You hear a lot these days about profile, how to raise the profile of jazz. The term ''raising awareness'' is better because it is a little more honest. Too often we are all whistling in the dark.
But on profile, raising awareness, whichever form of words you choose, let's face it: It has been a tough year-and-a-half. Even now audiences are still not back to full capacity or not even open properly yet. The festival sector was worst hit because clubs at least not being annual events could respond as best they could and struggle up in fits and bursts. Festivals had to halt entirely for in some cases as much as two runnings.
The reality is, and I know because I go out to review a lot in small jazz clubs, let's not kid ourselves audiences are often very small indeed even by the clubs' own standards. And yet audiences are gradually getting bigger partly because the rules allow it but initially on re-opening certainly on the London scene you could be sat there among 10, 20 or 30 people regularly and the atmosphere could be very flat indeed. However, even pre-Pandemic small audiences were not unheard of.
These few were often the people who knew they had to be there to show support, resume their old routines or whatever. They often made a lot of effort (some for instance recovering from illness) to be there. In other words they are the seriously committed and there are thousands upon thousands of committed jazz fans all over the country on some level or other. Of course if you live in a place where gigs are few and far between you cannot show your support by going to a club.
These vaulable people do not need their awareness raised. Because it already is although they want to be continuously informed and stimulated by new jazz and continued interest in the masters. I have written before about the lack of media coverage and that is a big issue. However it is not the only one. With the return of the EFG London Jazz Festival next month for the first time fully in a couple of years expect to see a rash of articles (they are starting to appear already) and venues should benefit from increased audiences particularly if rules allow fuller capacity than in the last month or two. I have seen articles speaking of a UK jazz boom. I think that is wishful thinking and certainly not reflected in media coverage in the UK or sales in the main music charts. However, and this is part of the problem any festival faces, a week or 10 days can be a very short term boost and it is only particular to one city.
Raising awareness comes in many forms and I see it as a patchwork. A film could raise your awareness. For instance in recent years the Netflix series The Eddy drew interest for a younger demographic or the animated film Soul can appeal to children. They operate on a completely different level to the act of going to a gig. Most jazz lovers sample the latest via records especially when clubs were shut. Online gig concerts seem to be shrinking and if in any way typical I have not watched an online gig for several months. Raising awareness is above all word of mouth recommendation and rises up from an organic level. Podcasts do not seem to have any traction for jazz beyond a few noble efforts that have not really cut through beyond regular subscribers. Radio could do more especially the BBC with its great resources. Running a regular weekly programme about early-jazz surely should not be as much a priority as running one about new jazz. Sometimes that happens and there is only so much budget. Also, the BBC rarely runs jazz concerts on TV whether live or recorded. That should change and would be a huge boost. But will it?
More broadly there needs to be more investment whether from government funds or private sponsorship, better fees for artists so that they can offer more in terms of band size or ambition and booking agents need to cut their commissions by at least a percentage to reflect how squeezed artist incomes are. At a stroke that would all help. Labels should invest more in artist development rather than expect artists merely to buy their services. Who is serving who after all and is branding just smoke and mirrors to sell services not necessarily about quality outcomes?
We are unfortunately stuck with the fact that the main format now for music consumption is streaming. There is not a lot we can do about that. But formats do change and it is more pluralistic than ever given the staying power of CD and vinyl. However for sound eco reasons as much as anything else (the convenience above all) streaming has a lot of advantages for consumers over physical. The cruel reality is that it impoverishes or at best dents the income of musicians. Tech companies are greedy for income. They are the winners, the artists and even the consumer the loser. Put it this way, we now can hear most music for free at some stage in the cycle pre and post release. That used to be impossible. You had in the past in most circumstances to actually buy the product before hearing it beyond paltry media exposure. Getting stuff for free (a plaything for mass exposure to marketing messages and loss of privacy the trade-off) breeds complacency. Do we value these riches as much or consume them in the same way as we would if we had to stump up a lot of cash for them? To be brutal and again it is a home truth that there is a lot of jazz you cannot even give away as paradoxical as it may seem even if you do because it is all too easy in our popular culture to ignore it completely whether paid for or given away.
If you as an artist see the fact that you have an album out as one way or getting a gig or tours that is all well and good. But it is very functional. You will have to keep doing the same thing year in year out and may become jaded and cynical. The album should have integrity beyond that and stand by itself otherwise it is an aural calling card only. Promoters want artists who put out the best records not the ones with the best calling card surrogates although above all they want artists who have benefited from raised awareness to bring the audience in.
Awareness is generated by passion and enthusiasm and by knowledge and the willingness to communicate and point people in the right direction. If we remember that (and be realistic enough to know that you may be able to lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink) we may be on the right path after all. But awareness just doesn't happen. And it is less of a given than ever in the current climate.