I have a todo list with a 1000 words on it so no time for a ‘proper’ blog but instead here’s the full text from a piece/interview I did last month with the wonderful people atJazz UK where we talked jazz in the North West, Growing Your Own Festival (sounds like a good symposium topic that), backgrounds and challenges.
Cheers! (look out for the Lancaster Jazz Festival beer coming very very soon!)
At a grass-roots level jazz and indeed all live music thrives in the north west, and especially in Lancaster. In this really quite small city there is an abundance of gigs every night of the week - everywhere is a venue and there’s always live music and musicians playing somewhere. If you’re a musician and want to be gigging every night with a different band then there are few places where this could happen more easily than in Lancaster, and with so much enthusiasm from both musicians and venues.
Lancaster Jazz Festival was set up three years ago as a small voluntary organisation with the aims to promote cutting edge
collaboration that I was lucky enough to play at in duo with bassist Max Sterling. A huge number of new bands were formed on that day that are now touring and Max and I, perhaps foolishly, found ourselves organising the festival the following year, and it’s all just grown from there.
As a musician (and now accidental promoter), community has always been important to me. Growing up through the Morecambe-based community music organisation More Music to become a Music Leader and Co-ordinator for them and to experience truly astonishing live music created by them with anyone every single day is inspirational and is a key element in Lancaster Jazz Festival. Workshops are super important (and really good fun) and they always feature in our programming and less publicly outside of the festival, we will always feature community bands and we will always encourage new talent. If you want a sustainable music scene, if you want more opportunities to play as a musician, if you want to experience some incredible music then how can you not support this. It is vital and yet so easily overlooked by promoters and musicians seeking instant audiences. The most successful festivals, musicians, events, bands etc weren’t the one-hit-wonders - my advice to anyone starting out is to build relationships and be patient. Things get easy and exciting then, often gradually, but with patience they will get there.
Challenges? Other than the solid year of work that it takes to set-up, budget, fundraise, programme, contract, produce and market a festival it’s always the same and it’s always money. Putting events on/playing music costs money - money that can’t always be gotten from ticket sales and it’s finding that extra that’s the biggest challenge. It’s incredibly time consuming and difficult but you’ve just got to be hard working, patient and nice to everybody regardless of whether you’re a promoter, a musician or a venue. It’s very easy to forget that everyone is after the same thing - everyone wants fantastic live music, everyone wants a great audience and (although there are some terrible and saddening exceptions) everyone wants to pay their artists properly. You can get very easily get obsessed with risk and potential audience numbers and marketing but it’s always the music and the musicians that’s the thing. That’s why audiences turn up and giving space to help make amazing music happen is why we do it and (as the fantastic Steve Mead told me) “you must always remember to enjoy yourself”.
Lancaster Jazz Festival 2013 runs between the 15th and 22nd September. For more info go to www.lancasterjazz.com. We’re very pleased to have the Neil Cowley Trio and Beats and Pieces headlining (especially since we’re such a young festival and still growing). There’s a whole load of other acts based as far afield as London and as close as round the corner - it’s going to be a very exciting (if hectic) week!
Clarinettist, community musician, accidental festival director.