REPORT: Jazz Promotion Network Conference, Manchester

Tony Dudley-Evans, Amy Pearce, John Blandford, Ian Perry and Steve Crocker at the
JPN conference. Manchester, July 2014

Kim Macari reports from the inaugural Jazz Promotion Network Conference in Manchester:

Following on from its first public meeting in September 2013 – COVERED HERE – the Jazz Promotion Network has just hosted its inaugural two-day conference in Manchester. One of the intentions was to use the time and experience in a room of 100 promoters, musicians, agents and industry professionals (DELEGATE LIST)to shape the future of the organisation. The network should be “self-motivated, self-determining, strategic and national”, in the words of JPN instigator Nod Knowles.

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Quite separate from the panel discussions and sessions set up over the course of the two days, the opportunity for delegates to put names to faces, share ideas and build connections, was a useful feature of the conference. Many delegates including Jazz North director Nigel Slee cited this as the most beneficial part of the event and an important role for the JPN to take on; regular networking sessions for its members.

The working group (LISTED HERE) had worked hard to structure the event to celebrate the successes from individuals and organisations in areas like international projects, touring, audience development and supporting emerging talent. Three touring organisations shared their expertise with JPN: Music Beyond Mainstream, Making Tracks and Rural Touring Forum. All three curated by committee and addressing different venue sizes, they provided food for thought for promoters keen for JPN to help facilitate tours for jazz musicians.

The international projects panel represented three of the many European organisations that are ambitiously and successfully developing and promoting jazz. Gerry Godley, the newly appointed Leeds College of Music principal (STORY HERE), described the 12 Points Festival and their dual goals to develop the careers of emerging jazz musicians and to align the Irish jazz scene closer to mainland Europe. He warned of the sense of ‘jazz nationalism’ and the tendency to cultivate a sense of isolation for scenes in Europe; the call for collective action in Europe was met with unanimous agreement.

Musician Najia Bagi touched briefly on an issue that JPN should address more fully in coming months; applying for project funding and how to write strong funding applications. Unsurprisingly, many delegates wanted to talk about the recent Jazz Services developments, with questions cropping up in almost every Q+A and small group session. Nod Knowles and Tony Dudley-Evans made time in the schedule to address the issue, reading the open letter written by Dominic MacGonigal to Alan Davey, and fielding questions. Knowles and Dudley-Evans were keen to point out that JPN are not an alternative Jazz Services. Unfortunately, Alan Davey’s open response (LINK HERE) came a day too late to be part of the discussion.

A particular highlight was the panel discussion with the Bad Plus. Their frankness and outside perspective was a welcome addition and they spoke eruditely about the challenges in audience development (perhaps the most widely discussed topic in the conference).

“Jazz asks where is the audience…what Jazz is reluctant to consider is that maybe a lot of it is just not very good” – Reid Anderson, Bad Plus

Anderson and Iverson both agreed that it is the joint responsibility of musicians and promoters to build audiences; the promoters must consider appropriate venues (inappropriate venues really hinder performances) and the musicians must work to develop their music, have a passion and a desire to communicate.

“If it’s good, they will come” Ethan Iverson

Drummer Dave King also talked about the way we promote jazz, referencing musicians like Ornette Coleman and their similarity to bands like Sonic Youth or Mogwai rather than other jazz. Thinking of jazz as an indie music, we should look to build that aura around jazz, to develop a sense of identity through a love of underground music.

The two day event drew to a close with a final session pulling together ideas for what the JPN should focus on doing as an organisation. The recurrent themes included hosting similar events annually, developing their website to act as a hub of information on venues, work permits, taxes etc and having a forum for JPN members to communicate and work together. Other suggestions to support funding applications to strive for every venue having a basic backline to help keep touring financially viable, were taken onboard.

It remains to be seen which of these the JPN opts to focus on first, but the tone of the conference was positive and forward-thinking and it is likely that other, unofficial collaborations and partnerships will form as a result of this meeting.

(Peter Bacon’s Jazz Breakfast site also has coverage of the conference, notably the issue of Jazz Services.

The JPN conference was produced in partnership with the Manchester Jazz Festival and was supported by Arts Council England. WEBSITE

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