I was once told by a good friend that many things start as anecdotal and usually finish there too. So in that tradition, I'm going to take you back four years and talk about a job I applied for and didn't get. I'm not bitter about it, but was disappointed at the time that my ideas were not taken up. One of those ideas was around developing listening activities to grow audiences, rather than the usual playing activities.
My thought is that jazz and improvised music doesn't just need more money [which is too easy a fix and very short-term], but also more people who appreciate what jazz and improvised music sounds like and what it could mean for them, i.e. listeners. Additionally, starting the development of listeners can start at any age, with any form of music; but if people don't have the potential access to that music, then in future years musicians will have no one to play to. The role of the developmental jazz organisation/programmer has to support all potential listeners to the music, not just players.
This initial seed was spurred on by an experience another friend talked about on Facebook, where she was turned away from a concert because she had her daughter with her and the venue thought that the child might be disruptive. In this, I saw that [with a little effort] there was no reason why families couldn't enjoy music together.
That "little effort" is The Family Album, which had its sixth gig last night. It supports artists by paying them, for which I can only thank Arts Council England and Two Rivers Records for believing in and funding the project. But paying artists is just the icing on the cake: the gigs actively encourage people [adults and children] to listen to new music. 6p.m. is not as silly a time to host music as I was told before; and an hour of listening is a decent length, although one person has said that it was "too short" because they were enjoying the concert so much!
And it IS a concert: the music is presented as a concert is, and it is rare that the children who attend are not engaged with the music at the time: whether smiling, dancing, or just staring at the musicians' set-up.
Adults without children are also very welcome at the events: as I mentioned before, it's a matter of trying to create something that everyone feels "okay" with attending, but perhaps making it a bit easier for those with children as well. And it encourages children to make music as well as listen to it. After seeing Saxoctopus, one parent half-jokingly said "You've caused me trouble now, she wants a saxophone!" And after the gigs with Dors there was this:
Took 4 young 'uns (6–11yrs) to see/hear this 'strange' live music from Dors last night. Over an hour of non-stop extreme and not-so-extreme sounds and visuals. So do they want to go to then next The Family Album gig? Well yes, they really do!
Still experiencing the great effects this morning. "How come everyone has got dressed for school without a fuss this morning?"—"I'm still hearing the music in my head and so I can sense the peace and silence in the house." Wow!
Last night was no exception. The sub-bass frequencies of Leverton Fox had one young girl on her feet and dancing within 15 minutes of the gig. It is hard to articulate the warm feeling of watching a 18 month old boy and a 65 year old man nodding heads to the same beat.
I've had to do more varied programming for this series than usual—possibly slightly more varied than One Note Sunday; and this is in no small part owing to the great variety that exists in the British jazz and improvised scene currently. But diversity in programming is exactly what the series needs—people need to see people like them doing incredible, wonderful things. And crucially, the artists love playing to a mixed audience. It's encouraging to see your music reach a wide range of people.
There is some more to come, and I have a lot to think about in terms of its future. But at the very least, The Family Album is playing its part in ensuring that there will be some people listening to creative music in the future.