Bees Mouth - October 2018

October 1st

As M. Aznavourian and Geoffrey fly hand in hand up above the streets and houses, rainbow climbing high, saying bye-bye to this vale of tears, to the smoky tendrils of autumn creeping around us, to those vital Brexit negotiations, now safe in the shabby velour hands of Zippy, George and Bungle, to Mrs May choking back her tears and assuring us we’ll soon be hitting 80 in our German whips, to Trump and his trumping and Ye and his yeyeyeye, JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH will be continuing to operate at full strength thanks to the eternal flames manifesting on this material plane as Luke “Killer Dilla” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Driller Killer” Thomas (drms) as they serve up another smorgsasbord of musical delights to refresh your jaded frontal lobes and realign your vibe, aided in some manner by me on bass, while the fearless buccaneers of the Bee’s Team under the command of their fleet-fingered captain Jack Rowan stand by to repel boarders, bringdowns and buzzkills with their magic healing liquors, the bad boys and badmashes line the glittering kerb outside, stray freshers staggger in circles,and down on the beach where the sea meets the moon-blanched land the planets burn in the sky over the shingle’s grating roar…. don’t sit glued to your stupid phone waiting for the next usage update, that sorta defeats the point, yeah? don’t wait for the hapless collection of backstabbers feebs, schlemils, and sappy poindexters that have somehow ended up in charge of our collective destiny to get their shit together… get down to where it’s on, you can do the milly rock, you can do the stanky leg, you can just do your thing, it’s beautiful baby. 

Masters of our Domain

Autumn brings many harvests in its wake; not least the publication of numerous surveys and reports, the pages of which drift across the digital realm like the falling leaves. With the Brexit deadline drawing ever nearer and inconsistency remaining the only consistent factor in approach from both government and opposition, the uncertainties that the whole nation faces in March 2019 are already having an impact. A survey of 1,600 musicians by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, published this August, finds more than 40% report a negative impact on their careers, mostly arising from uncertainties around visa issues for future bookings; the July 26th report from House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee also warns of the consequences of visa restrictions on the UK’s cultural sector as a whole, and urges clarity on the continuation of free movement after Brexit – clarity which is sadly unlikely to be forthcoming at any time soon. Touring abroad is a vital component of many professional musician’s incomes; music in general, and jazz music in particular, is a cultural form that can appeal across national boundaries, and jazz occupies what is known as a global niche – audiences may be small, but they can be found, sharing their common culture, across the world. Access to these transnational markets has long been a valuable resource for jazz musicians, ever since Sidney Bechet took up residence in Paris and opened the door for so many other US players when the home scene went through barren periods – let us hope that our UK talent continues to have access to the educated, engaged and passionate European audiences on our doorstep. 

Of course, we also have our homegrown scene, and there exist also the boundless virtual prairies of the digital realm to be exploited. Good news from the latter realm, as in a July report, Spotify told the BBC Newsbeat service that in the past six months, the number of UK users aged 30 and under listening to their flagship Jazz UK playlist had increased by 108%, and smaller streaming platforms such as Deezer and Amazon Music reported similar increases.The growth has been attributed to “a flourishing UK scene which fuses jazz with a variety of genres”, and a Dr Peter Elsdon, a musicologist at the University of Hull, has been quoted in the report describing jazz as “a chameleon” that constantly changes colour to reflect its environment. “Because of the way streaming services work, people can find out about jazz more easily and quickly than they might have been able to in the past”, he explains, referring one assumes, both to the search n’ suggest algorithms that bring new artists to your desktop or hand-held device, and also to the availability of so much previously hard-to-find jazz music via the services themselves. One might add here that a certain generation of jazz musicians still persistently demonstrate a negative attitude towards streaming; while it is true that niche musics are not always well served by current streaming models, for reasons discussed in earlier editions of this column, realism surely compels us to acknowledge that the hope that consumers will obligingly boycott Spotify and return to buying CDs, as in days of yore, is very unlikely ever to be fulfilled. Visibility and engagement are the essential stepping stones towards audience progression – JazzFm reported its highest audience figures for the past four years, and in July an unlikely milestone was reached when John Coltrane scored his first ever UK Top 40 album chart placement, crashing in at number 21 with the belatedly rediscovered Both Directions At Once. One may slice and dice the analysis of what this really means, and find positives or negatives to suit one’s own temperament, but the unmistakeable message is that both the media landscape and the recorded music industry are changing, and that opportunities are being thrown up for those astute or engaged enough to exploit them. As popular music tends increasingly towards blandness and homogenisation, a sector of the youth market responds by developing a hunger for more challenging and sophisticated forms, and jazz can benefit by satisfying that hunger if it is prepared to array itself, attractively garnished, upon the cultural smorgasbord.

While foreign markets and online presence are important to the scene as a whole, it’s the UK market where the majority of our players will find their sustenance. A picture of the whole is provided by the recently published UK Live Music Census – the first of its kind. Let’s hear what it did, in its own words: “For 24 hours from noon on Thursday 9th March 2017, volunteers in cities across the country went out and about to live music events, from pub gigs to massed choirs to arena concerts. Live music censuses took place in our three primary snapshot cities of Glasgow, Newcastle-Gateshead and Oxford, while affiliate censuses also ran in Brighton, Leeds and Southampton on 9-10 March, and in Liverpool on 1-2 June, the affiliates led by members of UK Music’s Music Academic Partnership (MAP). Nationwide online surveys for musicians, venues, promoters and audiences were online from March until June. The intention of the census project was to help measure live music’s social, cultural and economic value, discover what challenges the sector is facing and inform policy to help live music flourish.” We should note the inclusion of Brighton as a location – a reflection of the flourishing sector in the town across all genres, jazz being no exception. The research was exhaustive and the findings comprehensive, but we can but summarise a few points here. It will come as no surprise to our esteemed and discerning readers to learn that the report concluded that live music has ‘significant economic, social and cultural value’ – the annual live music spend in Oxford alone is estimated at over 10 Million GBP, supporting over 350 full-time equivalent jobs. More is now spent on live than recorded music, with nearly half (47%) of respondents to the audience survey spending more than £20 on tickets for concerts/festivals each month while only a quarter spend the same on recorded music. On average, nearly half (49%) of the annual income of those respondents to the musician survey who identify as professional musicians comes from performing live, compared to only 3% from recording.

The survey is unique in its breadth, gathering data and stories from all those involved in music, from audiences to promoters, council licensing boards to venue owners, and even including the rarely heard voices of the musicians themselves. The survey’s analysis divided musicians into three categories – professional, semi-professional and amateur. Some results may come as a surprise, others less so – the sector is still male-dominated, with men accounting for 68% of professional and 81% of semi-pro players – men and women earned roughly the same per gig, but fascinatingly and perhaps unexpectedly, male singers tended to average more than female ones (100 GBP compared to 85), whereas for instrumentalists the positions and earnings were reversed.

Although individual earnings spread across a far wider range, it is significant that this average figure is well below the Musician’s Union suggested rate of 121.50 for casual engagements, reinforcing the commonly acknowledged heuristic conclusion that this rate is effectively a nominal one only that in practice is seldom adhered to. In addition, while 78% of professional musicians are self-employed, the survey found that 66% of those respondents to the musician survey identifying as professional musicians earn less than £15,600 direct from live music each year and 28% earn less than £5,200 direct from live performance; indeed, research by the Musicians’ Union in 2012 found that 56% of the musicians surveyed earn less than £20,000 in total per year, with music teaching being the primary means of supplementing income – accounting for typically up to 50% – and maintaining their professional status.

Analysis by genre provided further insights. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it suggests that the four most lucrative genres for respondents to the musician survey overall are: rock, pop, blues and classical, with 40% of all respondents earning money from rock, 26% from pop, 22% from blues, and 21% from classical music. However, another, rather different picture emerges when the musician’s own preferences are examined – when asked to choose which genre they identify with the most, 29% identify most with classical music, 14% with jazz, 11% identify with rock music, 8% identify as a singer/songwriter, and a measly 7% are happy to openly identify most with pop. Furthermore, 38% of respondents to the musician survey identifying as professional, currently earn money from classical music, 31% from pop, 31% from jazz, and 22% from blues For respondents to the musician survey identifying as semi-professional, however, the most lucrative genre is rock music: 48% earn money from rock music, while only 9% earn money from classical music. While jazz accounts for a small proportion of overall financial turnover from the sector as a whole, it holds its own as the genre that many musicians would rather be playing – and earning their living from – and a gratifying proportion of those musicians are successful in this ambition. 

Where are these dedicated, jazz-loving professionals performing? The survey’s findings highlight unequivocally the importance of small venues: “Over three-quarters (78%) of respondents to the online audience survey had visited small music venues (under 350 capacity) for live music in the past 12 months, and three-quarters (74%) had visited pubs and bars (for live music). Two-thirds (67%) of respondents to the musician survey had performed in small music venues in the past 12 months while nearly two-thirds (64%) had performed in pubs or bars 31%)” 

Here in Brighton we are lucky to have a scene that is supported by so many dedicated musicians, where the audience is eclectic, sophisticated and willing to engage with niche music, and where there is a plethora of grassroots venues. The Verdict deserves special recognition as a dedicated, musician-friendly venue, where musicians can stage their own concerts, playing the repertoire they want with the band of their choice; but equally, the flourishing pub and bar scene plays a part in developing new talent and sustaining existing players. Research from PRS for Music shows that live music can be a very good way of increasing publican’s sales; 24% report an increase of 25 to 50% in sales on music nights and 71% reporting an increase of 10 to 25%. This economic viability provides a different, parallel model to ticketed gigs, where there is a constant risk that the promoters/musicians may sustain a loss if they fail to sell enough tickets. As jazz audiences are small, jazz musicians can be particularly susceptible to this risk, and the readiness of landlords willing to offer a fixed fee for a free-entry gig provides a secure alternative. The danger, of course, is that a free-entry gig will deter audiences from a door charge gig – in addition, the economic realities of the licensed trade in Brighton (and across the UK) mean that the fees offered by landlords can never in practice approach the MU recommended minimum. This tension provokes lively debate within the community; we would suggest that, as with the scenario with recorded music detailed above, astute musicians will use the available resources to manage their careers to their best advantage. The casual, free-entry pub session has been a long-established feature of the jazz landscape, with a tradition traceable back to the 1950s at least; ticketed gigs will thrive on their own merits if they offer something exceptional; both have a role to play in the wider picture to progress both careers and audiences. The challenges of wage stagnation, competition and venue closure are all too familiar to anyone who works in the sector, and all are detailed in the report, but perhaps further citations are un-necessary. While you have been kind enough to spend time reading this column, gentle reader, some jazz musicians in your area have been rehearsing for a gig, setting up for a gig, playing a gig, or packing down from a gig and preparing for the next one – why not find out where they are, and set out to join them? If we don’t use it, we’re sure to lose it, so let’s Keep Music Live. 

 

Read the full report: here  

The Moving Finger Writes

“Anyone lucky enough to receive the Performing Rights Society’s regular magazine will no doubt have been intrigued to see an article headed ‘What’s going on in British Jazz?’, and even more intrigued by the following introductory quote from saxophonist Pete Wareham:

‘Jazz? I don’t know much about it. I haven’t been following it for ages…… I’ve been listening to a lot of Diplo and Mykki Blanco’.”

The moving finger, as Mr Fitzgerald reminded us, writes and then moves on, and its cancellation policies are even less accommodating than those of a budget airline. But let’s cast our minds back to September 2013: a month scarred by the unhappy manifestations of violence in Kenya and among the long-suffering people of Syria, which we need not dwell upon here, and by other more easily digestible events; an ancient company called ‘Microsoft’ purchased another equally obsolete entity called ‘Nokia’, Gareth Bale transferred to Real Madrid for a record fee of 85.3 million GBP, Breaking Bad swept the Emmys and Angela Merkel swept the polls to election triumph, while Ed Miliband struggled with his bacon sarnie and Mr Cameron wondered if a referendum might be the very thing to deliver him the result he wanted on Scottish independence. Set against this dramatic backdrop of world events, the Sussex Jazz Magazine was launched, and while the fortunes of all those mentioned above have dipped and swayed, SJM continues to thrive.

In a bold editorial decision, the first edition was dedicated to local bass players; and the lead quoted above was the first tentative overture of this column. It might be interesting to catch up with Mr Wareham, who has been gratifyingly busy in the intervening time with the latest incarnation of his Melt Yourself Down project, aided by local sticksman supreme Tristan Banks, and see if his enthusiasm for Diplo continues unabated. For an artist to proclaim a love of EDM from within the jazz pigeonhole was quite unusual back in 2013, when any mention of jazz in the UK still tended to draw the catchphrase from that Fast Show sketch from the general public, despite the efforts of Roller Trio, Portico Quartet and such hyperborean animals as GoGo Penguin and Polar Bear to dissolve the boundaries between the tradition and the welter of contemporary sounds newly accessible via the wonders of streaming. It’s instructive to look back on the last five years worth of issues and see how they chart the development of the music that, for want of another viable title, we still call jazz; and satisfying to see how many of the reports have been positive. 

SJM was set up to serve the local jazz community, both players and listeners, and its growth has mirrored the growth of the scene. Early editions of this column touched on the popularity of jam sessions and the healthy grassroots scene of casual pub gigs; both have continued to thrive. Later issues explored the tricky questions of financial remuneration and the economic viability of the jazz musician’s life, the debate around free-entry gigs, and the responsibility of both players and audiences to support the scene – these issues continue to evade simple resolution. However, let us pause to list some of the achievements recorded in SJM since its first issue. Love Supreme has confounded the cynics and naysayers to survive, and grow in size and stature, and the Bandstand stage continues to provide an accessible platform and a bridge into the local community. This resolutely commercial mothership touching down outside the city has been mirrored by the emergence and rapid success of a pair of home-grown events catering to different wings of the disparate muse – the South Coast Jazz Festival celebrates the evolving tradition with a clear eye on the richness of the UK’s own musical legacy, while the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival does what it says on the label by bringing home the joyful noise of the music’s outer fringes. Three major jazz festivals establishing themselves around the city in the last five years is indication enough of a healthy scene; this year sees the establishment of the Splash Point Jazz Festival in Eastbourne and the continuation of the Rye Jazz & Blues Festival as well, while both Jazz Re:freshed and Jazz In The Round are expanding their London-based operations to bring exciting new jazz to Sussex. Our 2013 issue lamented the closure of Jazz Services; now exciting developments are afoot for a new publicly funded umbrella organisation for jazz in the South. Back in 2013, The Verdict had only just opened, and the candid will admit that its future was not universally seen to be secure; yet here it still is, as summer 2018 draws to a close, still open for business and putting on more bands than ever. It’s been a pleasure to have been involved with the New Generation Jazz programme and, thanks to the support of the Arts Council, to have brought so many wonderful young players to The Verdict to experience the unparalleled warmth and enthusiasm of the crowds, the inexhaustible ebullience of  indefatigable host Andy Lavender, and the exciting vagaries of the house PA system. 

A transparent plug for New Generation (New season just announced! Get your tickets for Fraser Smith and the Alibis now, folks!) leads us from the local to the national scene, and the unavoidable rise and rise of a new generation of young musicians emerging from South London over the last five years. Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd, Ashley Henry and Ezra Collective were all relatively unknown when they made their New Generation debuts back in 2015 – since then their profile, and that of the scene of players emerging from Tomorrow’s Warriors collective, entering the London conservatoires and exiting again to pick up vibes via club nights Steez and Total Refreshment Centre, has risen to the level where the national press, always hungry for a new ‘movement’ to promote, have seized upon it. National broadsheet articles have led into borderline-hyperbolic features in Rolling Stone (‘Jazz’s New British Invasion’) and the New York Times (‘Shabaka Hutchings Brings London Jazz Into the Spotlight’). While Kamasi Washington has led the way, crossing over into mainstream festival audiences both in the US and here at such hipster-friendly UK events as Field Day, it’s inspiring to see UK jazz lauded as the cutting edge, rather than following in the lead of the US. Such media attention brings in its wake the inevitable questions; the UK is brimming with talent, and as the bright light shines into on one set of players it will unfortunately cast a shadow over other, equally deserving hopefuls. Nevertheless, there’s an undeniably heady rush of excitement at the sight of UK jazz artists at the centre of a media storm; a young generation for whom referencing club music and the jazz tradition together is no longer an anomaly, and who are prepared to embrace notions of mainstream success that have the potential to reach beyond the sometimes impenetrable-seeming boundaries between jazz (whatever that is) and popular music (aren’t they meant to be the same thing?). 

This summer, Jazz Re:freshed, the multi-faceted promotional crew at the heart of the new movement, reached out from their London base to stage their first all-day event at Brighton Dome with an array of stars of the new wave, with a stunning 1,500 tickets sold and free admission for the under 15s. The crowd were an eclectic mix of youngsters checking out their peers and older fans, some of whom would surely have remembered the last Brit-jazz boom (also fuelled in no small part by Tomorrow’s Warriors) that brought to our attention Courtney Pine, Ronny Jordan, Steve Williamson, Orphy Robinson, Gary Crosby, Denys Baptiste, Jason Yarde and so many other great players. All media hypes conform to the same cycle of boom and backlash, but true talent and commitment can ride the wave and translate into career longevity. Last month’s column brought unwelcome news of the closure of Total Refreshment Centre, and a licensing threat to the Mau Mau Bar, both crucial incubators of the scene, and a reminder of how fragile a musical renaissance can be, and how difficult the commercial climate remains. Past columns have explored the dire state of the recorded music industry for jazz and the continuing precariousness of the existence of the jazz clubs and the musicians who play in them. So let us close this five-year review, brimming as it is with optimism for both the local, the national and the international development of the music we all love, however we choose to define it, with a warning that if we don’t use it, we’re sure to lose it. Get out to a gig tonight – or if not tonight, then tomorrow. There’s sure to be something on in town – jazz is booming. 

 

    Many thanks to all those who have had the patience to read this column over the last five years, and the kindness to tell me that they have enjoyed it. Your encouragement, support and advice is very welcome. 



Bees Mouth - September 2018

Sept 24th

OMG!! Everyone’s gone conference crazy!! Out on the dusty fringes UKIP were really digging into their special thing, angrily floating ideas like big shit-filled balloons to burst over their own screwed up faces, while not even Vince’s erotic spasm could make his lot seem sexy, but that’s small stuff compared to terrifying Brexity monsters now crashing around in the political arena… centre yourself amid the tension by getting down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH and taking a deep healing breath, cos we’ve got a lasting mandate to deliver real liberation to everyone everywhere for ever thanks to the steady eye and fearless hand of man like Luke ‘Crypto” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Cash Is King” Thomas (drms) as they demonstrate pure freedom of movement and, like, totally harmonised regulation to deliver another summit meeting of hot swing, cool funk & all kinds of good stuff crossing and recrossing the frictionless musical borders in between, aided by me on bass, while fearless buccaneer Captain Jack Rowan and his crew batten down the hatches and prepare to ride out the Prolonged Period Of Uncertainty with their precious cargo of the finest liquors known to man, while Jezza and Big Mac dressed as dandy highwaymen try to ride multiple horses at once, everyone threatens to deselect everyone else, while the Maybot grins fixedly at you from the centre of her burning bush, while Boris sharpens his knife in his stinking basement and everyone else waits to see just what the hell is going to happen next, cos it could go any way, couldn’t it? Don’t sit at home like an unexpected item in life’s bagging area, don’t watch the Bodyguard again, join us, Libdems or mandems, lovers, losers, fighters, baby sharks or tiny dancers, this is real life and it’s happening RIGHT NOW… jack jack jack jack your body.

Sept 17th

It no joke, is it? Beavering away at the digital coalface, trying to keep on top of the torrent of incoming while sharing your outgoing in the hope that someone somewhere cares, sticking your head up above the virtual parapet so your voice gets heard above the susurrus, hurly-burly, mounting hubbub and general frou—frou, as all your bitcoin turns to shitcoin and a host of digital platforms rise and fall like the waves on a boundless boring ocean… JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is back to give you a big healing dose of IRL so cut yourself loose and put that spring back in your step, cos we’re back on the regular thanks to the tireless musical audacity of Luke ‘Homeboy’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Cash Is King” Thomas (drms) as they weave another web of good grooves and hot licks for you to get wrapped all around your poor aching frontal lobes, while the fearless buccaneers of the Bee’s Team stand by under the command of their captain Jack Rowan, ready to repel boarders and belay any un-called for argy-bargy to keep the vibe sweet, and the streets outside are alive with all kinds of bad boys, badmashes, movers, shakers, tricksters and fakers, travellers from antique lands, followers of false prophets, dawn treaders and easy riders, and Lib Dems in search of a purpose..... as the spectral calm of summer’s end drifts down from the shining cerulean, as the kids go back to school to try and learn what to do next, what to do next, as the Mercury nominations for Best Artists Previously Nominated For The Mercury Prize remind us all of the simpler days of Myspace, food hashtags and lolcats, as May and her band of backstabbers play Deal Or No Deal with all our futures, as we all seem to be waiting for the next BIG THING to drop, you should take the time out and come and join us

Sept 10th

Holidays are over, you muppets, time’s getting on, there’s no time for any wishy-washy namby-pamby flip-flopping - important steps need to be taken and they need to be taken now by the Adults In The Room, and that means YOU! Time to set your jaw, clench your fists, grit your teeth and buckle up, double down, upscale, downsize and get your sh*t together, and when you’re done, take a deep breath and get down to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH cos we’ll be flying higher than Elon Musk at a shareholder’s meeting thanks to the magical talents of Luke ‘Laserquest’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Youthquake” Thomas (drms) as they send all bad vibes off for mandatory deselection, adopt all the internationally recognised definitions of Hot Swinging Grooves, and fill the air with music … I’ll be along on bass, fearless captain Jack Rowan will be at the helm with his crew of buccaneers to man the pumps and serve up libations of the finest liquors known to man, the pallid creatures of the night will shuffle past outside, the Bad Boys will be flipping tasty burgers and the local badmashes will be parking illegally just for lulz… as we all wait for Mr Johnson to put his dogwhistle to his lips and cry, you know, havoc n stuff, as Mars burns bright in the sky above, as the earth shifts again on its axis and the sap runs slower, as the last swallows dart low over the drying stubble, let’s keep the faith, people…come an join us, let’s make some noise.

Sept 3rd

As you hang, breathless, poised like a diver on the summers furthest brink, ready for the breath of autumn to bring you crashing down down down, your heart heavy with nostalgia, your skin burnt by the sun... let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH ease your passing into the next phase, cos we’re gearing up for a phenomenal autumnal shitstorm of sound bites as those busy little orange hands peck at the tweetdeck, Eurocrats get their resting bitch faces on for the next round, everyone stocks up on rotten tomatoes for Conference Season,Mr Corbyn mumbles something ineffectual into his beardie beard, Mr Putin smirks into his tea but doesn’t drink it, Netenyahoo spits into his own eye, Boris, “Tommy” and Blotchy Steve B exchange sexy winks, all manner of unholy alliances congeal across the greasy wastes of cyberspace, and the Maybot dances, dances, dances her way along the corridors of power with the grace of a spavined horse... take heart as the team of Luke ‘Boethius’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Fortuna’s Wheel’ Thomas (drms) return to spin a web of theology, geometry and musical good vibes just for you, aided by special guest maestro Nigel Thomas on bass, and all your fave local characters come out to play ..mustachioed Byronic hero Jack Rowan will be heading up the mighty Bee’s Team of fearless buccaneers, the music will be hot, sweet and vital, mars will be burning bright in the sky above, and you should come, you really should. 

Bees Mouth - August 2018

20th August

There you are, chasing down the last days of summer in your gender-neutral floral lycra outfit, keeping it real at the barbie with some Jamie’s Jerk Rice, getting wavy like William Hague, editing your insta beach selfies at the airport, laughing with salad, living the dream… but is it all enough to keep the existential terror of your inevitable extinction at bay? Not quite? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH step in to fill the howling vortex that lurks behind your resting bitch face, cos we’ll be back for reals with those classic-yet-contemporary avatars of vernal positivity Luke ‘Big Trouble In Little China” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘The Last Airbender” Thomas (drms) as they give vent to artistic expression of pure swinging good vibes to promote that healing feeling out into the ether, so you can just step right up and diver into it like it’s some kinda clear limpid lagoon fringed with coral sand.. I’ll be there on bass doing some stuff, the legendary Bee’s team will be standing by with trans-dimensional libations of quality liquor from deep within the centre of the multiverse, the Bad Boys will be flipping tasty burgers as the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast at any time of day, that psychotic east African dude will be on the corner, ministering unto his disciples with his little radio, the players will cruise past in their muscle cars and the regular working stiffs will be cutting loose and the night shift will be revving up.. don’t stay trapped in the quiet lacuna between the sheer animalistic Id-fest frenzy of Love Island and the rigidly heirarchical Super-ego domination of Bake-Off, get with the beat and come and join us, join us, the time is now.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

While our public life remains mired in irreconcilable division and the prolonged period of uncertainty we were promised continues unabated, at least we’ve had a nice long spell of hot weather, to the delight and relief of all those involved in running or attending outdoor events.

Festival season is upon us - we can sympathise with those involved with Camp Bestival, forced to close the site after they were hit with the only wet and windy weekend for 55 days, while unpleasant stories are emerging of WOMAD artists being deterred from performing after encountering a hostile environment when applying for the necessary visas - let us sincerely hope that this is not a foretaste of a post-Brexit musical landscape where foreign music will be deemed to have been rendered un-necessary, and is actively discouraged as detracting from our own, deservedly beloved indigenous folk-singing tradition.

Closer to home, however, the sun shone on two contrasting but equally satisfactory events. Love Supreme is rapidly consolidating its uniqueposition as the UK’s only greenfieldfestival for jazz-and-related-musics; numbers have increased to the point that the organisers have announced that a cap will be placed on further expansion to preserve the intimate feel, and while there was an irregularity with the beer supply, and an unfortunately ailing Elvis Costello was perhaps not universally appreciated as a choice of Saturday headliner, the festival is eminently succeeding in its aim of bringing jazz and audiences together. It’s particularly gratifying to see new wave artists like Nubya Garcia and Ezra Collective returning year after year to play to ever bigger crowds
- Garcia filling the 4000 capacity Arena tent to the seams, after performing on the Bandstand only three years ago. Along the coast, and catering to a different but equally essential end of the jazz spectrum, the Swanage Festival rose from the ashes thanks to the herculean efforts of guitarist Nigel Price in his role as festival director and benefitted from his expanded vision to add a little more razzmatazz to proceedings.

As the market value of recorded music as a commodity has dropped precipitately, the live sector has continued to grow, as consumers both young and old are increasingly ready to spend money on experiences rather than consumer durables. It’s good to see that jazz is keeping up with this trend by providing a wider range of festivals - the major players like London, Gateshead, Cheltenham, Glasgow and Edinburgh being joined by a wave of new or revived smaller affairs. Here in Sussex the South Coast Jazz Festival continues to expand its remit, the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival stages a triumphant return with major name headliners, and exciting new developments are afoot as both Jazz Re:Freshed and Jazz In The Round have moved out of the capital for the first time to advance the vanguardof the new London thing into the Brighton Dome and St. Mary in the Castle in Hastings with exciting one-day events. But this good news, though welcome, is not universally distributed.

Portsmouth Jazz Club ceases activities in December; a message on its webpage announces “audiences have dwindled over the past three years and trying to ‘drum up’ new people to come along, etcetera, has become a thankless task and added to the pressures of our personal commitments, has become untenable.” Behind this story we can detect a set of factors at work across the scene; a club run on wafer-thin margins, sustained by the enthusiasm of a group of passionate devotees but unable to regenerate itself to ensure progression of the next generation of audiences. Jazz prides itself on its long and rich heritage, and retains its audiences through the decades, but outside the major cities the uptake among younger generations can be slow. The annual British Jazz Awards are collecting votes at the moment - the shortlists as ever feature a rich array of talent, but the pool of players is narrow, scarcely changing from year to year. While this in no way disparages the skill and artistry of the nominees, it provides an insight into the conservatism of the grassroots club-going audiences, and this can be an inhibiting factor in development. Even in the major cities, other negative pressures are at work - this month has also seen announcements of the closure of the Total Refreshment Centre in Hackney as a live venue, and a licensing threat to the Mau Mau barin Portobello Road, reminding us of the fragility of the club scene as profits are squeezed and developers wait hungrily in the wings.

Jazz education can help develop the skills and knowledge of the next generation of players, the jazz festival can showcase new talent and bolster established reputations, but the club is historically where jazz has developed and where it must find both its true voice and its connection to the audience. Let’s ensure that the sun continues to shine upon it.

Bees Mouth - July

July 30th

As Brighton braces itself before the approaching Tsunami of fabulousness about to splash onto our pebbly shores in a rainbow coloured wash with Britney riding the spume like a blinged up Nereid, the fainter hearted amongst us may be tempted to bolt for the holiday break like our noble and hardworking politicians, taking back control by doing nothing at all, but before you hit the open sore that is Stansted in your pursuit of the sun, stop off at JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH where you’ll find the heatwave is still in full effect thanks to the unwavering front of high pressure created by those masters of groove Luke ‘Gulf Stream’ Rattenbury (gtr) and special guest Tristan ’T-Bone’ Banks (drms) as they get busy at the molecular level to set up a forcefield of good vibrations for you all to come and shelter in … I’ll be doing whatevs on bass, the immaculate ascended beings of the Bee’s team will be waiting, poised in the scented shadows behind the well-stocked bar, the creatures of the night will come and go, come and go on the crowded pavement outside, the velvet darkness above the crumbling rooftops will be alive with stars and possibilities, and you should really get out of that subreddit you’ve been stuck in, shitposting your way to loneliness, and come and join us as we celebrate whatever the hell is going to happen next, leave your hangups at the door and come and get down with the good groove, you know it makes sense…

July 23rd

The lambent cerulean envelops us, stretching above like a giant resounding bell sending waves of heat in a noiseless tocsin to drown the petty concerns of our time-snarled mortality, each second swollen with warmth into a motionless moment, the only movement from the screaming swifts riding the soaring updraughts… which is just as well, as our mortal affairs have never been in such a hopeless frickin mess, so it’s just as well that JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is here once again to provide a moment of clarity in a world where ‘would’ means ‘wouldn’t’, ‘Deal or No Deal’ is now a current affairs programme, no-one understands whether a ‘Tory Rebel’ is one of the idiots in a top hat or one of the other idiots trying to thwart them, and the only credible opposition to it all is too busy arguing about how rude you can be to Jews to get themselves together… luckily we have the united front of Luke ‘Chief Whip’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Black Rod’ Thomas (drms) doing their thing to create a better world by filling our little corner of it with a force field of hot swinging blues-to-bop-to-whatever, aided in some manner by me on bass, and the embodied vibrations of positivity known on this plane as the Bee’s Team standing by ready with the quality hooch to ease your troubled mind… don’t hunker down in a dingy basement, stockpiled with Huel against the coming Brexitopalypse, waiting for the invisible worm that flies in the night in the howling storm to seek out YOUR bed of crimson joy, don’t watch another youtube video as long as you live, don't forget the petrichor will return, don’t give up, don’t lose that number, just grab yer axe off the shelf and come and join us, let’s do a thing.

July 16th

As the sun beats endlessly down from the unblemished cerulean, is there a shadow starting to cloud the edges of your overstimulated consciousness? Maybe all those plastic straws you used in the 90s have precipitated the next level of climate change, maybe the Love Island bods are just bots, maybe the internet isn’t really a force for good, maybe it won’t be alright after all? Thanks god it’s Monday and JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH is back to offer a safe haven in the ominous shitstorm brewing up outside, where nothing’s coming home except Brexit, as the government crumbles away into a puff of acrid dust, the inflatable Trumpkin and Mr Putin snicker and pass each other secret love notes at the back of the class, and Elon Musk reveals himself to be every bit as spiritually stunted as we all suspected, cos we’ve got Luke ‘Lightsabre’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Cosmic Vibrations” Thomas (drms) sending out a counterblast of pure musical good vibes to top up your feelgood factor and send you out ready for whatever new example of howling idiocy the week may have in store… I’ll be along doing something on bass as per, Captain Jack will be at the helm with his trusty Bee’s crew ready to slake your thirst with libations of top grade hooch, all kinds of good things will be happening, so hang up your hangups, get on the good foot and come and join us, let’s make it happen.

July 9th

Off they go hand in hand… exit from Brexit Island for Mr Davis AND Bojo in their Union Jack bikinis, (but who’s getting mugged off here?), entry for the invincible head of Mr Maguire on his enchanted inflatable unicorn of magical footballing wish fulfilment, while the giant inflatable Trumpkin prepares to treat us all to a round of maximum high-security golf .. if you can’t possibly imagine what might be about to happen next, don’t get stressy, let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH be your anchor, cos we’re back once again like the D4 damagers spreading peace, love and power to the people through the medium of hot swinging blues-to-bop-to-whatever thanks to the tireless efforts of Luke “Renegade Master’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Ill Behaviour” Thomas (drms) as they lay out a magic carpet ride powered by good musical vibrations to lift you high over the sun-scorched rooftops, baby seagulls, daredevil scaffolders, boy racers, paddle boarder show offs, those wierd leathery old men like desiccated mummies in tiny tiny cut-off shorts who only appear on the beach when there’s more than three days of consecutive sunshine, sweating unhappy goths waiting for the darkness to return, a thousand jubilant geezers sporting their deepening salmon tans, and the acrid smoke and stench of scorched flesh from the beach barbecues, as the radiant sun beats down from the peerless azure until Venus hangs low over the horizon and the languid zephyrs kick up the dust…I’ll be doing something or other on bass, the supernatural ascended beings of the Bee’s team will be laying out the quality hooch, your favourite creatures of the night will all be there, so quit lolling about in from of your overheated screen, lurking behind your digital blackface as you seek further shitposting opportunities, quit casting about for a Bojo joke that hasn’t already been made, quit your fruitless brexitty speculation and bask in the knowledge that no-one knows anything anymore, get back on the good foot and come and join us, be a shining star and keep your head to the sky….

July 2nd

England in, Germany out? Willy Hague frees the weed, sun shining on bank holidays, double Dyer whammy enriches our cultural and political lives as Dani weeps and Danny deploys his finest geezer vocab to elucidate the finer points of Brexit in ways that poor Maybot can only dream of as she slowly withers away like a witch with a chimney on her.. if you feel you’re living in a dream world where anything is possible, JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH returns to reassure you that it’s all part of the plan, so come and bask in the permanent zone of high pressure created by those masters of the musical isobars Luke ‘Heatwave’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Scorchio’ Thomas (drms) as they scoop up all the millions of notes left lying around in heaps after the weekend’s Love Supreme jazzfest and refashion them into delicious slices of cool swinging bop-to-blues-to-whatever to slake your parched cerebellum, plus maybe some souped-up bossa (dependent on final score) … I’ll be there playing something on bass and yelling like a nutcase, between the sun-baked stucco cliffs the streets will resound with the rubbery whisper of the flip-flops of a thousand excited/despondent latinos, the golden denizens of the endless ultraworld known in this dimension as the Bee’s Team will be waiting in the scented shadows behind the well-stocked bar to slake your thirst with some quality liquor - don’t bother trying to get wavy like a rebel for the last time before they make it legal, don’t be a sulky Messi, be an exultant Drogba, grab yer axe and come and join us, let’s celebrate.

Tenor Madness

This month brings us not only a welcome blast of authentically summery sunshine - just in time for Love Supreme at Glynde, folks! - but also a double hit of delicious vinyl issues by a pair of statement tenor players. While many in the jazz world work hard to promote egalitarianism in all things, there remains a heirarchy of instruments, to the extent that trumpeters tend to predominate over, say, players of the harp, oboe, tuba, or even the bass (shame!) in most people’s lists of jazz luminaries, and the tenor sax has traditionally been up the top of the list as the vehicle for many of the music’s most important statements. No-one stands taller in this tradition than John Coltrane, and the unearthing of a ‘lost’ album by his classic quartet is a thrilling event; and no-one is currently crossing boundaries and making waves like Kamasi Washington, whose latest, typically grandiosely titled ‘Heaven And Earth” hits the shops in follow up to the equally epically named ‘The Epic’ triple set.

Washington’s work comes supported by some major investment, packaged in lush triple vinyl and bedecked as before with the full orchestral array of strings, woodwinds, brass and choirs. Such is the scale of the production that Washington’s own sax playing is perhaps the least discussed aspect of his output, which is a shame as his is an intriguing contribution to the tenor legacy. His powerful, hard and clear- edged tone and killingly precisetiming indicate the influence ofhis employment with hip-hop artists like Nas, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamarr, but his harmonic language is both broad and deep, and the assimilation of hard R & B, contemporary jazz language with the sweep of 1960s style ‘cosmic jazz’ is both artistically convincing and accessible. This record features a version of ‘Hub-Tones’ which is a nod towards the post-bop tradition not seen since his early self-released records. While the production’s lush expansiveness make this perhaps an easier listen than the more radical jazz devotees might appreciate, anyone seeking to dismiss the Kamasi phenomenon as well- marketed kitsch should check his appearance on Jools Holland’s Later. The sheer intensity of the compressed performance of ‘Fists Of Fury’ blazed forth from among the usual motley selection of rock and pop acts - over a thunderous, even chaotic assault from the twin drummers, Kamasi and keyboardist Cameron Graves played furious impassioned
solos as vocalist Patrice Quinn chanted ‘Our time as victims is over; we will no longer ask for justice, instead we will take our retribution’. The combination of wild solos, overpowering rhythm and stark, uncompromising political messaging is one that hasn’t been heard at the forefront of jazz-and-related-musics for a long time.

The Coltrane release is an unexpected discovery, and poses its own further questions - how could a major label (Impulse, funded by the mighty ABC) lose an entire recording by its priority artist? Apparently Coltrane was engaging in some musical subversion of his own; according to producer Bob Thiele, he was under contract to produce two records a year, and simply wasn’t enough to contain all the music that was bursting out of him.

Like Prince many years later, he was under pressure to record less rather than more, and Thiele would book him studio time without alerting the label execs. Coltrane also used his access to recording budgets to reward his musical collaborators - records show that when bassist Art Davis’ outspoken demands led to him being ‘whitelisted’ by Thiele, Coltrane listed him as a leader/ arranger on his invoice so that the bassist would get paid double scale - and he was scrupulous in ensuring overtime payments for his band to support themwhen they were off the road. This recording survived the loss of the masters in the clearance of ABC’s archive thanks to the practiceof running off a 1/4 inch tapecopy for the artist’s own personal use - fortunately preserved by the family of Coltrane’s wife Naima. At the time, Coltrane was working two veins at once - commercial sessions at the behest of Thiele yielded collabs with Duke Ellington (‘In A Sentimental Mood’ from that album is Trane’s most streamed Spotify track by a massive margin) and Johnny Hartman (recorded the day after this session), while on the bandstand and under his own direction in the studio he was pushing against the boundaries of the music. This release is titled ‘Both Directions At Once’ and the track listing reflects this sense of a musical crossroads. There’s a couple of untitled blues, (one with a rare extended arco solo from Jimmy Garrison, bass fans), a version of the pop-jazz standard ‘Nature Boy’ and an unexpected exploration of ‘Vilia’ from the light-operetta ‘The Merry Widow’. The New York Times describes the album as “something close to the breadth of what Coltrane and his associates were delivering onstage” and pianist and scholar Lewis Porter comments “You get a lot of that musical meat, but
in a context that will be more accessible to a lot of listeners.”

Perhaps the gem of the collection is the inclusion of four versions of ‘Impressions’ one of Coltrane’s most widely played tunes. At the time it had been a centrepiece of the band’s live show for two years, but is still untitled on the tape box - later in the year a live version was released under its familiar title in the album of the same name but no other studio versions are known to exist. The composition has a complex genesis; Coltrane’s superimposition of the melody
of Morton Gould’s ‘Pavanne’, as interpreted by Ahmad Jamal, (and also claimed by others as diverse as Dr Lonnie Smith and the Rocky Boyd/Kenny Dorham band) over the chord sequence of Miles Davis’ ‘So What’. The latter could be seen as a typically mordant comment by Davis on the constrictions of the AABA 32-bar standard song format, reducing the harmonic movement to a single shift that is simultaneously the closest to and the most dissonant from the tonic, and it seems to form an important step in Coltrane’s journey away from explorations of harmony and into wider and wilder spaces.

Coltrane’s live gigs are now a distant memory, fortunately preserved on a handful of recordings; Kamasi Washington continues to tour his own show around the global festival circuit.However, anyone wanting a fix of tenor action this weekend need look no further than Glynde Place outside Lewes where the man who played with Trane and whose influences are clear to hearing Washington’s work will be performing on Saturday night - Pharoah Sanders is headlining the Big Top at Love Supreme this year. If you’re there, come over to the Bandstand Stage and the Friday Arena to check out a feast of the best artists from around our area, and say hi to the New Generation Jazz team - we’ll be delighted to see you!

 

Bees Mouth - June

June 18th

How will you feel by 9.30 tonight? Like a fearless lion taking back control, setting the agenda, cutting your own deals on the world stage, basking in the fierce heat of the big golden dividend? Or like a miserable cringing loser, cowering and snarling like a whipped cur at the big dogs strutting past and ignoring you as you tremble and piss yourself under the table? Or are you just going to make out like you’re so evolved that you just don’t care? JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH will be there to help you celebrate in ways the clean cut yet manly Mr Kane* can only dream about, or wipe away your bitter tears of defeat, or just generally help you deal with the feels, cos we’ll have the true dream team of Luke ‘The Golden Striker’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Crusher’ Thomas (drms) ready to lay out another hot & spicy gumbo of simmering blues-to-bop-to-whatever to satisfy whatever craving you may be afflicted with, I’ll be doing some kinda something on bass, plus the interdimensional A-listers of the Bee’s team will be ready to lay out the quality liquor at your command, and the usual cast of waifs and strays, hucksters and hipsters, high rollers and low riders, and the nameless denizens of the liminal spaces just glimpsed out of the corner of your eye at the end of the echoing street will be dropping by to check out the vibe… now that gamers can prove that they’re addicts like everyone else and not just regular dweebs or schlemiels maybe we’ll even see some of their pasty little faces as well… come one, come all, grab yer axe and come and sit in with us, the time is now. 

*“He does not go to nightclubs, preferring to use his free time to play golf.” Parker, Sam (3 June 2015).Esquire. Retrieved 27 August 2015.

June 11th

As London still reels from the weekend’s triple whammy of Nazis, nudists and suffragettes, like a Lars Von Trier movie in reals, and Brighton resounds to the whisper of chafing flesh and clicking gears as the Naked Bike ride and its display of liberated, predominantly male sex organs on wheels retreats into the bruised collective unconscious for another year, how are YOU on this sunny day? Let JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH take over for the evening, be you chipper, or fearful and tearful, like bad things coming, cos we’ll be here once again in our vibey little heterotopia thanks to those master enchanters Luke ‘Sun’s Out’ Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz ‘Guns Out’ Thomas (drms) as they weave another web of good grooves, hot licks and pure bop-to-blues-to-whatever to wrap yourself in and reconnect with the huge ever growing pulsating brain that rules from the centre of the ultraworld…. I’ll be up to something on bass as per, the nodes of pure cosmic energy that manifest themselves on this plane as the Bee’s Team will be waiting to make with the quality liquors at your weary, hopeful request, the nameless creatures of the night will awaken to pace soundlessly past on the warm, stained asphalt outside, high in the darkening cerulean the swifts will fly in tireless pursuit…. maybe the upcoming footerfest will inevitably descend into yet another example of the UK making a disorderly retreat from an international organisation, maybe Kimmy and Donny just won’t be able to play nicely together, maybe you’ll never be beach body ready, don’t worry, don’t get mad, come and join us, it’s gonna be a stone groove…

June 5th

The festival is finally over, taking it’s ladyboys, ukeleles, and calculatedly artless Shrigleyesque whimsy away with it for ever and ever, and now you’re here in the sorta-sunsine, still nervous about getting trampled underfoot by the whisper-quiet rampaging of the sinister cult-like Silent Disco crew, but alive, that’s the main thing… fill the suddenly yawning cultural chasm in the centre of your life with a visit to JAZZ NIGHT AT THE BEE’S MOUTH, where instead of watching Love Island for the next eight weeks glued to the soiled coverlet of your tawdry sofa you can boost your own internal ratings and recouple with the wellspring of hot swinging bop-to-blues-to-groove-to-whatever that finds it’s physical expression in the sculpted forms of Luke “By Royal Appointment” Rattenbury (gtr) and Loz “Fire In The Hole” Thomas (drms) as they smash out another evening’s worth of enriching musical good times …. I’ll be doing something or other on bass, the Bee’s team will be attentive, yet respectful, like the multidimensional ascended beings they are, so come and join us all, parents celebrating the end of half term, pedagogues worn and jaded from composing another mountain of admonitory feedback in the relevant boxes in the submission software, nutcases, swagmen, barkers, mountebanks, smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers, come and join the carnival, it’s not over, it’s not nearly over, it’s the beginning of the rest of what’s to come.

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.