Our jazz scene in the UK is dynamic, diverse, and energised. Young people are challenging outdated perceptions, and gender issues are being tackled. There are supportive audiences and venues supporting musicians through good and bad times. During the lockdowns, with limited numbers allowed in a space, venues held performances. They put them online to help musicians and offer audiences continual engagement with the performers and their music. Across the UK, you can find small, medium, and large venues with jazz as an integral part of their programming. Our jazz scene is the envy of many countries, and musicians come from across the globe to play here.
Imagine, then, for a moment, all this momentum, energy, and support gone. We are closer than many imagine to losing venues, festivals, and performers, and the reason is funding. Audiences play a massive part in keeping venues open. Their ticket prices pay for the day-to-day running, but they can never cover training, development, and investment into the future of jazz music. There is funding available, and some have been lucky to gain small grants from a number of organisations, but these are limited and difficult to find. Of the money made available to the arts after the Covid crisis, hardly any was earmarked for jazz. Many venues and festivals are struggling. We have gone from a situation where new venues were appearing, closed ones were opening up again due to the rekindled interest in jazz, to one where we are in grave danger of losing the very venues and events which have helped galvanise the renewed interest.
To give context, jazz music brings millions of pounds into local funds. According to a UK Music report in 2020, UK music festivals contributed almost £6 billion to the economy in 2019. Jazz festivals have social, political, creative, and economic benefits. According to the Submission to The Digital, Culture, media and Sport Committee inquiry into "The future of UK Music festivals" on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group Jazz, each £1 spent at a jazz festival is estimated to generate £6 for the local economy. If we lose venues and festivals, the knock-on effects could be dramatic, from toilet hiring companies to market stalls that appear at nearly every festival, to record labels to suppliers of food and drink, the transport system, local cafes, and restaurants close to events that benefit and the staff of venues. Live jazz generates income, whether venues specialise in jazz or offer jazz as part of a mixed programme.
The UK government put aside £1.57 billion as a Culture Recovery Fund with good intentions to support the arts recovery after Covid 19 lockdowns and the crash of incomes this caused. However, while that sum might seem huge, divide it between all the arts and every venue, and you quickly realise there is just not enough money to fully support art's recovery.
So what to do? Can we sit back and see what happens? Let things work themselves out? If we do that, the inevitable will happen, and we will lose an essential part of our culture.
Enter Nigel Price, one of the UK's foremost jazz guitarists whose solo and collaborative work is renowned. He and many other jazz musicians realise there is a crisis in the UK grassroots infrastructure, with many venues threatened with closure or being able only to offer limited programmes.
In February 2022, Nigel wrote to the Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, with the backing of 68 other Parliamentary Jazz Award recipients, including Dame Cleo Laine, to plead for more funding in a bid to avert disaster in this vital part of our culture. You can read the exchange at https://nigethejazzer.com/dcms/ace. However, that communication appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Nigel says, "it's possible to apply for a grant, but the current Arts Council grant system is nightmarish, unwieldy, and sees the applications from amateur promoters pitted against those of professional bid writers. Failure is almost guaranteed. It's an impossible situation, and it is costing us our heritage." I can vouch for this because when I interviewed musicians about getting grant funding, they mostly commented on the difficulties with the current system.
So Nigel, being a man of ideas and clear thinking, has put together a funding page where people can donate. The idea is clear and straightforward. Raise a million quid, and divide it between the venues that need support. Simple, direct, and without salaries and operating costs getting in the way.
Those donating will get a sense of proprietorship of the industry which supports the music they love. The money will enable venues to promote themselves, get audiences involved, continue investing in the industry, and do what they do best.
Nigel says, "I've always said that if I had a million quid, I could sort out the entire UK jazz scene. Not just for me but for all of us. I see it as our duty to leave a functioning scene for the next generation, and I will do everything I can to see that this happens. "
If you have been lucky enough to benefit from grants and funding, raising the issue will not rock any boats; rather, it will add your voice to those calling for more support.
Find out details and more about how you can get involved here.