How was the festival for you?

Here’s a place to tell LondonJazz readers what you think about the London Jazz Festival ? Not specific gigs, unless you can’t find them covered here, but your overall experience.

The talk I’ve been hearing is that, yes, there have been amazing gigs, but also clashes, things people wanted to hear but couldn’t. And then there’s the question of whether the festival needs a “heart.”

Go on then, what do you think?


UPDATE: Here’s Peter Slavid’s account of what HIS festival has been like:

I have been reading the reviews of festival gigs here and elsewhere with great interest – but since none of the events I attended seem to have been covered I thought it was time to give my account.

First of all some general comments. Like most of you I have to pay for my tickets, so attending a dozen or more £20 gigs simply isn’t on. Let alone the big set piece gigs at £35 and upward. So I spend a lot of time at free gigs and I pick what tickets I’m willing to pay for. (which would be a lot easier if the printed programme included the prices!)

Like any good festival, there’s too much to choose from, and I made some brilliant decisions and some really awful ones – but I got to see some fantastic music in what I think has been the most interesting programme for years if you like your music cutting edge.

-My first gig was the Jazz on 3 free gig at Ronnie Scott’s. Good fun, and a terrific set from Chris Potter – but all too short.

-Sunday I was at the free Clore Ballroom for Alex Riel ’s talented group, then Little Red Suitcase (an interesting duo I thought were bit overwhelmed by the space – I’d like to see them in a club setting) and Ibrahim Electric (great Scandinavian jazz rock).

-Then on to the free stage in the QEH to watch Soweto Kinch and Shabaka Hutchings giving their take on the history of modern jazz. This was articulate, interesting and brilliantly presented – and made me want to throw things! I fundamentally disagree with their Wynton Marsalis-like views on jazz as a music that is only legitimate if it draws its inspiration from the tradition. What a shame there was no opportunity for debate.

-On Monday I was away from the festival, watching Fela! At the National Theatre (incidentally am I the only person who realised that the brilliant sax playing wasn’t done by the much lauded star? Let’s hear it good ‘n’ loud for Idris Rahman, playing superbly in the background while the star mimed!)

-Tuesday was one of my highlights – the Orchestre National de Jazz led by Daniel Yvinec playing music by John Hollenbeck. This is a fantastic group of young musicians playing exciting modern European Jazz (it’s broadcast by Jazz on 3 on November 22nd and on iPlayer after that) [IT’S ALSO ON VIDEO, THE FOLLOWING DAY’S CONCERT, THE FRENCH PREMIERE IN RHEIMS HERE]

-On Wednesday I went to see Marilyn Crispell and Raymond MacDonald at the Vortex. Another terrific gig.

-Saturday 20th was my bad decision day. I was at the free Clore Ballroom watching a great gig by Outhouse with Hilmar Jensson (I’m playing a couple of tracks from their new CD on my show on http://www.ukjazzradio.com this week!). Being lazy I then decided to stay put and go to see “Matthew Herbert composes the Guardian”. As a result I missed a couple of great gigs – and this was a big mistake! There were a few nice pieces in the concert, and a bit of playful fun, but it all felt a bit juvenile and there wasn’t enough good music to compensate.

-And then finally on Sunday another highlight – Billy Jenkins and the BBC Big Band. A spectacular finale that left everyone feeling great.(to be broadcast on Jazz Line–Up on Sunday January 30th)

Overall the festival is now massive, but its starting to develop a number of mini-festivals: on the South Bank, at the Barbican and less obviously in Dalston – and that’s probably the way it needs to develop given the size of London and the variety of music available.

Definitely this was the best yet – long may it continue.

UPDATE TWO (Nov 24th) : London Jazz Festival’s Official Survey with Prizes. FOLLOW THIS LINK

Categories: miscellaneous

15 replies »

  1. I think it has consistently been a great festival over years, mixing big names in the big venues, and less known / younger / emerging acts in other venues. It is great overall. What is really negative though is to get such a concentration of concerts in just 9 days. For most of us, timewise (not even speaking about £), you can do 2, maximum 3 concerts in 9 days. As most of the guys playing here don't come back in between, if you miss them , you miss them.
    2 full weeks with 3 WE would make so much more sense. It would certainly help filling all available space too.
    This is at least the msg I sent to Serious in 2007, 2008, 2009… I suppose they have their reasons to do it in such a condensed timeframe.

  2. London could indeed do with having a bigger 'heart' and identity. Given how big the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is; London's Jazz Festival is, in comparison, the poorer relation.
    Serious is doing a decent job, but London ought to have an umbrella program putting all venues and gigs on the Festival map.
    The period is exactly the same length, but Copenhagen has got many more gigs on.
    The more than 800 gigs indisputably gives the CJF organisers a critical mass and a better position to be more inclusive.
    November weather is what it is, but open air gigs would also help profiling the festival to non-jazz fans.

  3. We are having a great time at the Vortex during the London Jazz Festival – there have been no “duds” either in terms of music (or audience). On our part there are two frustrations: that it takes place against the backdrop of so much other great music in the festival and that it is unrepeatable. So those people who, say, picked Charles Lloyd instead of Marilyn Crispell/Raymond MacDonald – an understandable conflict – , or missed the UK debut of Oddjob, or our Hammond night last night, are unable to get the chance to repeat the opportunity. And in terms of the programme, will people think that things that take place throughout London the rest of the year are “second rate”?
    If only the amazing amount of promotion that took place could be replicated year round? I am sure that it would cost less than the subsidy for one night at Covent Garden.
    We could translate the one-off audiences into regulars, or perhaps persuade those who liked some of those gigs in Central London (like Helge Sunde or Harold Lopez-Nussa) that these musicians and others like them play in places like Dalston in months like May or September (as both of the above have done). Equally well.
    Finally. Why no TV coverage??

  4. Isn't London Jazz Festival essentially the gigs that are always happening on London, plus a few big names that Serious programmes? Thus, while of course there are some great gigs, the festival seems to lack a sense of vision that the big European festivals have. It seems more just like a collection of a week of London jazz gigs stuck together in a programme with the occasional Sonny Rollins, or Herbie Hancock.

  5. As a 25-year-old jazz pianist on a very small budget, I get a little frustrated when this time of year comes aroundm as a number of big names and good bands are all suddenly playing in London and I am generally unable to afford to go to the gigs or to be able to get a sense of the festival before it's over. And I tried to volunteer this year as last year but unfortunately didn't even get a reply this year.

    I agree with the above posts on almost all points: yes, it would be nice to have a larger festival incorporating a number of smaller venues dotted on a map of different parts of the city. And yes, it would be nice to have open air concerts and more things open to the public. As a musician it would be nice to have more workshops and jazz events as well rather than just concerts — the many jazz schools I'm sure could get more involved, just for example.

    For my part, I wish I could have been part of a ground force of volunteers. I wish there had been more street acts like Soul Rebels' walk down the Jubilee Bridge, my favourite moment of the festival. For me, and I think for a lot of the London population, the jazz festival is something that doesn't really reach out to me at the moment.

  6. Thanks for writing in Peter, a useful perspective.

    You may have a point about volunteers, I don't know how all that works. Anyone?

    Re the colleges, I don't think you're completely right. There is a clear and public involvement with the jazz schools at Guildhall, RAM and Trinity, which we have tried to cover here where resources have permitted. The award of an Honorary Fellowship to Norma Winstone was at an event in the LJF programme. Frank Griffith from Brunel has been involved this year,so perhaps that will lead somewhere.

  7. I disagree with the LJF needing to incorporate more venues. The Festival is already widely spread with venues from the Arts Depot in the very north of London to the Albany in Deptford and the Hideaway in Streatham (South East & South West London respectively).

    There are also many free events at the Barbican and South Bank complex amongst others that include talks and workshops as well as free performances and recordings.

    For me it covers all the bases. In fact I am more inclined to agree with the first post. If anything it's too condensed. So many great events scattered over such a wide area. It's difficult to get to see as much as I'd like and I've heard others say the same thing.

    Well done to the organisers and sponsors! I think they do a great job and I look forward to the Festival every year.

  8. I was amazed at the quality of the free stuff, and fairly disappointed with the paid for stuff that I saw. Highlights were Sam Crowe group, Neon Quartet, and the Secret Quartet (very moving in parts). LJF seems to have developed an intensity that wasn't apparent last time I looked.

  9. I thought it was a great festival this year – but also, like other commenters, flawed as well.

    Over the ten days, I went to ten paid-for gigs and several free sessions. It has been exhausting! Instead of extending the festival, reducing its length might actually improve the feeling of festival.

    Aside from the music, the (free) “education” sessions were excellent: hearing Shabaka Hutchins and Soweto Kinch discuss the history and evolution of the music, as well as the musicians who have influenced them, was fascinating – very thought-provoking.

    There were some great free sessions, too, and Serious and LJF should be commended for making music available.

    But… The festival does lack a heart. At its very basis, it is just a series of gigs: there is no single access point for tickets, unlike other festivals I have been too. This emphasises the feeling that LJF is just an agglomeration of gigs, rather than a fully fledged, well-thought out festival.

    More use could have been made of more venues: Kings Place was great, hosting three adventurous nights by the Bad Plus (excellent, imaginative programming), but their halls could surely have been more by LJF. As far as I could tell, the St Luke's concert hall wasn't used this year (Tim Garland's gig there apparently being “off festival”), despite being used previously.

    The programming seems to lack any thematic view, despite the apparent promotion of different nationalities (I heard gigs marketed as French, Danish and Scottish!). Getting so many musicians in town over a period didn't seem to yield opportunities for new creative collaboration: the only two I noticed was Arild Andersen playing in both Andy Sheppard's band and the John Etheridge Trio, and the Bad Plus and guests. Instead, it seemed like people flew in, did their gig, and flew off. This seemed like a real waste of talent.

    At a very basic level, the festival programme was really hard to use – both online and in hard copy. Looking at it, it is hard to tell which date gigs are on – the programme's pages don't show the date. When so much is on, having to flick back and forth to try and work out what date something of interest in on – and what it clashes with – was infuriating. It shows a lack of clear vision underlying the festival.

  10. Sorry to go on at such length, but I've been wondering about audiences…

    I go to gigs throughout the year; very often they are sparsely attended, particularly for less well known acts.

    What effect does LJF have on audiences? Most of the gigs I went to were sold out or close to it. Do people pack all their jazz into ten days, and barely go out the rest of the year? Or do people catch the jazz bug at LJF and then go to more gigs the rest of the year?

    Is there any data on this? Have LJF or Serious published any figures or market research?

    It would be worth a post on LondonJazz if they have!

  11. In response to Peter C – http://www.oxfordjazzfestival.com (now planning its third year with 50 gigs – keep an eye on the website for 2011 line-up) uses volunteers as stewards which allows people who maybe couldn't afford to attend to enjoy the music for free.

    As for my LJF – I attended Herbie Hancock and Grethchen Parlato (living in Oxfordshire prevented any more). Both good, still have various tunes from Gretchen running through my mind – sublime.

  12. i thought it was a great festival, went to over 10 concerts and for me the highlights were mike moreno quartet at pizza express (is there ANYONE who can play guitar like this???) and rudder (chris cheek yes!!!) at charlie wrights

  13. I really don't see the point in the LJF, unless it is aimed at bringing jazz tourists from around the UK and abroad to London during a month that, I imagine, is not great for tourism. This is not to detract from the sterling work of Serious, the Vortex etc, to whom I am eternally grateful for bringing my heroes to town throughout the year. The London jazz scene is so strong, virtually every week is a festival. However, some weeks/months are relatively barren, and it occurs to me that if one of the top “festival” artists were to visit London each month, in addition to the normal stuff, the normal scene would be stronger still throughout the year. And it might boost audiences in general (much as I prefer to listen to music in small venues for a relatively small sum of money). That would also largely prevent the clashes for which the LJF is notorious (in 2010 the worst was Gary Burton, Charles Lloyd and Marilyn Crispell on the same night). The 10-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival is certainly a good model for the future of the LJF. The biggest difference is that it happens in July, and features a lot of outdoor events, as Claus Egge has mentioned. Many thousands descend on Copenhagen specifically for the jazz, yet it doesn't make the (small) city feel madly busy. For all its merits, the LJF still seems half-hearted to me. If it's going to exist at all, it should encompass many more venues, well-established and otherwise, throughout the city and suburbs, and needs to be advertised internationally for months in advance. Easy for me to say, I know! The most important thing of all, of course, is for us to continue supporting the music we love whenever and wherever we can, and to convince our friends, families and colleagues that it can actually be fun as well! Never forget that jazz musicians are the most individual of all, and are never replaceable. Do not hesitate, just go and see them before it's too late.

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