This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival marks jazz’s centenary with a 100 hours of live music. Yet while commemorating 100 years of jazz may seem a decidedly nostalgic step, as Selwyn Harris discovers, those behind the #Jazz100 campaign, such as WorldService Project’s Dave Morecroft, are definitely and defiantly looking to the music’s future
What is it about jazz and anniversaries? Any excuse for an endless surge of good old media retrospectives, social media postings, extortionately-priced box sets, desperately obscure track releases, not to mention tribute albums and concerts. It might seem that way too with hashtag #Jazz100, a pop-up campaign created to commemorate the centenary of the birth of jazz in 1917. As ambiguous as that date might sound, it’s exactly 100 years since the birth of the likes of Ella, Diz and Monk, as well as the first ever jazz-labelled recording release, ‘Livery Stable Blues’, by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. But instead #Jazz100 has an entirely refreshing outlook on how to celebrate an anniversary. According to them, it’s all about the next rather than the previous 100 years. 2017 as year zero. Dave Morecroft (below), the man behind the band WorldService Project and the exciting pan-European tour/festival organizers Match and Fuse, is the mastermind behind #Jazz100, which he emphasises is a ‘campaign’ rather than a ‘project’.
“Of course, it’s fantastic to look at the story so far and how far things have come,” he says. “But I think because of the work that I’ve done ever since I came into this industry I always wanted to look at things very progressively and look to the future and at bringing new audiences to new music, to support new music and creative, innovative musicians from across the UK, Ireland and also Europe. So we had a moment last year when it all just came together and I was thinking, well why don’t we talk about the next 100 years of British and Irish jazz? Because the fact of the matter is that the UK and Ireland scene right now is incredibly vibrant and innovative and it’s in a really great place. There’s a kind of resurgence going on, especially in the last five years or so. What we’re trying to do is create a new atmosphere within the industry in this country. So there’s an outward-facing side in which we’re trying to reclaim or rebrand a word. To most audiences, in fact, there is some jazz that they would like. A lot of the time audiences are going to see jazz, even interacting with jazz groups. Let’s talk about Snarky Puppy or The Comet is Coming, Zara McFarlane or Shabaka and the Ancestors, all these very exciting bands right now. They might even be interacting or listening to that music, but just not really aware or labelling it as ‘jazz’. And then the inward-facing side is jazz as a sector, as an industry. Jazz has always, at least in this country, been towards the more disparate end of all the cultural sectors. So this is a way to celebrate this new momentum that jazz is finding, but also to look at the narrative of how the next 100 years will unfold.”
The #Jazz100 mission kicked off in April on International Jazz Day at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, followed up by related events at Glasgow and Love Supreme festivals. There’s #jazzvirgins, a ticketing scheme for those who haven’t, as yet, popped their jazz cherry, various digital and educational initiatives, as well as collaborations with organisations such as Jazz Promotion Network. Besides London Jazz Festival’s ‘Next Generation Takes Over’ strand in November, #Jazz100 reaches a climax at Manchester Jazz Festival this month with “100 gigs in 100 hours”. This includes composer Dave Maric‘s commission piece ‘Decade Zero’, that’s already been performed by Phronesis/Engines Orchestra (pictured top) at Cheltenham, with a rendition at London’s Barbican to follow in November.
“It was really exciting for me to see our three festivals investing in one project,” says director Steve Mead of the Manchester Jazz Festival that has one of the most forward-looking, youth-orientated programmes in the country. “I really wanted to capitalise on the #Jazz100 campaign and look at how we could lend our own slant to the initiative. I’ve always known that the 10-day festival structure and spread of gigs throughout the day has equated to roughly 100 hours of music. We usually present 80-85 bands in each festival, but with some additional venue partners this year and some additional hands-on family morning shows in our Salon Perdu Spiegeltent (pictued above), the total coincidentally came to 98 gigs by the time I finished the programme. It was our way of joining in with the #Jazz100 campaign – the main objective is to get people’s attention and encourage them to try something new out of curiosity.”
For Dave Morecroft though, “it’s as much a social mission as a musical one, which I think is very important to all the musicians that you see paving the way in the UK and Ireland right at this moment. It’s a collaborative thing, it’s about community, and it’s become about politics again. It’s all these things, it’s not just musical genres and tastes. We all have these common goals, but they’re very rarely put under one banner and I think there’s a tendency in the UK sometimes for people to very much focus and work on their own goals and work in their corner if you like. But I think together we are stronger and that’s something we really want to do, unite the sector. That’s when you can take the case to the mainstream media, government or the private sector and that’s when you can show something is worth investing in. The message is a bit of a cliché but it is very much relevant to the sector.”
As someone directly involved in negotiating collaborations between UK and other European bands for his Match and Fuse festivals and tours, Morecroft seems as good a person as any to ask about the effect of the current Brexit plans and arts funding cuts on this kind of work?
“That picture is increasingly blurring and it seems to change week by week, depending who you listening to. But one thing is cultural initiative. Producers and people who work around culture and who are incredibly passionate about it have always found ways to endure. The mechanisms that they are working with, or trying to promote, survive irrespective of political situations, of administrative difficulties or logistical problems. If you see all the work that’s being done by UK members of the EJN (European Jazz Network), of course there’ll be things that need to be addressed regarding Brexit and challenges that need to be overcome, but I think the commitment of all of those members of the European Jazz Network, just as an example of cultural producers working at very high levels in their field, all of them remain completely committed to transmitting stuff across borders. It will survive and it will continue and I think that’s the positive message that we have to believe and transmit because it’s too important not to.”
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Listen to a podcast with Steve Mead from MJF talking to Nigel Slee from Jazz North