Nov 2009 – Jazz is alive and well and living in Europe

We hear so much about the demise of jazz; we know of the difficulties we all face – more young musicians being trained at college and universities, with fewer clubs in which to play; appallingly paid gigs that often barely pay for transportation costs. The unequal government subsidies favouring other arts like opera, licensing restrictions brought in a government policy if any venue or restaurant hires more than two musicians. This is particularly unfair when DJ's (who are not musicians) are hired for whom licences are not required playing recorded music, replacing struggling musicians who are.

But despite this there are a younger generation of musicians whom I have recently heard, do not seem deterred by such difficulties, and I am more impressed than I have been for many years. There has of course always been a group of jazz musicians, that I knew when they were first coming on to the scene; they now provide a great backbone, not only to British jazz but in supporting the new young generation of players. Ian Shaw, Lianne Carroll and Claire Martin come to mind as well as Gary Crosby and the bands that he has founded and nourished.

In July 2009 it was heartening to hear some of these new talented musicians at the Yamaha/All Parliamentary Jazz scholarship awards . When this chosen group began playing, the very first tune was Lennie Tristano's "317 E 32nd St". It showed that these young musicians recognised a great jazz musician from the nineteen fifties, one whose music has been somewhat overlooked in recent years. This composition was named after Lennie's famous studio in downtown Manhattan. It was an ambitious piece to commence with, and was a masterful performance.

In November we were kindly invited to the 50th year celebration of jazz at the Bull's Head in Barnes and heard two especially remarkable performances. Following the first set of the evening with such stalwarts as John Critchenson, Martin Drew, Vic Ash and Andy Cleyndert, we were treated to a total musical contrast with the duo of vocalist Elisha Caleb and, her guitarist husband Joe. It was refreshing to hear the combination of standards and originals. But for me the evening was topped by what I can only describe as the sort of energy I knew in those clubs on New York's 52nd in the late nineteen forties and early fifties. Led by multi saxist Yolande Brown. She gave an incredible performance as did the entire group. And what is more the band was totally supportive, listening and playing together as one.

There is new blood coming to British jazz. Steve Rubie of the 606 club in Chelsea voiced a similar opinion, commenting on how the younger generation of musicians are so supportive of each other. You could see and hear that in the performance by Yolande and her group.

It is a new kind of openness that I sense in this young generation . Sometimes they write to me, just wanting to talk about jazz. No side, no angst, no concern about looking "the man". It is great to sense that connection and I must particularly thank guitarist Dave Preston and Moses Boyd for going out on limb to try and meet up with me. I had the chance recently to play with Dave when Ian Shaw invited me up to the stand at the 606. It didn’t escape me that as I walked onto the stand Dave quietly played the first few bars of Lennie Tristano's "Line Up" a recording on which I was the Bass Player. A mark of respect I felt.

And it is not only in the UK that I see the energy of a new young generation. In July I was in France – in Auvers sur Oise and went to a concert in a local restaurant -"Sous le Porche" and there were two Polish musicians playing with French friends, again I felt that intensity that I knew back in those days of the fifties in New York. It seems clear that there is also a pool of jazz talent emerging from Eastern Europe and also the Middle East.

Is it just me or do others see it too? Let's hope that UK radio, TV and the print media pick up on this. I am also personally addressing this to Waterstones at Richmond, for bookstores often fail to stock a range of available books concerning jazz – to me this is inexcusable!


Peter’s Blog – Memories of 2008 – My 80th year celebrations

We have recently been looking at the footage of all our jazz celebrations last year. It was not until we were compiling the book about the club I owned and ran in the 80s and 90s – the Bass Clef in Hoxton Square – that I realised we had hardly any photos of that time. (Since then fortunately some of the jazz photographers like Tim Motion and Brian O’Connor have generously provided some images of the club.) Anyway it meant that for my 80h birthday celebrations last year Sue spent most of her time behind a camcorder taking footage of the events. And really it is wonderful to have all those memories.

There is obviously the excitement of the big events. Publishing the book on the Environment in January was a major milestone in my life for me. The launch of five new CDs at the 606 club in Chelsea in March gave the Wave label some new vigour. Producing the booklet for the exhibition of paintings at the Karen Taylor gallery in London in June has given me a calling card unlike any other! The generosity of Ronnie’s club letting me have the birthday party at Ronnie Scott’s Upstairs Bar in July was given an even greater celebratory feel with the Gay Pride march all around us. Then in July for my birth date over to play a thank you concert with young jazz musicians in Auvers sur Oise, France, where we live now for part of the year. Even the refusal of the Immigration officers to let Lee Konitz in to the UK to play our concert at the 606 club in September had one redeeming feature – I met again old jazz colleagues - Dave Cliff, Iain Ballamy - as well as the younger musicians – Kit Downes and Gwilym Simcock. It made the later concert in November with Lee even more treasured. Personally I will always remember being a part of the International Bass Players biennale convention in Paris, hearing François Rabbath – a truly unique bass player - and being invited to play again with Rufus Reid in the concert in one of the incredible architectural gems of Paris at the Théàtre du Châtelet as a very special event. A final concert at Sunside in Paris all organised by the group of young French musicians that I have found so enthusiastic and supportive – Michel Goldberg, David Georgelet, Alain Jean Marie and Laura Littardi - was the final highlight of 2008!

But it is also the unexpected aspects of these celebrations that we can still see and hear. We were able to fund 5 special CDs and one of those was – to me – an incredible piano duo of Matt Ross and Eddie Thompson – two great British jazz musicians. It has meant that even though Matt sadly left us in the summer of 2009 there is a record of his playing forever. Simon Purcell invited me to do a Master Class at Trinity College in June 2008 and it is clear that there is a lot of talent coming through, which needs great support from older jazz musicians. For my part it has meant being asked to be a patron – along with Michael Connarty MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Support Group - of the Yamaha Jazz Education programme and going to see the next generation of jazz musicians being recognised.

All those personal memories I will never forget because I can see them on video clips. It made me think that we need in the UK to record, recognise and celebrate much more all the jazz events!