LondonJazz News: What do you / does your organisation do?
Kim: I set up Apollo Jazz Network in 2012. As a musician, I was aware that so many of us were working very hard to get gigs outside of the scene we are based in, often not knowing exactly who to contact and which venue is best for a particular band and also trying to make travelling to gigs financially viable. I wanted to pool the knowledge and resources we all have as a community to help groups to tour.
Two years on, and Apollo has grown quite substantially. We’ve run tours for a number of UK groups and also branched to start facilitating international gig opportunities, bringing over two US groups last summer. We have a branch of our work called Apollo Connect which brings musicians from different scenes together to rehearse and perform one-off gigs – to expand musicians networks and create new collaborations. Then we do quite a bit of consulting work, both for musicians and for promoters – anything from helping with promotion and social media, to partnering up to run big projects. We are about to launch our first Apollo recording and we have two incredibly exciting large-scale projects in the works for this year and beyond.
Deirdre Cartwright: Alison Rayner and I set up Blow the Fuse over 25 years ago in 1989. Initially as a weekly jazz club so we could play more gigs as musicians. We would book different drummers and guests every week. We had quite a few connections through our work with the Guest Stars but we really wanted to make contact with other musicians and gain more experience playing as wide a range of jazz as possible.
Over the years we’ve established a record label, become experienced promoters using many different venues including several nationwide tours and in recent years put on an increasing amount of original writing. The last four years we have had seasons of double bills Tomorrow the Moon which promotes projects led by or featuring women in some way. We have booked many younger artists but we’re also aware of how ageism can affect women players. This season we’ve put on young bands eg Yesa Sikyi, Dakhla, Shirley Tetteh etc and also performers in their late 60s and 70s including Maggie Nichols, Claudia Lang-Colmer (still an in demand double bassist at 77 years old), Carol Gasser, Crissy Lee and Carol Grimes.
Georgia: Like many independent musicians I’ve learnt the business by engaging actively in as many aspects of it as possible. In the 15 years I’ve been a professional vocalist I’ve run several different groups; organised my own bookings including 5 national tours and work overseas; produced and released 4 albums on my own label, Roomspin Records; been my own publicist, designer, manager, PA and recently photographer.
In 2010 I started my own international voice festival – ReVoice! – in association with the Pizza Express Jazz Club and created a platform for over 150 known and lesser known artists to showcase their work in the UK often for the first time. After celebrating our 5th anniversary last year I am taking a sabbatical from ReVoice! to focus on my new writing and performing collaboration with double Grammy-winning pianist and composer Alan Broadbent with whom I will be touring and recording later this year.
Alison A: In late 2009 I moved back to the UK after many years living overseas and as can be imagined it was a challenge to re establish myself as a vocalist. Like Georgia, I have been a vocalist for over 15 years and I have spent much time working on my music and networking within the jazz, swing dance and blues scene. After a while of living back in Edinburgh I started to notice things that I felt I could contribute to in order to help promote jazz…particularly with regards to collaborations both with musicians and the swing dance community. I started out putting on my own weekly events whilst working with my own two bands Vieux Carre and The Copper Cats, and in time things snowballed. I founded the Dundee Jazz and Blues Club in 2011 – this has been a great success and it effects are threefold: the club brings amazing Jazz and Blues to Dundee, Musicians get work and the venue gets an income. Two years later I started up my small business Vintage Sound Scotland – this ‘Jazz Collective’ being established primarily as a reaction to the rise in popularity of ‘Old school Jazz’. The upsurge in popularity of all things vintage brought with it the inevitable rush of opportunistic pop musicians snapping up jazz gigs and by ‘hobbyists’ offering their services for free or at very low rates- this behaviour has really driven down fees for professionals and created a watering down of the art form. Don’t get me wrong – hobbyists and the like do deserve to be heard but i do feel that, as with any speciality, Jazz should be performed by Jazz artists and I passionately believe that we must all stand together in this niche market to ensure that musicians get paid a fair rate.
LJN:What do you have in common?
Kim: I first met Georgia, Deirdre, Alison R and Alison A at the JPN conference in Manchester in July. I think we’d all been aware of each other’s work but that conference gave us the chance to meet up and chat. I was struck by the ambition and tenacity of these women and delighted to find some kindred spirits. We are all performing, creative musicians who also operate in the jazz industry, whether it be festival organisation, venues, organisations etc. We all share common goals – supporting the scene in the UK, trying to generate performance opportunities and spread the word about the wealth of talent in the jazz community.
Since that event in July, we’ve kept in touch, meeting up to discuss ways that we can work together and support each other’s work. There is so much overlap in our activities that it is just common sense to team up. United we stand and all that!
Deirdre: We would like to second that. Alison and I were both feminists from the first time around in the 1970s (haha) and it was fantastic to go to the JPN conference last year, stand up there and say the ‘F’ word and get a real cheer from the audience of all ages. We are based in London but we try and book groups from outside London as well so we were really pleased to meet up with this group that represents different regions in the UK.
Georgia: I think the fact that we are all performers primarily is the key. We understand the difficulty in balancing art and admin, the loneliness and often disadvantages of working as independent musicians, the need to find and keep focus and direction. That we all create work for others means we are already open to collaboration and appreciate the benefits of sharing ideas, advice and resources rather than keeping everything to ourselves.
Alison A: I am excited to have met these lovely ladies! We are all immersed in a niche market that is primarily populated and ‘run’ by men so I feel it is doubly special that we are working together and championing our different projects. We obviously all share a strong passion for Jazz promotion and we believe in the wealth of talent we have on this wee island- we also have a strong desire to see more collaborations and more exposure for the art form…
LJN: What have been the ups and down/ challenges?
Kim: I remember in the early days of Apollo…I was convinced it was a good idea but I wasn’t completely sure what the idea WAS exactly. I think that often happens, where you circle around something for a while, gradually honing in and developing it. So I reached out to a number of people, really just to get the idea out of my own head and into the world, get people’s thoughts on it. Most people were supportive but one musician in particular said to me “there’s no point in doing that, people already do that.” And that took the wind out of my sails a bit, because I’d been really excited about it and suddenly I thought – have I spent months inventing something that already exists?! I’m very glad I decided to plough on regardless.
I think we all share the same challenges, as a group but also in the wider jazz community: finding more places to play, being paid properly for our work and continuing to grow artistically.
I guess you would describe us as having portfolio careers and I think as a performer that can be tough. Practice gets pushed down the list sometimes and I think we all juggle a lot of different things. That can be very invigorating and very frustrating in equal measure!
There have been lots of ups too, though. For me and for Apollo, 2014 was a great year – we ran 3 UK tours, brought two American groups over to perform, my group LOCUS had a great tour and recorded an album. Also, a relatively small community like jazz should celebrate each other’s successes as our own, you know? For example, Georgia and Engines Orchestra have been nominated for APPJAG jazz awards. As someone who works with those two, I was delighted to see them get some recognition, very proud that their constant hard work is paying off.
Deirdre: We totally agree with Kim about celebrating each others successes. Jazz is a small community so it’s very important to work together to achieve almost anything in this tough climate. Alison R and myself are very independent people so we have sometimes forgotten to ask for help, advice, money! We’re still learning.
Georgia: The best thing can seem the worst: the blank canvas that is your career. Whilst it can be unnerving looking at gaps in the diary, it’s also extremely liberating because there is room to create something. For me always the biggest challenge is not allowing admin to bully art into a corner. Although experience gives you more confidence and perspective, I don’t think things become any easier if you are always striving to improve as an artist because you will always criticise work you have done and always look for bigger challenges and have higher expectations.
Alison A: In the initial stages of my work I quickly discovered that there are a lot of negative folk out there waiting for you to fail, I also noticed that everyone wanted to be my pal when things started progressing! Its actually quite funny and predictable I suppose. The ups have definitely been more numerous for me and I have been supremely grateful for this. My first Vintage Sound Scotland Showcase event was a real eye opener for me in that it sorted out the folk that believed in me from those who just paid lip service -that was a great moment for me!
LJN: What advice you would give to anyone hoping to do what you do?
Kim: My advice would be just do it. Surround yourself with people who are interesting and talented and ask for peoples’ help and advice regularly. In addition to that, understand that things take time to build and gather momentum so hold on to the belief that your idea is a good one and eventually, everyone else will get on-board too!
Deirdre: Yes confidence and self belief is central to working in the Arts. Working with supportive people is essential as it is very easy to feel despondent about lack of career pathways. You do have to forge your own path in general so supportive, kind, talented, open minded colleagues are also essential to avoid ending up bitter and twisted. Alison and I nearly formed a duo called that once after one very difficult year! Oh did I mention humour…take the music seriously, but try and have a laugh – at yourself too if necessary.
Georgia: Three performers all with very long, distinguished careers – Sheila Jordan, Carmen Lundy and the actor Peter Vaughan – gave me the same very sage advice: keep going and don’t let anyone steer you away from your path. My partner, drummer Dave Ohm, has been in the business about 25 years and has always talked about how essential it is to keep the music precious and untainted from politics,fashion and the day to day challenges of life. Both profound and deceptively simplistic pieces of advice.
Finally I’ve learnt that if an idea occurs to you – however outlandish and ambitious it may seem – it’s there for a reason. You can ignore it but following those ideas led me to starting ReVoice! and contacting a musical hero of mine with whom I am now touring and writing. And actually it’s how I started my whole career. So in a nutshell : do it and then keep on doing it!
Alison A: Just go for it!! But don’t be too proud that you wont ask for help and support from others… Keep the good guys close and always repay supportive folk. Never ever become complacent and drop the ego – no one likes a diva! Kim, Georgia, Deirdre, Alison R and myself are where we are now due to determination, self belief and an openness and gumption to get out there. Collaboration is key and the JPN offered a terrific chance to do just that!
LJN: How you aim for the group to develop?
Kim: I’d really like for us to be able to work as partners in some projects in the next year or two – find a way to align the work we all do into a joint venture. Aside from that, we will keep doing what we have been doing: talking, sharing ideas, supporting each other.
Deirdre: We’d like to find projects to develop the strengths that this group has in representing different regions and areas of jazz.
Georgia: Definitely to find or create a project(s) we can really collaborate on. As funding cuts kick in, incoming and outgoing governments reveal their apathy and ignorance of the arts; as the world’s attention span gets shorter, as the market gets even more saturated: it’s time more than ever to work together with like-minded, hardworking and visionary people rather than the selfish, isolating alternative.
Alison A: I am really positive about the future ! As ever, it takes time to solidly get ideas realised but I am excited about future collaborations between us. I am proud of these girls and I am keen to see how things develop.
Professional trumpet player and director of Apollo Jazz Network, Scottish and now based in Leeds. Won Emerging Excellence Award for work with sextet LOCUS and Apollo Jazz Network.
Twitter: @apollojazznet and @k_macari
Professional guitarist based in London. Has been a part of the UK jazz scene since 70s and runs Blow the Fuse with Alison Rayner. Current projects include Emily Remembered and ARQ.
Vocalist and director of ReVoice! festival. Nominated as Vocalist of the Year in this year’s APPJAG Jazz Awards. Currently working with renowned pianist Alan Broadbent.
US-born, Scotland based vocalist. Named Vocalist of the Year at Scottish Jazz Awards. Director of Vintage Sounds. Currently working with her group, Vieux Carre.