The impact of the lockdown on freelance musicians has been grave. Opportunities to play, rehearse and record have all but disappeared with only the virtual, digital world an outlet at present. That British jazz musicians will need the support of fans once the Covid-19 crisis has abated states both the obvious and is a message needing reinforcement. But rebuilding or, at least re-establishing, a viable and sustainable jazz scene will require more than just goodwill and generosity. It will also need the vision and skills of those jazz actors and organisations best placed to help regenerate British jazz.
In this second article of a series, Duncan Heining interviewed Janine Irons and Gary Crosby to find out how the lockdown has affected Tomorrow’s Warriors, and what plans they have for their part in a post-Covid jazz future.
Tomorrow’s Warriors: Rethinking the Future
In 2021, Tomorrow’s Warriors celebrates its thirtieth birthday. One of the finest of British jazz organizations, it has been a remarkable success story and one guided by Janine Irons and her partner, bassist Gary Crosby. Its educational and business model provides a superb example of sustainability in the fickle world of jazz. Its success is no better demonstrated than in a roll-call of its alumni and alumnae that includes saxophonists Denys Baptiste, Nubya Garcia, Shabaka Hutchings and Binker Golding, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, pianists Peter Edwards and Andrew McCormack and drummer Moses Boyd.
There is a special something that these musicians share. They are not just exceptional players. They are great performers and that is a key element in the training offered by Tomorrow’s Warriors. Unfortunately and hopefully only temporarily, it is that aspect of the organization’s work that has been most impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, as Irons explains:
“We’ve lost seventy-three shows that were contracted between March and September,” Irons says. “Add to that two further series that we were due to sign off and that makes one hundred-and-twelve out of the diary. Our first concern is how the loss of performance experience will affect the youngsters.”
The crisis has brought one issue to the fore. That is the remuneration currently received by musicians from the streaming services.
“We have to take a hard look at the streaming services,” Irons tells me, “in terms of how musicians are paid. I know Spotify have put some money in to support artists and Bandcamp is offering commission-free sales but the economics of streaming just aren’t fair. We need to establish workable partnerships with those companies that are fair to all. That’s the only way to build a sustainable jazz ecology.”
Both Irons and Crosby are already thinking and planning for a post-Covid jazz future, as the sad recognition that some clubs will close dawns. For those that continue, questions arise as to how they will manage social distancing and what this might mean for artist fees.
“We are where we are,” Crosby says. “It would be very detrimental for jazz to go to sleep for a year until this passes. We have always had to be resourceful in the jazz world. We have to keep it going. We all need each other. We need the club owners. They need the musicians and the arts centres need the audiences. If any one of those falls out of the sequence, we don’t have a scene anymore.”
One way forward that both note is for the live streaming of gigs. As Irons points out, if a venue can only sell a limited number of tickets, why can’t other tickets be sold as live streaming? She makes the point, however, that although the technology is already there, legal questions remain.
“It is expensive to buy the rights and make sure everyone is remunerated properly. That’s the challenge. How do you protect those rights? So, the model isn’t quite there yet.”
Obviously live performance has been impossible but have they been able to sustain other aspects of their educational work?
“On that side,” Crosby says, “we can do classes online and that’s what we have done. Of course, that ability to interact with your peers has gone for the present but the young people are able to keep in touch with their mentors.”
And Irons adds, “I heard one of the students say it was the only time he got to talk about jazz really in-depth. His other mates and family just aren’t that interested. Especially with a tutor like Binker Golding. And we set exercises, challenges and homework. We try and keep it fun and some of them have started doing little collaborations digitally.”
Tomorrow’s Warriors is an Arts Council National Portfolio Organization and they have applied for grants that have recently been made available. If successful that will secure the immediate future. As both Irons and Crosby note larger arts organizations, such as major concert halls and venues, need the smaller and medium-sized organizations like Tomorrow’s Warriors and vice versa. “They have the spaces and the budgets,” Irons says, “but they need artists and creative companies such as ours to create content.”
The key for Crosby is audience development.
“Jazz lost decades because it didn’t focus on audience development. Everyone has to make their own decisions and we have made ours – that is to look to the next generation. One thing we’re proud of is that some of the younger players have that development idea foremost in their minds. They may or may not need to make what some might view as artistic compromises, but we have to stop thinking that we or any generation own this music. We have to allow people like Moses Boyd to find new ways we couldn’t see before. These are people in their twenties. They’ve got forty years or more of experimenting to do.”
And he adds, “The people are there to take things forward. Jazz in Britain is just 100 years old. It’s only just getting started.”
N.B. Many readers of will know that Gary Crosby suffered a brain haemorrhage in January 2018. The good news is that he was able to play his first gig in months a few days before the lockdown. He’s composing, practising daily and “getting his music back.” Stay well, stay safe Gary and Janine.