As part of Radio 3′s Top of the Baroque campaign for Comic Relief, Jazz on 3 host Jez Nelson is championing Bach’s Goldberg Variations as the best Baroque piece and he asked us to arrange our own variation to help him prove it – a request we were more than happy to oblige! The battle will be fought live on air on Radio 3 throughout the day this Friday (15th March) and you can support Jez in his campaign and (more importantly) support Comic Relief here.
You can hear our variation below, and download it if you like it! Any donations made will of course be donated to Comic Relief – but any donations made via our Bandcamp site are subject to charges from Bandcamp and Paypal so we recommend you download the track for free by entering £0 in the box and then donating directly here so that Comic Relief can get 100% of your donation. Thanks and enjoy!
Photos by Anthony Brown.
Just a reminder that we’ll be featured on BBC Jazz on 3 TOMORROW (Monday 27th) from 11pm – there’ll be tracks recorded live at our RNCM gig a couple of weeks ago as well as a quick delve into my iPod shuffle with Jez Nelson… Anything could come up, you’ll have to tune in to find out what did! If you miss the live broadcast it’ll be available on the iPlayer for 7 days.
There will also be a couple of tracks from Big Ideas played on Helen Mayhew‘s Jazz FM show later this afternoon from 1pm along with a short chat with me about the band and the new album – again this will be available on demand via the link above should you miss the live broadcast.
Finally we were all really pleased to read some really amazing reviews of the Big Ideas launch show at Ronnie Scott’s earlier in the week – thanks once again to everyone for selling out the place and making it such a special night! Check out the Serious blog for a full roundup of everything. Below is a picture of Nick who was already pretty excited about the evening’s gig even before our soundcheck! (picture taken by Owen Bryce)
Last weeks’ Jazz on 3 programme featured a great set from the French state-supported Orchestre National de Jazz, playing music written by John Hollenbeck recorded live at the London Jazz Festival in November. You should really check it out on iPlayer while you still can (available until tomorrow night only!), not only for the amazing ONJ set but for a really interesting discussion between host Jez Nelson, Nick Smart (Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy in London) and John Cumming (director of Serious) on the subject of whether this model of a national big band funded by the taxpayer could/should be thought about in this country. During the debate (its about halfway through the programme), John picked us out as an example of a big band thats operating successfully at the moment and producing exciting music (very kind!) and as I’d been thinking about the issue for a while anyway I thought I’d get some of my thoughts down…
I think that the national jazz orchestra debate essentially boils down to a debate about finance, and whether a newly established national orchestra would be better placed to receive funding and therefore better able to support and promote both the outstanding existing repertoire of British large ensemble composers and help them to expand this catalogue with brand new commissions. It’s been well documented that jazz as a wider artform is underfunded when compared to classical music or opera for example (there’s plenty of posts on this on trumpeter Jack Davies’ blog), but I think that establishing a single focus point for large ensemble jazz funding in this country could be extremely dangerous… Although I’m not for a second suggesting that funding would be consciously diverted towards a national orchestra and away from smaller independent groups, it would be very easy for funding organisations to lend their support to this flagship ensemble and consequently increasingly difficult for them to help others.
During the Jazz on 3 debate, Nick Smart pointed to Kenny Wheeler’s band, and the fact that despite his legendary status across the jazz world he can only afford to get his big band together ‘when he is fortunate to live for another 5 years’ on a birthday tour. I saw Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra at Ronnie’s in August, which was their first UK date for years. There’s been some great big band writing by British composers in the past couple of years – sets by Julian Arguelles (Momenta), Mark Lockheart (Days Like These) and Gwilym Simcock (Hamburg Suite) spring to mind – but they’ve all been commissioned and/or recorded in Germany, with publicly supported radio big bands. Instead of fighting for a well supported brand new ‘national’ ensemble, why not focus on creating a system where Wheeler, Towns, Arguelles, Lockheart and Simcock to name but five can afford to either gig their own existing bands more often or establish their own bands for their brand new works? (Obviously such a system would hopefully also work out well for us, but even if I didn’t run a big band myself I think I’d still feel the same).
The big bands in Germany such as the hr-bigband in Frankfurt or the WDR Big Band in Cologne are professional, full time ensembles supported by public broadcasters, the equivalents of the BBC (which incidentally no longer supports the band that still bears its name). As well as being paid for by their parent organisations, the German bands enjoy generous radio airplay and coverage and as such their projects are well promoted and therefore well attended; funding for rehearsal time and space and bums on seats for the gigs in turn means that they can spend lots of time rehearsing to do full justice to the music they perform. Would supporting regional ensembles in a similar fashion in England not be a much better way to support large ensemble music, rather than concentrating on a single national orchestra? (I’m restricting this to England rather than the UK as Scotland already has its own Scottish National Jazz Orchestra). Obviously Germany is a larger country than England so there is maybe a better argument for it to happen there, but regional orchestras and organisations to support large ensembles still exist and are producing amazing work, both in this country and elsewhere in Europe. The amazing Danish ensemble Blood Sweat Drum & Bass Big Band that I’ve written about on this site before is supported by the City of Aarhus, and in Finland the UMO Jazz Orchestra is supported by the City of Helsinki. Here, the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra for example is doing an amazing job of promoting the work of both young and established British composers; its website lists recent gigs under the direction of Henry Lowther, Jason Yarde and James Hamilton. Hamilton’s own orchestra is ably supported by Jazz Yorkshire, as is (I think) Tommy Evans‘ new project, whose formation was commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival in 2010. Manchester’s very own festival has been at the forefront of commissioning brand new work for years, often on a large scale (Mike Walker’s Ropes project for example involved over 25 musicians), and was rewarded for this by being granted the power to administer its own funding through the amazing mjf originals scheme.
I accept the argument put forward by Nick Smart on the Jazz on 3 programme (where he also specifically mentioned the London Jazz Orchestra) that often these projects are a labour of love for both their leaders and musicians, and so often the musicians will be underpaid and the music under-rehearsed, which is by no means ideal for either musicians or music of this calibre. This is not just the case in this country though – Darcy James Argue has recently been blogging about the financial and organisational problems his own (internationally feted) Secret Society have to deal with to even just gig outside of New York City (read his whole blog post here, its a great read and highlights the difficulties the leaders of large ensembles face). But the very fact that these bands are still going strong is a testament to the continuing dedication and commitment of their leaders and members.
So to sum up; shouldn’t we be concentrating on building on the amazing work thats already going on by the groups I’ve mentioned above so that it becomes impossible for funding organisations to ignore (obviously even though their hands are often tied in the current economic climate) rather than responding to the difficulties these ensembles face by creating a brand new ensemble that will by default have an increased media profile, reputation and therefore audience base, making it more attractive to funders? Would that not be an unfair advantage compared to the rest of us? Obviously, all of the UK groups that I’ve talked about are at least in part funded by money thats ultimately trickled down from Arts Council England and/or the PRS for Music Foundation, which although they’re often the easy target are still doing amazing work supporting the arts in a difficult financial environment (of course along with other similar organisations), but in order to secure greater sustainable funding for our art we as jazz musicians need to find a way to build a case to put forward both to these organisations and to the powers that be in the Government who dole out their funds – a case that I do not believe would be strengthened by a National Jazz Orchestra.
NB: if you feel inspired to support large ensemble jazz by this post – maybe supporting our large ensemble jazz in particular…? – please consider buying our EP via the links to the right of this page, or if you’d like to make a donation instead there’s a yellow ‘donate’ button there too. Thanks!
When I was buying the October issue of Jazzwise (with Charles Lloyd on the front) the other day, I realised I hadn’t actually properly read the previous issue yet (with Soweto Kinch). Finally reading through it today I was excited to see that our EP was again listed in the charts at the front of the magazine, this time listed by the team from BBC Jazz on 3 – cheers guys! Also reminded me I need to check out last week’s show on iPlayer with a live set from the Vandermark 5, highly recommended by Efpi’s Scandinavian correspondent Sam Andreae…
I was lucky enough last night to attend the live broadcast of BBC Jazz on 3 from Band on the Wall in Manchester, featuring live sets from Arun Ghosh, Stuart McCallum and Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum (pictured below). Jez also played a few tracks from artists performing at this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival including a track of ours which was really exciting! Listen again for the next 7 days here – the Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum set in particular is awesome… I’m just heading into the RNCM now as I’m working for their gig there tonight, can’t wait!