Corey Mwamba


Three Mondays in.../A curator's egg

...And a very interesting three Mondays it has been. Immediately after I finished at the library I went to run a percussion workshop with some kids; I did that again the next Monday, FINISHED THE STRING QUARTET SCORES and then began thinking about rehearsals for them and the Quartet AND the Symbiosis Ensemble. After April 17th I think I might just do small groups from now on until I die.

The three weeks have also been spent thinking of the future; long periods of scribbling "What next?" in various notepads. I feel out of a loop at the moment; and I'm not sure which loop that is. At the moment I'm wanting a change from how my music life used to be. However, doubt has set in [again] and I'm not sure how do this. Very depressing.

I did have some good news, though. I was crawling the Internet this morning trying to find some more stuff on the Jazz Britannia series run by the BBC [see next item for my initial impressions] and found that I'd been reviewed. Favourably. It wasn't very long; but it was cool to get a mention, and it also shows what a really nice man that Orphy Robinson is.

The one thing it doesn't mention is just how good Orphy is on steel pan... I remember the first time I heard him on it when I went around to his house, and I thought "I'm sure he told me he was getting one only a couple of months ago... he's really got that down." If you get a chance to catch him on it, you'll see what I mean. He is still The Man on vibes, it is almost needless to say.

A curator's egg

I'm going to ramble more than usual today; it's a jazz rant, so if you don't care much just move on to the next section. I'm going to start with an analogy, then move on to my point.

Ready? Then I'll begin.

Museum collections are curated; the curator [in simple terms] has the responsibility of managing a particular collection and its exhibition. Most museums have more than one curator, with each one having a specialism in his or her field, or a particular leaning to an area of art, history, and so on.

Again on a simple level, the quality of the collection will be dependent on factors such as the space you have to exhibit a collection and the number of items you have at your disposal to do so, as well as the money you have to spend. When applied to a specific period of history or an artist, the curator will have to choose which items give a balanced overview of that time or artist [this assumes that the collection is one devised by the curator and not a touring exhibition].

As what is displayed is dependent on space, money and available items, the curator has to make a choice—and we'd assume it'd be an informed choice!—as to what goes into the collection and what does not. If the selection process is a good one, then any omissions are balanced out by what's there—a viewer of the collection is also significantly informed to want to find out more, and can be signposted to the resources to be able to do so.

I was at the Barbican last Saturday for the Jazz Britannia series of concerts; I was playing with Orphy Robinson and Evan Parker, and also got to check out the rest of the bands on. I saw Steve Williamson—great Jazz Warriors saxophonist and composer—but he wasn't playing, but watching.

But he wasn't the only one not playing—there were quite few people missing from the concert line-up over the weekend. Django Bates was there [and wow! his set was amazing. The man is a genius] but he was the only representative of the Loose Tubes group—no Iain Ballamy, neither of the Argüelles brothers, and various others. Where was Tommy Smith, Joe Temperley or in fact the whole of Scotland? The trad scene was not covered in a live sense either—no Humphrey Lyttleton, Kevin Smith [who was one of the first trumpeters I ever saw: he was with Elaine Delmar] and others.

Of course, this shouldn't be a "names game" and I may not be looking at this in the right way: Jazz Britannia was a multi-media event, combining radio, television and live performance to create a picture of jazz in this country. The BBC should congratulated for doing it and showing a lot of footage [although on digital TV—which doesn't necessarily spread the net too wide in terms of coverage].

My issue is that as jazz is primarily a live medium, the selection of what goes into a live exhibition of jazz in Britain has to give a balanced overview of the art form. As the exhibition uses different media, then the media could be used to signpost viewers/listeners/participants to any omissions in the exhibition. This is the judgment of the organisers of the collection, and ultimately the curators.

The point of curating is not to be exhaustive in choosing elements of an exhibition: that's what archives are for. But a well-curated exhibition gives the person experiencing it the sense that the curator has selected the most important parts to display. I'd say it's pretty shocking that someone John Fordham dubbed as a successor to Joe Harriot [Williamson], and members of one of the only bands in the Eighties in the world that impressed legendary producer Teo Macero enough to produce one of their albums weren't represented in a stronger form on the live stages.

I can only hope that the legacy [if one is planned] of this landmark event examines other parts of the [still extant] life of British jazz, gives more insight into the diversity of our music. Django Bates to run a main stage concert next time? Steve Williamson or Iain Ballamy to play? Does anyone think that'll happen next time? And why didn't it happen this time?

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