REPORT by AJ Dehany: Jazz Connective – Slovenia. The first meeting of our Jazz Connective project
The Slovenian national anthem Zdravljica is unusual—instead of glorifying one country it appeals to the unity of different nations: “God’s blessing on all nations […] No more shall foes, but neighbours be!” How appropriate then for Slovenia to be the inaugural host country for Jazz Connective, a project devoted to collaboration and sharing knowledge between different promoters, producers, and musicians working in creative music across Europe.
The project is supported by a grant of €200,000 from Creative Europe, and is taking place in stages in the home cities of its partner organisations in Slovenia, Poland, France, Finland, Ireland and England. Themes, ideas and problems that were discussed over four days of workshops in Ljubljana will be revisited in Łódź in July with subsequent editions in Dublin, London, Birmingham, Helsinki and Lyon, and some innovative thinking about solutions in the meantime.
There was a lot to talk about! Public round tables and workshops were themed around audience development, artist circulation and transnational networks, media and content creation, inclusivity and women, and how to build innovation. Slovenian writer Miha Zadnikar began his opening lecture with the frank assertion “For innovative music we need an innovative environment.”
It is such an environment that initiatives like the Jazz Connective project hope to foster. “It seems like a paradox–how to invent something that has already been invented,” said Miha Zadnikar with a good dose of his countryman Slavoj Žižek in his thinking; “How to create conditions for now, how to change something that in the digital era is more problematic. Globally social relations are destroyed and need to be reinstated.”
It is possible to grow engaged audiences at a local level with personal connections, Irish broadcaster Ellen Cranitch explained, noting “Jazz can be intimidating. It can be frightening. Polo necks, goatees… It doesn’t mean you can’t find other things.” Mathieu Durand (Le Grigri radio, France) agreed: “Music is not just music: it is a social experience.”
Irish Times journalist Cormac Larkin expanded this with a philosophical observation about the tension in the music between the hierarchical vision of classical composers versus the collective view of group forms of expression. If academies privilege individualism, how can we get back to collective expression?
Mathieu Durand (as a freelance journalist and broadcaster on Radio Gri-Gri) noted that with the internet forcing journalism to reexamine its role, “the musician has an important role in reaching new audiences.” Cormac Larkin warned of both the danger of musicians marginalising themselves by falling into micro-genres in a dissipated scene, and of the danger in music of ceding the middle ground; many audiences are not afraid of a challenge. When he was developing the Sofa Series in Kilkenny, he found that with an engaged returning audience, “Once I got them in the room there was nothing I could throw at them that they wouldn’t embrace.”
The central importance of live performance in creative/improvised music may be its saving grace. The saturation of audiences in music accessible via the internet means “The idea of rarity is over. This record can’t be rare if you’ve put it on youtube. The emphasis for us needs to be on live performance. That is what’s rare.” Furthermore, what is unique in live music is a question of intimacy versus isolation: “So many people are accessing music by earbuds. When you listen with other people you hear it with their ears.”
Streaming gigs over the internet challenges traditional notions of live performance, experience and intimacy, and it divides opinion. Daniel Radtke (Pardon To Tu, Warsaw) is completely against it: “Why should we give our potential audience tools so that they don’t have to come?” Oliver Weindling tended to agree, while pointing out that nonetheless, some of the best jazz recordings have been live, though Cormac Larkin drew an important distinction between documenting and live streaming. Others pointed to the success of Bimhuis and Nasjonal Jazzscene in boosting audience engagement, and to the high-quality camera set up and subscription service of Moods Zurich. In the UK, Jazz North has streamed concerts at specific times but not as a live performance, somewhat like a conventional TV or radio broadcast. Ellen Cranitch revealed that next year they would presenting a live performance for an audience in a venue in Galway of a concert taking place live in New York City USA. Trialling these different approaches should give us a better idea of how streaming affects revenue generation and reframes engagement
As we enter the second century of the music, we are at a pivotal point in its reevaluation into how it creates a shared cultural identity among forged between different groups of people. Kenneth Killen (director Improvised Music Company, Dublin), Scottish Artist-Activist Kim Macari, and Belgian impresario Maaike Wuyts discussed the networks that make possible collaboration between disparate artists. Physical topography has an effect; being on an island poses other challenges to those for artists from central mainland Europe: “For a musician you find your coastline very quickly in a music that craves collaboration. Networks are the backbone of how new initiatives are created.”
Kenneth Killen described the Match&Fuse network as a working illustration of the problems: “They never really got the funding. It requires the consolidation of funding. The prosaic reality of these artist-led initiatives is they will die if the funding is not matched.” In a later session on “Tools for artist circulation” Kenneth Killen revealed that the next session in Łódź will be devoted to funding applications.
Media exposure and social media reach have an influence in convincing funding bodies to back projects and artists, and creative approaches to reaching audiences are no doubt a key element in this. Benjamin Kohler, Žiga Pucelj, Nika Vogrič Dežman’s workshop noted that “It is important to put your content into as many platforms as possible.” Ellen Cranitch raised the important point that there is still a key role in giving audiences guidance and curation. Audiences still look to others who have developed a reputation for taste and judgement. Mario Batelić noted “as journalists we are cultural intermediaries; we are part of the meaning,” even going so far as to state that “One of the main tasks of music journalism is to explain social and cultural conditions.”
Social and cultural conditions have an inordinate bearing on one of the most profound problems facing the music, that of inclusivity, particularly regarding the participation of women in a male-dominated field. Kim Macari enlighteningly stated that rather than asking ourselves where all the women are, we should ask “Why can’t we see them? Not ‘Where are they?’–because they’re everywhere!” Signatories to the Keychange initiative have pledged to implement gender parity by 2022. I have had frustrating conversations with people in jazz who find this unrealistic, which might be because they aren’t looking for the women who are there. There is a problem of visibility that the media in particular and the community more widely should address more seriously. Tellingly, the enormous Primavera Sound Festival (see my recent piece) has already implemented gender parity in its programming.
Issues of gender and inclusivity are not the only ways in which creative industries need to innovate and reinvent themselves, as we discussed in a final session devoted to defending and maintaining an evolving vision of culture. This session in particular evidenced a gallows humour that is shared by everyone who has worked long enough in the business. Daniel Radtke explained how his years working at Pardon To Tu had led to a different kind of thinking: “I learned to be very patient. There are so many things you can’t control. Expect the worst, then it’s much easier.” In the case of Brexit, we still don’t know what to expect, but Kim Macari also made a stoical point that no matter what happens, if European funding dries up in England, “We’ve always been poor, and we will continue to be poor under the radar.”
We support the music however we can. I spoke about my strange role as a freelance journalist in the music’s wider support structure. Tony Dudley-Evans explained how reviews and media can be crucial to grant applications. Ičo Vidmar said pithily “When you write about this music, you fight about this music.” As newspapers cast away all their critical staff, and political uncertainty about funding and freedom of movement take their toll, creative music in particular is more than ever fighting for a space to exist. Vortex Jazz Club director Oliver Weindling offered up a balance of outlooks: “In the short term I’m pessimistic, in the medium term I’m optimistic, and, to quote JM Keynes, in the long term we are all dead.”
Neverthetheless, we will hope to see it out long enough that the next instalments of the Jazz Connective project can start to generate some solutions to the many problems raised by the participants. Oliver Weindling said, with a dash of medium term optimism, “One great thing about this scene is we look for solutions,” adding, with a twinkle in his eye, “We improvise.”
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk