Epistrophe: JPN/Jazz Services
If you've read The Jazz Breakfast lately, then apologies as I'm going to repeat myself. Peter Bacon wrote a tidy summary of what was said at the Jazz Promotion Network [henceforth JPN] about Jazz Services, I took the unusual step of replying—at length—there rather than writing on here first [which I know is read by quite a few people, even if no one responds].
My feeling from the meeting is that Arts Council England [henceforth ACE] they are simply observing all of this.
We all have to get used to a few things:
ACE doesn't actually hate jazz. They might not understand the "jazz industry"—and to be fair, I don't understand how some parts of jazz in the UK has the temerity to call itself an industry—but they don't hate it. Making them understand it is our job;
Jazz Services didn't get on the national portfolio for the reasons Jazz Services has clearly stated, and we all need to help them to work on that—as long as the board will accept the help; and
this will all get harder if we don't ensure that everyone survives, and I am not certain that everybody wants Jazz Services to survive.
To be clear, I think JPN is a good idea. But there's far too much politicking and history behind the motivations of the set-up; even though it will have a rotating board, it is [as far as I can see] still one man's set-up; and currently it is too young and too small to deal with the hole Jazz Services is leaving. But it is not supportive of Jazz Services and I feel that this lack of empathy is long-standing and personal.
I don't think the entire working group feels like this; but we should remember that there were smaller meetings about the JPN going back over a year, and gained momentum when Jazz Services started having trouble. I would put that marker at around 2012, when Jazz Services sent in its Charity Commission report 112 days late. So I suspect this idea is long-standing and personal.
I think that the JPN was born out of a frustration for Jazz Services from some people, and I do think that eventually JPN will attempt to add themselves to the national portfolio. I suspect these frustrations are long-standing and personal, although I do not think that all of these frustrations are misplaced.
I think Peter has accurately captured the measure of the room at that time. JPN did not really want to talk about Jazz Services, even though there was a linguistic commitment to supporting the whole scene. Nod changed his language [but note, not necessarily his mind] about advocacy and strategy within five minutes of my asking my question. The language of the JPN mission statement is framed to replace some of the things Jazz Services did. The stool analogy did happen and it was ridiculous: JPN [as one leg of the stool] appeared to be saying that the other leg [Jazz Services] could fall off if it wanted—once again leaving one leg. John Norbury–Lyons from Jazz Services was actually at the conference and could have been asked to speak: but as far as I know, he was not.
It was good to get that many people together, but there were not enough musicians in that room. The narrative that could be created from that is that the musicians should be supported by "a.n. other" organisation, while JPN focuses on... whatever it is that the working group decides they should focus on. I feel that this would not create the holistic support and advocacy that the scene needs; it could possibly create a weak bi-partisan situation where musicians and promoters are struggling against each other more than they do now. But there is a motivation towards that narrative, and musicians are picking it up because it LOOKS like the right thing. But we are not privy to the agenda. I suspect this agenda is long-standing and personal.
What we're really needing right now is some real leadership in advocating for our music—all of it, in every sense. If we feel that what we do is an essential part of the arts in Britain and Ireland we need to see where our current weaknesses are—beyond and besides just "needing money"—and build on them, together. There is a wealth of information out there beyond jazz that can be used to drive the music forward. And we have to start taking risks in how communicate the diversity of our form. And if anyone thinks we're doing it now, then honestly we need to do it better. This is not a hobby. Let us develop things that are rich, commensal, long-standing and personal.