Category Archives: Thoughts

In praise of … regional jazz clubs

I want to sing the praises of regional jazz clubs in general and one in particular that is now close to my heart – Stratford Jazz. That’s Stratford-upon-Avon, not East London or Ontario. Many times I have sat in the cosy upstairs room at The Chapel No 1 Shakespeare Street, enjoyed the gigs, discovered new sounds, loved old ones, made new friends and never once thought about how it all comes together, the hard (but enjoyable) unpaid work that goes into making a gig happen. Well, now I have an idea. Stratford Jazz has been in existence since 1986, its gigs since 2003 set out here. The most cursory glance at this list reveals people who are now established, such as Andrew McCormack and Michael Janisch, the latter now running a record label. Which brings me to the point of this post. Regional jazz plays a crucial role in an artist’s development. By all means live in London, record in London, play most of your gigs in London, but small jazz venues exist to provide you with an appreciative audience and we don’t forget you.

Stratford Jazz is at a crossroads. Our mainstay, Roy, is planning to hand over the running of the club. An open meeting conjured up volunteers to set out chairs, man the door, take money, produce flyers, man the sound deck, run the raffle, help with the website and social media. I have the latter role. We still need help with booking bands and paying them, running a membership system, drafting press releases etc etc.

So if you would like to help us please follow us on Twitter @StratfordJazz, please “Like” us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stratfordjazz.org.uk and best of all, please come to our gigs. In the next few months we host Chris Bowden, Marco Marconi, Casey Greene, Tom Hill, Greg Abate, Ben Markland, Ed Jones and Alan Barnes. We are a small club but each event is special. People travel from miles. You won’t forget it.

And anyone with ideas of how we can attract young people, please let us know via our Facebook page or tweet to us. We want to survive for at least another 27 years.

Stratford Jazz

Some thoughts on Rothko, megalithic architecture and jazz…

I felt at home in the 6000 year old Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Paola, Malta. The shapes were familiar, I had seen them in Rothko. These mysterious underground chambers, majestic burial places, were excavated by hand using tools of antler and flint, the limestone smooth as silk. Their perfect proportions of aperture and lintel thickness struck me as timeless. These softly lit caverns awed us to silence. In our mind’s eyes, we heard the scrape of flint on stone, the drip of rainwater in winter, the quiet conversation of the workmen eons ago. In a museum in Valletta we saw some offerings to the dead taken from these chambers. A tiny sleeping woman, fashioned from stone, her winter skirt of sheepskin-like stone gently crinkled at its hem, her best skirt. Such humanity touches us across the millennia. Move forward to the 20th century, and Rothko. His Red on Maroon could overwhelm you. Those huge vertical columns and apertures look like windows or doors, the sombre tones shift as you gaze at them, making you feel uneasy. But there is nothing there.

Maroon by Maciek Pysz on his album Insight was inspired by this same Rothko. It’s contemplative, and unlike the other compositions on this album, this one is not sunlit, it is permeated by loss and reflective sadness. As I stood in one of the chambers of the Hypogeum I heard Asaf Sirkis’s gentle udu drum, it could have been the patter of rainwater, or a drum from 6000 years ago. Yuri Goloubev’s delicate bass playing could just as easily have been inspired by the painting or the need to ease our passage from life to the afterlife as I experienced in those cool chambers.

All too soon, we were in a sunlit street, wondering if we had imagined all that was beneath our feet, marvelling that such beauty could have been visualised by our ancestors and then made to happen.

the-hal-salfieni-hypogeum

Women’s words matter…

At the end of 2012 I was prompted to write to Jazzwise. I’m really pleased they published my letter in Jazzwise 171 and I hope it starts a debate and a louder voice for women in jazz, whether as artists, critics or fans. My letter is below. I would love to hear what you think.

I look forward to and enjoy your Albums of the Year (Jazzwise 170). I can find something to agree with in each of the lists of your nineteen correspondents, and there is food for thought leading to future purchases. But surely I am not alone with Nate Chinen in wondering where are all the female jazz critics? Might they have come up with different lists? Excellent music, and we have had a lot this year, requires robust as well as appreciative criticism of the same standard as the music it celebrates. The field of jazz criticism has become unbalanced from the changing jazz audience, and I find this unsettling, it lacks a female perspective. I don’t want to become alienated from the music I love when I read about it. I want to learn how to appreciate it in language I feel enthused by and which speaks to my heart as well as my head. I’m not saying that male critics do not understand this need for balance, but often there is an over-emphasis on a rational approach to criticism that feels cold. Sometimes you want to know what music feels like, and I think women may be able to do that as well as applying critical faculties to jazz. Hoping you can redress this imbalance in the coming year.