Corey Mwamba


140 characters is not enough

Hello! Have I mentioned that I'm on Twitter?

I decided to drag myself into the 21st Century. I hardly ever say anything on there that I won't say here, so you won't miss much: but there is something I said there first that I'd like to say here and invite comment.

A while back, Dune Music put out this message:

If you believe UK jazz businesses are more interested in protecting their own agendas than working together LET'S CHANGE THINGS NOW!

and I thought: interesting. After all, Dune Music is in fact a UK jazz business; do they feel they are being perceived as protectionist?

As a matter of course, I believe any business will invest more in its own agenda then co-operate—it's the nature of the beast. But music is built on people working together in all sorts of ways. So working with others is key to the survival of a business in music. It is an item on the agenda.

In any case, I also think it's a good thing that a jazz business is pointing this out and asking for views in such a public way; so I asked them what they suggested in terms of change. The response:

by changing attitudes for marketing and promotion for artist and audience development for starters

Which opened up all sorts of questions in my head—but I restricted myself to the obvious one: what issues did Dune see in artist marketing/promotion? After all, if you're going to start there [and it's a good place to start] then there has to be issues with it. The composer Henry Threadgill once said in a fascinating interview in the Wire that the word jazz had lost its meaning and relevance since it has become ill-defined:

[...]I mean I just ordered a macchiato and she knew exactly what to bring me, you know. There's a basketball team named Jazz, perfume named jazz, festival named jazz—there's not one person on there that's improvising[...] and then people make films, documentaries, Ken Burns for one. He and the people that were his consultants, they give a picture of what they say jazz is and then exclude generations of people, whole schools and generations of people are excluded from it, and it's played nationally and internationally, and it's giving a idea of what jazz is. So that's why I say that word has really lost its meaning[...]

And it is this exclusion and how that relates to marketing, promotion and perception of race that I think about. I'm not going to talk about other countries; just the U.K. as I see it. I also know that this isn't primarily about race, and that what I'm about to say could be generally applied: but I want to focus on it in this case.

I feel that there is a perception that totally improvised music isn't something that black people should be doing [I am of course discounting the fact that some people think totally improvised music isn't actually music at all—that isn't the discussion here]. I also have the feeling that there are parameters—set by various people, not just a singular body—by which modern creative music is judged when the creators step outside so-called norms; and thus when people talk about black music to me, I know for a fact that they are not including my voice in there, even though I am quite evidently black. It helps promoters and marketeers to be able to distil the thing that they are trying to sell; but it actually does the music and the creators of that music a disservice that has repercussions through the scene itself. For me this is highlighted most strongly in magazines and newspapers that purport to promote black music: jazz [as ill-defined as it is] is given an occasional glance; and then only to people who wear suits to play pieces from the archive. Is that about music; or style? And is that the totality of our scene?

Perhaps the issue with marketing and promotion for the music is how to sell something so multifarious and variegated as jazz has become. So how can a business aid with this?

Here's my answer: by using this diversity as the primary USP. There are few labels, and definitely very few magazines/newspapers that cover the totality of the scene that they say they represent. And bearing in mind the view that jazz is a niche music, this is then complicated by the way that totally improvised/experimental/new/modern creative music is ghettoised further. And talking specifically about black music media, there are even tighter definitions based less on music and more on presentation.

I'd now like to bring up those great guys at jazz re:freshed, who were having a similar discussion. It was this message that caught me: they had received a question from the person they were talking to, and they saw it as a defining question.

the question is what's their definition of modern jazz and who do they see as its audience? > NOW THAT IS THE ?

The they in this case was the jazz establishment. But my assertion is this [and in fact, this is what I said on Twitter, but formatted in the way I actually meant it to be read]:

Well to be honest, I'm not certain whether there's a homogeneous establishment; but there ARE lots of gatekeepers... and it connects with something that @DuneMusic wanted to talk about too.

I've always thought about the lack of support of totally improvised music in black music media and labels (@DuneMusic: I say this in view of the excellent night my trio had with @jazzrefreshed. People were exposed to the music and saw it as such) but what I am talking about is not the totality of the music: just a part... And my issue is that in this country we are not reflecting the totality of our existence and influence in music.

I brought up jazz re:freshed as an example of a promoter that sets up a good night that is about good music; and it gives me some hope that in fact a more accurate reflection of our existence and influence in music can happen, if we are all open.

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