Thursday, 12 April 2007

"The people are not hearing the music..."

This might be a suitable addendum to the thoughts on 'the state of jazz today' from my last post. It's an excerpt from an interview bassist Reggie Workman give with Jez Nelson on Radio 3's 'Jazz on 3' programme, where he's talking about a trio concert he gave at St Peter's church in New York in December 2006 (a church where many jazz memorial services are held, the most famous recent one being that for Dewey Redman). In a world where the airwaves are dominated by bland, vacuous pop and most people's idea of 'jazz' is the smooth/easy listening pap of Kenny G or the light lounge style of Jamie Cullum and all the various other 'jazz' singers, it's important to remember that there is still innovative and exploratory creation going on, but it's also sobering to think of the economic challlenges and the lack of acceptance for this vital and inspiring music. Sadly, it looks like the commercial forces that run our world are never going to want to champion anything as difficult and challenging as this kind of art - too far out of the comfort zone. Hell, it might make people start to question accepted notions, to start considering different options to the usual alternatives of homogenised thought and expression or the world-weary cynicism of the defeated. Instead, it's left to the artists, and a small band of enthusiasts, to keep this music out in the world, not just relegated to some dingy private corner, to keep it alive and vibrant. Reggie Workman's trio concert is one example, and, thanks to its broadcast on Radio 3, it's had the opportunity of a worlwide audience as well (though how many people will have heard it, on a specialist music show tucked away late on a Friday evening on an 'elitist' station, is debatable).

Another example is the 'Freedom of the City' festival, curated by British masters Evan Parker, Eddie Prevost and Martin Davidson. Billed as"a festival of radical and improvised music", it takes place at the Red Rose pub in Finsbury Park, North London (located at 129 Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park station), on the afternoons and evenings of Sunday 6th and Monday 7th May. An annual event, it includes a wide range of well-known and lesser known ensembles, all characterised by their devotion to adventurous and boundary-pushing free improvisation, and it's a great opportunity to hear some too little heard musicians, for just £10 a concert or £15 a day. On the bill this year are Eddie Prevost, in a trio with bassist Joe Williamson and firebreathing sax player Alan Wikinson, a Vietnamese improv group called Unit, the Glasgow and London Improvisers' orchestras, clarinest Alex Ward (a Derek Bailey protege), a group called Ququa, Paul Rutherford and Veryan Weston, and, to end, Evan Parker. Should be well worth the trip: more details are at

Anyway, back to the original topic, here's what Reggie Workman had to say on Radio 3(thanks to Mr Improv, on the Radio 3 jazz messageboard, for the transcription - the related thread is here:

The people are not hearing our music, so we had to create our own outlet. In the fifties you had people doing things that grew out of a certain socio-political climate. Now you have people who are falling in line with the status quo, with the exception of a few. It's much easier for people to fall in line and do whatever they're told to do, whatever society has written down for "this is what I want you to do to work and be a cog in in the wheel", but if you step out of that line and think for yourself, you have a difficult time and the difficult time is producing a concert like the one we're doing now. Our concept was, we know what the history is, we been through it and we know what's needed and it's no different today to what it was yesterday - we're not working and the people are not hearing our music, so we must create our own venue.

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