entertaining the public in their regular spots around the town centre will have benefitted as their audiences were swelled by the party delegates, easily recognisable by their red lanyards and air of new-found, unaccustomed confidence over a barely suppressed excitement, like previously unpopular teenagers who suddenly find themselves with the most Prom invites in their class and are starting to comprehend the magnitude of their potential rewards. Jazz musicians in the UK have long been drawn towards the political Left, and evidence that this affiliation continues could be found at The Walrus on Ship Street, where two nights of music were staged as a benefit for the Brighton and Hove Labour Party, organised by the tireless Terry Seabrook, Julian Nicholas and Jon Newey, and headlined by two of Sussex’s brightest musical stars, Claire Martin OBE and Liane Carroll. Both nights were well attended and supported by many of the local musical community – they also introduced many to the potential of The Walrus’ spacious and well equipped downstairs bar, ideal for staging further events. 

Of course, not all jazz fans are also Labour supporters, and the title ‘Jazz For Labour’ was the subject of some acerbic online repartee between supporters and those whose enthusiasm for jazz was not matched by a corresponding devotion to progressive politics. This column has already expended some energy in examining the long and complex relationship between jazz and politics; and in reconciling the two opposed yet coexisting truths that while artistic endeavour cannot be owned by any one set of political beliefs, yet art cannot exist in a vacuum and will always reflect the stresses and dialectical oppositions of the society in which it is generated. Jazz musicians in the UK tend to be liberal and progressive and sections of their audience tend towards the conservative, whether you spell it with a small or a large ‘C’ , and this tension generates it’s own kinetic energy which occasionally emerges in  bursts of colourful recriminations, especially where funding is concerned. 

Many jazz musicians will be de facto Labour supporters because of their Musician’s Union membership, as the Union is an affiliated organisation and pays a fee to the party in return for all its members receiving the right to vote in Labour ballots and, musicians being what they are, those who don’t actually embrace this eminently covetable privilege are likely to retain it through sheer inactivity. But if we are to take policy at face value, there’s no doubt that the current Labour Party pledges directly address many of the issues affecting the UK’s musical community to a far greater extent than those of any other party. Promises of a £1 billion Capital Development Fund and an Art Pupil Premium to make instrument classes available to all primary school pupils are included in the party manifesto as part of their pledge to end austerity, and one may of course question the affordability. Yet another less trumpeted, less costly but equally noteworthy proposition is a reform of licensing and development regulations to favour small venues in recognition of the essential role they play in fostering talent. 

The pledges in question draw up plans for protecting and investing in music venues, to support grassroots and professional music, and ensuring a healthy music industry across the country, and for creating a review of the business rates system to make it fairer to organisations like music venues, extending the £1,000 pub relief to help small music venues that are suffering from rates rises. The MU has welcomed these proposals; we have examined the plight of small venues in this column, and can only agree. In the interests of balance, let’s introduce a voice from another perspective, that of the exciting, dynamic world of online capitalism.The ticket sales website, WeGotTickets, has rapidly become a go-to resource for independent promoters, including our very own New Generation Jazz, due to its reach, transparency and ease of use. Their own blog’s latest update addresses the issues confronting small jazz venues, and we make no apology for quoting extensively from it, not least because of the prominent mention it gives to The Verdict:

“Despite the genre’s niche appeal, around the UK a number of excellent small clubs ensure jazz’s grassroots scene is well catered for. In London, the Vortex Jazz Club is something of a flag bearer, hosting a broad range of jazz – from standards through be-bop and hard-bop to spiritual jazz and the more avant-garde – in its intimate 100-capacity room. Other great clubs around the country include Fleece Jazz in Bristol, The Verdict in Brighton, Oxford’s Spin Jazz, Jazz at the Cavern in Farncombe, Wakefield Jazz, and Jazz at The Crypt and Spice Jazz, both in London. Festivals such as the EFG London Jazz Festival and Cambridge Jazz Festival are also keen to support up-and-coming artists, often programming events into smaller clubs alongside their larger shows.

These clubs don’t have it easy though. Speaking to us after being voted onto our INDIE50 – a list of individuals doing amazing work behind the scenes in independent music – the Vortex’s general manager Kathianne Hingwan spoke of the tough times they’re experiencing. “It’s a bit of a hand-to-mouth organisation” she explained, “and that’s because there isn’t really that much money in jazz. Ronnie Scott said that if you want to make a million in jazz, you need to start with two – it was meant to be a joke but it’s actually true”.

Although the challenges facing the grassroots scene are numerous – jazz clubs obviously suffer the same well-documented stresses and strains that are affecting all small venues – it’s imperative that these independent clubs are successful. Their importance to the whole jazz industry can’t be overstated. “The guys from Ronnie Scott’s come over here, and when we thought we might disappear about 18 months ago they were very worried”, remembers Kathianne, “They said that we couldn’t disappear because it’s very important what we do, because we give a lot of the young musicians their start”.”

It’s always a pleasure to report good news. We’ve dedicated previous editions to documenting what we see as a genuine shift towards jazz-and-related-music among mainstream, younger audiences, and WeGotTickets’ own data actually backs this up, citing the following stats

“Our sales figures at WeGotTickets give reason to be optimistic. Working mainly with small clubs and festivals, we’ve seen almost a 40% increase in jazz ticket sales over the last two years. We have over 20% more jazz events on sale in September 2017 than we did in the same month in 2015, with more than half of that growth coming this year, and all signs point to a continued increase as small clubs are able to expand from one or two nights per week to a fuller events calendar.”

As sad tidings reach us of the threat to the continuing existence of the Swanage Jazz Festival, it’s good to hear of tales of growth in the sector we all love, regardless of political affiliation. Let’s hope that the political establishment will acknowledge and support this growth as we head forward into the uncharted waters of Brexit and beyond. And let’s not forget how the seismic shifts in the way that recorded music is consumed have seriously affected the jazz community; Big Streaming, as represented by Spotify and Apple Music, does not serve jazz particularly well, as we have noted before. The recent decision by TfL to halt the Uber juggernaut and the willingness of Berlin and Barcelona to curb the spread of AirBnB until both companies can accept their burden of social responsibility, and the steps taken by the EU to restrict the monopolistic hegemony of Apple and Google all provide an example of how disruptive tech doesn’t always have to get it’s own way. Surely all but the most dogmatically libertarian can support a measure of enlightened intervention in favour of the music we all love, regardless of what colour rosette we may be moved to adopt come convention time. 

The Silver Screen

September can be a quiet month for music fans, after the summer festival season is over but before the autumn touring schedules kick in. Of course, expectations can be sustained by the promise of the EFG London Jazz Festival, coming our way in November, and there is heartening news from the wonderful South Coast Jazz Festival, set to return for a third triumphant time in January 2018. In addition, The Verdict is attempting to plug the gap single-handedly by programming more jazz than at any other time in its history, and there’s the continuing series of lunchtime concerts at All Saints church in Hove that shouldn’t be overlooked.  Fortunately there’s another treat currently available for jazz fans – the recently released documentaries of John Coltrane and Lee Morgan. Chasing Trane is currently on limited release in selected cinemas but I Called Him Morgan is available on Netflix, well worth the minimal bother of signing up for a month’s free trial, as currently on offer from the service, if you’re not already a subscriber.

  Coltrane is such a titan of modern music that it’s almost a surprise that it’s taken so long for a theatrically released documentary. Morgan’s name may be less universally recognised outside the circles of jazz aficionados, but it’s possible that the general public might actually be as familiar with his music – or at least with his seminal tune The Sidewinder. The eponymous LP was released in 1964, when Morgan was 26, with seven Blue Note albums as a leader under his belt but still developing his career, and Coltrane was 38, already established as a major musical force, but with only three years of music making ahead of him. The Sidewinder’s driving boogaloo beat and powerful, bluesy soloing turned the tune into a surprise hit, breaking all previous Blue Note sales by a factor of ten (including those for Blue Train, the 1957 Coltrane recording on which Morgan was featured), and it’s been a constant feature on soundtracks, adverts and compilations whenever anyone wants to evoke the grooving 60s. Such was the commercial success of the record that it set a template for Blue Note for the rest of the decade – small-group records with the leading track in a driving straight-8 feel, followed by a swinging mix of original blowing heads, blues or rhythm changes, and perhaps a standard to round things off. The album marked a high point in the integration of the intricacies of bop with the earthy roots of jazz in blues and gospel, and must have seemed to some to indicate a commercial salvation for jazz; but it also marked the beginning of the end. Rock and Roll was poised to take over as the music of young America and by 1965 the baton of musically hip standard bearing had passed to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Byrds or James Brown. 

    The Sidewinder is a truly terrific record, without a single wasted note or empty gesture, full of virtuosity lightly worn, by players so utterly immersed in the culture of their music that it seemedthey could turn out this material effortlessly – Morgan later claimed that he’d conceived of the title smash as a last-minute filler to complete the session. Yet its very facility contained the germs of its own redundancy – audiences at the time were looking for something deeper, more unexpected and less formulaic, that would make grander gestures – the wave of artistic neophilia that had swept the post-war world was breaking into the mainstream. Morgan’s hip, polished, harmonically aware funk suddenly seemed to be approaching the corny.  Blue Note tried to ride both horses by signing artists like Grachan Moncur, Andrew Hill and Sam Rivers, but their most successful record also heralded a long period of decline into both the commercial and the cultural margins.

  Anyone looking for depth, unexpectedness, or grand gestures in the jazz world of 1964 would probably have turned to John Coltrane.  Two of his superlative statements, Live At Birdland and Crescent were released that year – the former in particular saw him chafing against the constrictions of harmonic tonality which he had already explored with a thoroughness unmatched by his contemporaries. So titanically, monolithically freighted with significance are Coltrane’s later recordings that they can overpower some of the other aspects of this supremely rounded musician – an important composer (Giant Steps is full of memorable tunes sometimes overshadowed by its titular etude), a gifted, velvet-toned interpreter of ballads, an impeccably swinging blues player, and someone who matched Morgan’s jukebox 45 hit with one of his own – an instrumental cover of a hit song originally performed by Julie Andrews in the guise of a singing nun. Coltrane gave Morgan a break on Blue Train but moved much faster than the younger man, and by the end was recording and playing music that some didn’t recognise as jazz at all. 

    The legacy of both men continues to be influential, but in vastly different ways. Most general music fans, when they think of jazz, imagine something like one of the cuts off The Sidewinder – the Blue Note hard-bop sound and house design style have become a sort of benchmark of authentically hip jazz, regaining the popularity that drained away in the late 60s, so that the name ‘Blue Note’ is hardly ever divorced from the word ‘iconic’ in cultural journalism. If Coltrane sought to move beyond the bop idiom he had mastered so fully, Morgan and his cohort preserved it by presenting its harmonic intricacies in a digestible form that you could even dance to, and its appeal has endured among audiences even if the artistic standard bearers have moved on. Coltrane of course would be avowed as by far the greater artist by most musicians, and his multifarious legacy continues to dominate, to the extent that aspects of that dominance are being called into question. Ben Ratliff’s book on Coltrane explores how the legacy of his late period masterpieces was interpreted as a cult of sheer volume married to spiritual sincerity among free players that overlooked the way that he himself was steeped in every aspect of the tradition, from blues to bop. Coltrane’s influence reached beyond jazz – the aforementioned Byrds were big fans –  and he could be credited with unwittingly promulgating the idea that it’s acceptable to solo for 15 minutes over a single chord – an idea seized upon by a generation of rock guitarists – and that meaningful jazz can be effectively approximated by whizzing up and down the dorian mode over a moody minor-key vamp. Pianist Ethan Iverson recently published a fascinating article comparing two 1967 performances of Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood by Bill Evans and Ellington himself (Coltrane recorded a definitive version with the composer in 1963).  In it he decried the influence of the scalar approach to jazz on the introductory level, stating “Bach and Parker built structures based on internal counterpoint, where the melodic impulse was true in every dimension, while Beethoven and Coltrane offered fast-scale passagework over varied textures. The music of Bach and Parker is essentially at one volume and one affect, while Beethoven and Coltrane are able to go from quiet to thunder and back. While it would be foolish to proclaim that Bach and Parker are greater than Beethoven and Coltrane, it is true that Beethoven and Coltrane are easier to imitate (not to mention teach), simply because acquiring the essentially untheatrical craft of Bach and Parker is harder than that of the later, more theatrical masters”.

    Would it be pushing the analogy too far to compare the music of Morgan to that of Mozart –  standing between the rigorous austerity of harmonic counterpoint exploration and the theatrical thunder of passagework and texture, to offer a version dominated by melody and a determination to make music that is rigorously ordered but also pleasing and accessible? Like Mozart, his detractors may accuse his music of being lightweight compared to the intensity of Coltrane, yet part of its lasting appeal lies precisely because it doesn’t place such heavy demands upon the listener. 

    As with all artists whose careers were cut off in their prime, the temptation remains to speculate where their muse would have led them had they lived their full span, and how they might have changed the music we hear today. Morgan combined his bebop sophistication with an earthy, blues-drenched sensibility, which lent his music an easy populist appeal, as the crossover commercial success of The Sidewinder testified. The values that made him a superlative interpreter of what used to be called ‘funk’ in the 50s – as in Horace Silver’s Opus De Funk – could probably have translated seamlessly into funk as it was understood in the back-beat heavy, rhodes-drenched 1970s, and he might have challenged Donald Byrd as contender for theR&B groove heavyweight title. Or perhaps the wilder leanings that were hinted at in the Live At The Lighthouse sets would have prevailed, and he might have explored along the boundaries of free and fusion, jazz and rock, that were touched on by frontline partner Bennie Maupin and by Maupin’s employer Herbie Hancock during his Columbia tenure, and which found its deepest and darkest expression in Miles Davis’  increasingly opaque series of recordings that started with the release of Bitches Brew two years before Morgan’s death. Where Coltrane might have gone next is far harder to guess; such was the lightning speed at which he reset the frontiers of his art that it’s hard to imagine him settling into any of the set pathways that jazz followed as the 70s progressed. Afro-haired funkateer, dashiki-clad free blower, bombastic fusion technician, staunch traditionalist – all these roles seem too small to contain him. Perhaps as the end approached he was nearing to his goal, progressing beyond all sound into the silence that surrounds every note and that waits behind every piece of music, and into which all music returns.

 

Bees Mouth - September 2017

25th September

Stuck in the lift with Tom Watson, thrashed at ping pong by Jezza, heartbroken for Thornberry’s cats, biting the tongue on Brexit til it bleeds - it’s no joke for the delegates as they swarm the seafront, all suited up, trying to blend in with the local piercings n’ tats Corbynistas or dad-dancing on the level with the regular human flotsam .. good job that JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is ready and waiting to welcome the lost, the weary, the hopeful and the unfulfilled with a massive enveloping blast of musical healing thanks to those tireless activists for the good groove Luke ‘Red Wedge’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Dan ‘Swiss’ Breslaw (drms) as they set about creating a paradigm of constructive unity and positive vibrations… the non-partisan Bee’s Team will be there to welcome you under the command of the ever-dapper dandy highwayman Jack Rowan, the spinning head will be turning faster than a disconsolate Blairite can change their tune, the vibe will be immense, so don’t sit out in the rain getting all mean and grouchy, like a passle of big-city slickers suddenly deprived of their innovative ride-hailing system, don’t waste another second chasing those snapchat streaks, don’t worry about Nibiru and it’s possible effects on the secondary school catchment areas, don’t get your gender-neutral knickers in a twist about TfL, ensure the survival of the gig economy by ripping off your VR headset, switching off your fitbit and coming to an actual gig…

18th September

Is life pulling the ol switcheroo on you? Creeping up on you like BoJo the backstabber, then retreating in sweaty red-faced farrago of blustering flapdoodle and irrelevant Latin aphorisms? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE'S MOUTH be an oasis of reals in a desert of bogus buffoonery, thronged as it is with the dreary mob of signifying loudmouths , from irretrievably entitled oldies to tiresomely woke millennials, all intent on ramming their tendentious opinions down your slack jawed gaping maw ... We'll have none of that here, just cool, enriching draughts of musical goodness drawn from deep in the well by the untiring hand of Luke 'TimeLord' RAttenbury (gtr) and the epoch making Double Thomas rhythm team of Loz 'Timebomb' Thomas (drms) and special guest Ascended Master Nigel Thomas (bs) ... The ethereal beings of the Bees Team will be on hand, dandy highwayman Jack Rowan will sit in on guitar* , the nameless creatures of the night will lope, shamble and scurry past outside the steamy windows, the returning students will celebrate the latest round of fudging and hedging over their newly acquired debt by trying to drink the lot in one go - it'll be a carnivalesque feast for the senses, so don't be a lollygagging non-gender specific Johnny come lately, don't be afraid to catch feels, get yourself down and have yourself a time...

11th september

TUC conference time is when Brighton comes alive! The streets are ablaze with the forces of beardy socialistic rectitude, the bars, the cabarets, the very pavements hum with the thrill of collective bargaining and evasive discussions of all things Brexitty, they’ve even laid on an authentic 1970s style bomb scare to make the older delegates feel relevant.. JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH will be rising to the occasion as ever, ready to slake the delegate’s thirst for righteousness by offering up deep healing draughts from the well of good grooves and hot solos, with our regular team of Luke “Aquarius” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Eye Of The Tiger” Thomas (drms) setting their shoulders to the wheel and creating a tiny musical extreme weather event of their own, aided by me on bass, plus dandy highwayman Jack Rowan and his team of sylphs and naiads waiting poised effortlessly in the scented darkness behind the well-stocked bar, ready to welcome the giddy, bedazzled crowd with libations of the finest liquors known to man, as they throng about the doorway, their faces flushed with deep emotions, the name ‘Frances O’Grady’ ever at their eager lips, their hair all mussed and their Union badges awry, their eyes ablaze with urgent passions stirred by the fiery eloquence of their smiling masters, mixing it up with the regular crew of hucksters, fakers, dweebs, gamblers, panhandlers and disconsolate conspiracy theorists…. maybe you’re mourning the season’s slow passing, maybe you’re all upset about Irma, maybe you just remembered something and you wish you hadn’t, maybe you’re mad as hell and you’re just not going to take this anymore, it’s ok, come down and join us, join us, try to set the night on fire.

4th September 

The spectre of nuclear annihilation totally bumming you out? Autumns sere breath suddenly harsh against your sunburned cheek? Even Taylor's, like , MEGA comeback failing to fill the cultural void? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE'S MOUTH commence your countdown to ecstasy - even if you can't buy a thrill, the sheer torrential force of musical good vibes flowing forth from showbiz kids Luke 'Deacon Blues' Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz 'Dr Wu' Thomas (drms) will have you feeling like you're Kid Charlemagne, at least until Black Friday comes - I'll be assisting on bass from deep within the caves of Altamira, the fabulous Bee's team will be plying their glamour profession from behind the well-stocked bar, so put on your green earrings and your bad sneakers, polish your gold teeth, throw back the little ones, and come and sign in, stranger, as we whip up some chain lightning - join Peg, Josie, the rest of the Babylon sisters, the bhoddisatvas, the Haitian divorcees, the razor boys, the Charlie freaks and the fez wearers, gauchos and third world men, kids from your old school and kings of the world, as we all go back, jack, and do it again ... Media vita in morte sumus, so don't hang around, drop it like it's hot, join us, join us.

De Profundis

Love Supreme Festival reached its fifth birthday this year. An additional Jazz In The Round stage, curated by Jez Nelson, a strong representation from a new generation of British artists, the continuing contribution from the local Brighton scene to the Bandstand and Arena stages, and the enduring smoother-than-silk vitality of the immaculately mustachioedGeorge Benson, all gave reason to celebrate. More than this, from the organiser’s point of view, was the fact that the event finally managed to sell out to capacity for the first time. The green field festival exists in an extremely insecure financial situation; the massive fixed costs involved in creating a medium sized township in an empty field for the weekend, to say nothing of the necessary licences and insurance and the artist fees – headline acts generate up to 80% of sales and consequently can attempt to hoover up 80% of the available budget – mean that anything less than a 100% sell-out will typically leave the backers out of pocket. So attaining the magic sell-out crowd is a real landmark in the festival’s survival – let’s hope that this gives them the confidence to continue to grow, and maybe even sort out the sound quality in the Big Top by next year.

    Love Supreme, as many have noted, is a commercial festival – it is backed by investors but it’s primary revenue source is the ticket money collected at the box office. Punters are lured in by the recognisable promise of the big name headliners, but once inside the gates are likely to find themselves exposed to all kinds of sounds that you won’t hear on commercial radio. Jazz, as we’ve noted before, is a broader church than ever in the early years of the 21st century, and it would be a real challenge to represent all its different incarnations equally – the Love Supreme bookers tend to favour those acts that make the sort of muscular, extrovert statements that translate well on a big outdoor stage or a crowded tent, or are associated with the latest developments to have caught the attention of the audience or the attendant media (which drives which being one of the perennial questions of the art versus commerce debate) or are young and photogenic enough to generate a certain amount of free coverage, or all three.  Twas ever thus – it’s the realities of creating art in a commercial arena, and while no-one should underestimate the amazing levels of skill and commitment on display from all acts at the festival, there’s no doubt that other equally talented acts won’t get booked because they don’t fit the criteria, which are at least in part set by the implacable forces of commercial necessity. 

    Cue the entry to this discussion of the noble forces of public arts funding, intended to address this specific imbalance and provide a haven for those deserving artistic vessels which might otherwise founder upon the stormy waters of the music biz. Arts Council England provide a sterling service supporting the grassroots of jazz in the UK. Our own New Generation Jazz project relies uponACE support to bring its roster of young artists to play sell-out shows; the South Coast Jazz Festival uses it to provide the necessary financial stability for its successful, ever-growing annual feast of talent; many jazz artists would find touring impossible without its support, a fact confirmed to me by one of our most prolifically gigging and best-loved musicians – the combination of the ever-rising cost of hotel rooms and thereduction in CD sales at gigs makes unsupported touring harder than ever. Despite ACE having recently rejected a bid by the Small Venues Trust, the demise of Jazz Services as a dedicated portfolio organisation to support jazz artists, and the massive 85% of available funding that allegedly goes into opera and classical, there’s no doubt that the jazz landscape in the UK would be a far emptier place without their essential financial support. How would this landscape look if jazz were to exist in a purely capitalist environment where the viability of any artistic project would be wholly dependant on its commercial potential?

    Artistic funding is an arm of the state, distributing revenues collected by government for the purposes of collective good as determined by the state’s elected or appointed functionaries. The more rabid form of free-marketeersand their Brexiteer colleagues have long argued that state intervention constitutes a distortion of the natural workings of society – proponents of the system, looking with a shudder of Nordic rectitude at those societies where market forces are allowed to run unchecked to the invariable benefit of the few at the expense of the many, support it for exactly that reason. The benefits of state support for the arts are a cornerstone of liberal opinion. 

    Jazz, however, as we have noted before, has historically been a commercial music form that arose in the hotbed of free market capitalism that was 20th century America. Its transition to a publicly supported art form has been relatively recent, and the change in status has effected changes in the nature of the art itself. In the light of this, let’s examine a statement by man of the moment Shabaka Hutchings, whose reed work featured in no less than three different acts over the Love Supreme weekend. “One of the traits in this generation of musicians that you might associate with the word jazz is that they see what they do as connected to the audience. And weirdly, you might see that as connected to the demise of the arts funding culture. ….that culture is very different than it was 15 years ago, before the Tories got their claws into it. At least as I see it, for a musician to survive you have to be intimately connected to the people that you’re playing for. You are actually linked on a survival level. It was a lot easier before, and I feel like that distorted things, because it meant that you could exist without considering who you’re playing for. All you’re connected to is the funding, and the ideology that says that art can be like that…. maybe that’s the thing that connects all of the music that similar artists of our generation play – we are trying to play music for the people who we are a part of. We’re not trying to to make music based on hierarchy, created in an institution, or in our abstract theory books” 

    The concept of being obliged to play music that is intimately connected with one’s audience will, of course, be very familiar to those players who augment their livings by playing in bars, clubs and social functions. Like the be-boppers of the 1940s, who made there livings playing in dance bands, many players turn to jazz as the space where they can play for themselves and each other and escape for a while from the pressures of commercial reality. If music simply follows the money, the results are entirely predictable, and paradoxically can ultimately become a complete turn-off for audiences. Jazz musicians have to balance the needs of attracting and retaining an audience, making a living, and creating valid artistic statements – the resulting tensions are part of the gig. Funding can create and sustain audiences but can it also drive a wedge between the artists and the public? There are many sides to this ongoing debate – I’ve heard from aPortuguese promoter that UK artists are under-represented in Europe because the availability of funding in the UK makes it unnecessary for them to reach out and build audiences abroad. For the moment, the availability of public funding plays an essential part in supporting the UK scene, but a profitable partnership with the commercial realm is equally important, and may become more so as the complications of Brexit continue on their unforeseeable pathway. 

What's In A Name?

We’ve been quietly but firmly insisting in this column that there’s something stirring in the world of jazz-and-related-musics, both here in the UK and further afield. While sales of recordings continue to plummet across all sectors, the rise of delivery via streaming services continues to increase; in fact, thanks to the massive uptake in streaming subscriptions, the global music sector is seeing growth for the first time in many years. Inthe UK, the rights collection society PRS has reported its highest ever annual pay-out of 527.6m GBP – this figure is not adjusted for inflation, but still represents an 11% growth over 2015, which means that it’s the first time in 20 years that the seemingly inexorable decline in music revenues has been reversed. Given the option of streaming over piracy, most consumers seem to prefer streaming – this is in itself good news, but how much jazz musicians are benefitting from these developments is hard to assess. The sector is changing so fast that it’s difficult to gather the stats and analyse them in time to make a pronouncement without being almost instantly wrong-footed, but let’s take a look at the US market, where the most widely trumpeted figures, from Nielsen’s January 2015 report, suggest that jazz sales now only account for 1.4% of the total market, and, even worse, for only 0.3% of the streaming market. It seems that even if the good times may be tentatively returning,  jazz has been banished from the party and made to sit forlornly in the corridor with its equally unpopular classmates, folk and classical, while the cool kids pop, rock and R&B take over the common room once and for all. But the picture is such a confusing one, with vinyl sales still showing growth decades after the format was supposed to have died forever; independent record stores thriving while major high street chains close, and the malignant spectre of YouTube hovering in the background with it’s limitless free streams, teeth-grindingly annoying advertising and utterly opaque royalty structure, that it can support any number of conflicting opinions on the actual state of the music biz today, let alone prognoses for its future. 

    Anecdotal evidence from those musicians toiling tirelessly away at the coalface of the UK scene suggests that the loss of physical sales to streaming has often not been compensated by additional revenue from that source. One of our most ubiquitous and popular gigging jazz musicians has told me that his latest album – a widely reviewed, flawlessly swinging take on the hard bop tradition –  sold around 500 copies, supported by a tour that packed in as many dates as it’s possible to book in the UK. That’s a turnover of 5000 GBP – a respectable addition to gig fees rather than a bonanza, but still far more than could be achieved through 500, 5000 or even 50,000 streams of the same album – in the kind of hand-to-mouth cottage industry of the self-released jazz album, every physical sale counts, so every sale lost to streaming is a blow to the sustainability of the model. Streaming payment models are weighted against niche artists, because the ‘slice-of-the-pie’ distribution method means that the majority of your subscription fees end up going to the big players, irrespective of whether you are listening exclusively to Dizzy Gillespie rather than Dizzee Rascal. 

    Of course, it’s horribly dreary talking about music in terms of sales projections, delivery methods and market shares, and many, especially those not actually trying to make a livelihood from it, may feel that to focus on these drably prosaic matters is to miss the point completely. Move away from sales talk and back into the world of spontaneous creativity and live performance, where jazz has always thrived, and a different and far more encouraging picture emerges. This year, the renowned industry beanfeast now known as SXSW Festival hosted its first ever UK jazz showcase, as the triple alliance of promoters Jazz Re:Freshed, arts support unit British Underground and online magazine Jazz Standard brought an eclectic mix of UK artists to Austin, Texas to capitalise on the unmistakeable stirrings of interest in the UK scene (London duo Yussef Kamaal were refused visas at the last minute – now why might that have been?). Those of you who’ve been keeping an ear open to the sounds emanating from the New Generation Jazz nights at The Verdict will recognise many of the names being talked about – Moses Boyd, Femi Koleoso’s Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Nerija,  Camilla George and Cassie Kinoshi are all past or future bookings whose names have been loosely linked together into something approaching that most treasured of journalistic creations – a Movement. Jazz Re:Freshed, who have also hosted Brighton power trios Vels Trio and Howes3, have been doing sterling work in supporting a fresher young sound through their regular London shows, and this hard work is starting to attract attention internationally, as lauded American radio network National Public Radio recently broadcast a documentary about the new wave of British jazz musicians who played in Texas this year. 

    Some, however, may still approach this news with some circumspection. One thing that unites all the musicians mentioned above is their ambivalence about accepting ‘jazz’ as a defining label. All of them come from a jazz background but incorporate a great deal of genre fluidity, claiming inspiration from the rich melting pot of contemporary UK urban music as much as the international jazz tradition. In theory, this is the sound of young musicians incorporating the musical influences of their own age group in order to move the tradition forward and reclaim its relevance to the millennial generation. In practice this means a great deal of heavy ostinato groove stuff with spacey modal soloing – the focus is more on exploring the rhythmical energy borrowed from urban styles than on harmonic or melodic adventures. The difficult task of re-engaging the wider, younger audience with jazz has long been discussed and bemoaned – there’s definite signs of an emerging resolution, but the music itself is undergoing changes towards a different interpretation that has its own UK identity, and that some may feel excludes whole chunks of the current scene, which may be no less worthy but have less appeal beyond the traditional constituencies. Anyone interested in this work in progress, and fortunate enough to have obtained tickets for this years Love Supreme Festival, which in a sign of the changes discussed here has sold out for the first time in its 5 year history, can check out what’s happening by seeking out any of the several bands on the bill to feature prolific multi-reedsman Shabaka Hutchings. He’s also a man whose interviews have revealed a number of very interesting perspectives on the shape of jazz to come – but they and the full attention they merit, will have to wait for the extra space waiting in our next issue.