Corey Mwamba

rambles → grow/retain: Jazz Services

grow/retain: Jazz Services

In my last post and its comments, I talked about what it meant to be one of Arts Council England's National Portfolio Organisations (NPO); how Jazz Services' organisational structure may have fallen short of the expectations or requirements for an NPO; and expressed the hope that those of us who care about it will come together to fix it.

There's been a lot of information to process. This has been made more difficult with the vast array of opinions and rumour mixed in. So Jazz Services has set up an open meeting at the Bankside Community Space in London on Wednesday afternoon, to talk about its future. It will be reporting discussions on Twitter using the #jazzfuture hashtag. There's also an on-line survey that we can all fill in. These are good things—but I cannot attend that meeting. So [and for the first time] I'm going to put down exactly what I think about what's happening, and what I'd like to see. This will spill into the comments.

Like many others, I have been lucky and honoured to have received Jazz Services touring support for the trio: and without it, the tour would have been much poorer—or shorter [probably both!]. Booking that tour was occasionally problematic [mainly because of promoter bad manners—and I say this as a promoter of gigs] but Jazz Services made those negotiations easier.

But the support of Jazz Services goes beyond money. It is real support for the music in all its many forms. There have been times when I've played somewhere and there has been from someone either on the Board or one of the officers. I've been able to pick up the phone or send an e-mail just to ask a question: the response has always been helpful, prompt, personal. This is beyond value.

Jazz Services cares about the music in a way that clearly needs more financial support: after all, looking after the length and breadth of England with the diverse range of artists and organisations they have to cover is a monumental task! But one of its greatest strengths is the love that they have for the art-form in this country. We're all very lucky to have them. And this work comes from Jazz Services' staff, who should be getting all the support we as a community can muster.

I do not think that anyone is debating the value of that work [except for a few—and at this point I will mention that we can all sense the sharks circling and it will be very interesting to see who is first to suggest that Jazz Services be put up for tender, and which consortia will be "magically" formed to jostle for that position], and if judged solely on that value, Jazz Services should be allowed to develop and thrive [it is already surviving—and whether it survives will not be decided until March. Anyone that tells you different is probably part of a plan for its swift demise].

How it develops and thrives is the actual issue. I have read a lot of comments about other organisations; the nature of Arts Council funding; dark deeds with money; and hidden histories of the Eighties. They are interesting and eventually everyone should make it their business to look into them; but right now, none of those stories is relevant to the growth of Jazz Services in my opinion, and if we carry on talking about them instead of Jazz Services, then Jazz Services will die in April.

The most important strands of work that Jazz Services does in terms of musicians are the national and rural touring support schemes, and the recording support scheme. These need to continue in their present forms for at least a year, or until such time that the organisation has written a decent development plan. For 2014-2015, £70,000 has been allocated for national touring, and this amount [plus administrative costs] could be applied for through Grants for The Arts and possibly Performing Rights Society Foundation (PRSF) commissioning.

Musicians can ease the load off Jazz Services in this period by applying for funding themselves. I realise that this may be an unpopular suggestion, and it isn't right for everyone, but [especially for the more established among us] we perhaps need to do this to ensure that Jazz Services can concentrate on building itself back up again.

Jazz Services needs a new board, and that board needs a wider national spread and range of experience than it has had previously. The board also needs to refresh every few years—no more tenured seats.

I don't understand why there are no connections with arts and education funders such as Youth Music, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and others. Perhaps there have been one-off projects, but from what I can see there's been no effort to create those relationships. I'm happy to be corrected on this. I'm also not sure why I can't find any relationships with Creative Scotland, the Irish Arts Council or the Arts Council of Wales [and again, if anyone knows why, or if I'm wrong, please let me know in the comments]. These connections would allow it greater reach in those areas, making it more of a national organisation.

In short I'm saying that Jazz Services needs to think of ways to mix up and increase its funding, because the jobs it has to do are large. I see Jazz Services doing a comparable job to Sound And Music, but with a unique pastoral edge. If it can grow and yet retain, jazz and improvised music in the U.K. will be all the stronger.

I'm hoping the meeting on Wednesday is productive, focused and above all, positive.