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Let’s hear it for Birmingham

Peter Bacon’s notes this morning on a speech by Hans Koller, plus his explanations of how the scene has grown in Birmingham (picture is of Soweto Kinch)- it’s a great piece. I’ve reproduced it verbatim.

Peter’s title (below) mercifully clears the market for groaning puns.

Here’s the whole piece (this link to the original source, Peter’s excellent JazzBreakfast blog):

Let’s put our Hans together for Birmingham

Just returned from a very successful launch of Birmingham Jazz’s autumn season – lots of friendly faces (many of them new ones to me) in the cool surroundings of Fazeley Studios main foyer (a refurbished former church building complete with Pre-Raphaelite prints in the upstairs alcoves, chunky sofas and aromatic candles). There were the usual speeches, a brief outline of what Birmingham Jazz does, what is coming up in its concerts and gigs over the next few months, wine and buffet, and loads of chat.

There was a band for the evening which included Hans Koller on piano and, increasingly as the evening wore on, trombone.

Apart from talking to lots of very nice people, the highlight for me was listening to a speech by Hans about Birmingham, jazz and Birmingham Jazz.

I wasn’t taking notes, the PA was muddy and the crowd was chatty, so here is a rather garbled but essentially correct, as I heard it, paraphrase of what he told the assembled crowd:

He spoke about moving around Germany a lot while growing up and now living in England for the last 20 years and being based in London, and that as a result he didn’t really have a home, but since he has been tutoring at Birmingham Conservatoire and getting to know the Birmingham jazz scene, this is the nearest he knows to home, now.

He highlighted the strong links between Birmingham Conservatoire and Birmingham Jazz, and the opportunities BJ gave to BC students to play their music, out here in the real world. he said it was a relationship London conservatoires and music schools could only dream about. That they could learn their craft in the conservatoire and then get the chance to gig regularly around town and build up an understanding of what the jazz life was really all about, and the chance to develop an identity out there – it was a truly invaluable experience for them. And the quality of the music they were making reflected it.

And it wasn’t only the students who had Birmingham Jazz to thank. Musicians who had to be based in London to get enough professional work – players like Liam Noble and Phil Robson – had come to Birmingham when they had more adventurous projects they wanted to explore, and Birmingham Jazz had helped them to bring them to fruition. Not only could they not get that kind of support in London, London had then reaped the benefit when projects brought about by Birmingham Jazz toured back to the capital.

What was striking was not just what Hans Koller said but the genuine warmth and deeply-held feeling with which he said it.

It’s something that we who are committed to the Birmingham Jazz scene and Birmingham Jazz’s part in it have felt all along – it was just great to have someone like Hans, who knows quite a bit about the difficulties and also the joys of working as a jazz musician and educator in this country in these times, say it so eloquently.

Something for the London crew to think about.
There are so many good people in the Midlands. And Durban, Natal-born Peter is defdefdef one of them. Another is Arts development speciaist Sarah Gee who has brought her Glaswegian energy to the cause of Birmingham. She once said to me “We only ever have one of anything, so we tend to support each other.”

Amen to that.

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2 replies »

  1. hi
    I am a jazz trumpet player based in Birmingham, and I think that Birmingham Jazz is a good organisation, who mean well and I like Tony Dudley Evans too. I also respect what Hans has to say, as he's a really nice bloke, or when I have met him, he has shown himself to be so.
    Paraphrasing Peter, it is interesting that he says that it's not only the students who have to thank birmingham jazz, but others, who are from outside the city, ie London.
    There is a growing body of 'players'in birmingham, who feel simply that that is all they are seen as, 'Players', not artists- (in the media obsessed -clambering for the headlines- course left field jazz has burnt through).If these musos, are admittedly slightly lacking in organisation, but make up for it in 'feel', they feel often ignored. This is particularly true in Brum at times, and in a sense, it is a bit lamentable that the Arts Council funded bodies seemingly, but perhaps unintentionally, act in a partisan way, bearing in mind the limited opportunities here, being outside the centre of the artistic world's main bit, ie London.
    This is borne out with public funds, (ie the Arts council) which could perhaps, and this is only a suggetstion, being pooled to fund more of the organic jazz that is being played, or attempting to be put together by some fine musicians who make Birmimngham their home and who rely on music for their living.
    I would be interested to find out why there is a bit of a 'disconnect' between the arts bodies and the 'local' scene, a perennial issue in many major cities, especially London, although i think at least there you have a so many musicians busy working,(or trying to), they help one another (from my experience-i used to live there).
    Its a shame that there are so many players who get to their thirties, and then move on from Brum because, simply put, the scene just cant cater for them any more..

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Ray. I have one thought, and ask for comments about two others.

    1) First that I think the scene in Birmingham is developing all the time. I remember conversations with Jeremy Price and Tony Dudley-Evans about five years ago: the scene is much broader than it was then.

    2) That “artists” are merely seen as “players” : now there IS an interesting distinction, the floor is open for LondonJazz readers on that one.

    3) The disconnect between publicly funded arts bodies and local jazz scenes. Yup, another big'n!

    I bet there is a UK local authority out there who gets it right. Any candidates?

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