It’s this kind of eccentric, leftfield thinking which underlines their music and creative aesthetic. The group, put together by drummer and composer Mark Holub back in 2003, have forged themselves an enviable reputation as an act doing their bit to push jazz forward into new and unpredictable musical territories. This dedication to experimentation has not gone unnoticed with the group’s 2009 Sensible Shoes nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. In 2005 their debut Arboretum won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.
To mark 2014’s tenth anniversary, the band recently launched and successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album as well as a limited edition live vinyl on Cuneiform Records. M caught up with Mark to get his thoughts on the current health of jazz in the UK…
What are the main challenges facing the jazz genre?
The biggest challenge at the moment, particularly for younger musicians, is actually making money. A lot of regional venues in the UK have lost funding and have also been losing audiences because people have less disposable income to spend on going out.
It’s difficult for these venues to take a risk on people. When I first started Led Bib, we were very lucky to get gigs from people like Schmazz at the Cluny, Leeds Jazz and many other promoters who are now gone or struggling for funding, so where can younger musicians actually go to get gigs?
Part of the problem stems from the media representation of jazz. I am currently splitting my time between the UK and Vienna and can see quite easily that although there could of course be more, generally there is much more access to jazz in places like Austria than in the UK.
I remember a particularly poignant moment for me when I was watching a rare appearance from a jazz band on the BBC. One of the presenters, who is considered as a cultural/musical commentator, said something like: ‘This music is quite hard because it doesn’t have any words’. Not only does that discard jazz, but a whole history of classical music, folk music and many other styles.
What about opportunities in the genre?
There’s such a wealth of great musicians in the UK, so there are plenty of great opportunities to play music, which is really what it’s all about. It also seems like there are more and more people who are interested in going their own way with jazz, so it’s a great chance for all musicians to experience different conceptions of the music.
Is the jazz scene in good health then?
When Led Bib first started, there weren’t so many different young bands playing original music (or at least I wasn’t aware of them). So I am really pleased that now there are loads, and the bands are playing all sorts of different things and many are starting to pick up some recognition outside of the UK, which can only be a good thing. Also across the UK, there are lots of interesting things happening, with lots of smaller cities like Manchester or Birmingham having their own scenes outside of London.
Is there anything which could improve its health?
More funding would obviously help. There will always be a debate about public funding and why the government should fund something which can’t stand on its own feet in the free market. But, I think it is really important for the national psyche that these things are happening, even if only 50 people want to go to the shows.
The media can also help, particularly on television. There are already some outlets on the radio (though of course there could be more), but there are pretty much none on TV which really cuts a lot of people out.
After Led Bib had a TV spot we saw so many more people coming to gigs saying how much they loved the music and that they never knew jazz could be like that. Jazz and other creative music needs to become part of regular programming.
How has the rise of digital impacted jazz – do jazz fans buy downloads?
Selling albums in jazz died a while back although it still ticks a long. However, I don’t think there are many jazz musicians out there who are making a living by selling albums. Jazz fans do buy downloads too, but the numbers are still small compared to physical stock. But jazz has always been a live artform and that’s where people make their living.
What’s the jazz music live scene like?
In terms of the players and the music, great! But there are lots of places in danger of closing or already closing. The UK doesn’t really have a lot of ‘professional’ jazz promoters, it is mostly volunteers who have a real enthusiasm for jazz. When the funding goes they tend to disappear too, because they don’t have the resources to get funding from new sources and they don’t want to sell their houses either!
What are the most popular/best outlets through which you can hear new jazz artists?
Most nights of the week in London you can hear great music at venues like the Vortex and Cafe Oto as well at venues around the country, like the Cluny in Newcastle, Birmingham Jazz and the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool.
Is there much new jazz material being written and released?
Yes. If anything, there is probably more than ever! It’s much easier these days for people to get into the studio and to produce their own music, as well as manufacture it, so as well as the few great labels in the UK, lots of people are doing it themselves!
Are there any new musicians we should be looking out for/or who you’ve ear-marked for big things?
Dave Morecroft is a very nice player and an incredible hard worker. With his Match and Fuse project they really have created something special, and if they are able to keep it going you will see a lot more of them, as well as of Dave!