A Review of the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand Norway

This was the 15th edition of the Punkt Festival, but my first experience of this unique festival.  The invitation to attend came as part of an expansion of the festival, both in the range of music presented and the number of venues, and as part of its international focus and presentation of partner Punkt festivals in different cities round the world.  This year the music took in a range of genres, including what we might call ‘chamber improv’, ambient music, experimental rock and a concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument and full orchestra, and however we define the music of the Swedish piano trio Rymden (Scandinavian jazz?).  But, as is probably well known, the core of the festival is the Live Remix, the immediate follow up of a particular concert with the use of samples of that concert to create a new piece of music.

This year the festival used a number of different venues.  The festival clearly has as a defining feature a willingness to present a wide range of music and a lack of interest in genre labels.  However, the programme with its range of available venues had this year a policy of putting particular types of music into the venue most suited to it.  Thus what I have called ‘chamber improv’ was presented in a black box venue in SØlander Art Museum, the ‘ambient music’ sets were in the Domkirken, the Cathedral, the ‘experimental rock’ was in the Kick Scene club and the final evening with the orchestral piece, Rymden and Kim Myhr’s guitar and percussion based piece took place in Kilden, the relatively new concert hall.

The festival thus seems to have an openness to different genres and an acceptance of their differences rather than a rejection of genre labels.   It brings these genres together and shows how they overlap through the use of the Live Remix.

There were many highlights in the concert programme; on the first evening vocalist Sidsel Endresen interacted with the violin and double bass duo Vilde and Inga, five members of the Ensemble Modern interacted with festival co-director Jan Bang on laptop.  The highlight of the evening, however, was the set with Samuel Rohrer’s Dark Star Safari that featured Jan Bang’s vocals with their attractive, rather melancholy feel.    On Day 2 in the Cathedral we had a stunning solo set from Ståle Storløkken on the cathedral organ and a beautiful, if slightly overlong, vocal composition performed by the Trondheim Voices.

stale Solokken
Ståle Storløkken photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kick Scene club we had two powerful and loud sets of experimental rock, the first from the young Drongo group from Kristiansand, a band with three keyboards, two guitars, electric bass and drums, and the second from the Thurston Moore Group.   The latter set was very structured with a series of transitions from one passage to another signalled by Moore with the other members of the group poised waiting for the cue.

Thurston Moore Group
Thurston Moore Group photo by Petter Sandell

In the Kilden concert hall the concerto for the Japanese shamisen instrument composed by Dai Fujikura and performed by Hidejiro Honjoh and the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra was a little underwhelming with the shamisen, a three stringed guitar/banjo type instrument, perhaps lacking the breadth of sound needed to match the orchestral writing.  Kim Myhr’s You | Me group with four guitars, all doubling acoustic and electric guitars, and three percussionists created wonderful layers of music, repetitive but powerful enough to resist the ‘minimalist’ label.  Finally, the set by Rymden, the Swedish trio with Bugge Wesseltoft, Dan Berglund and Magnus ÖstrÖm was the one that came closest to a jazz approach based on tunes, all announced, and all featuring solos from the members of the group.

The Live Remixes took place immediately after the main concert and on the same stage.  The festival directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, led three of the six remixes, either individually or working with other musicians, and the other three involved invited individuals or groups.  I enjoyed all the Live Remix sets, but was unsure about the focus of these sets.  Some built an intriguing set of music that referred to aspects of the concert sampled to create a fascinatingly coherent version of that concert.  The Remix by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré with Arve Henriksen and Eivind Aarset that drew both on the organ set by Ståle SorlØkken and that of the Trondheim Voices is a case in point, producing what was for me some of the most beautiful music heard during the festival.  The Remix of the shamisen concerto by Jan Bang and featuring Sidsel Endresen was less obviously linked to the concert, but nonetheless created a set of music that reflected the original.  Also less obviously linked, at least in my ears, were the remixes of the Drongo set by Simen Løvgren, that of the Thurston Moore set by the Supersilent trio, and that of the Kim Myhr set by Pål- Kåres Elektroshop.  Each of these remixes presented interesting electronic music that was successful in its own right and certainly captured the spirit of the original.  But I was left wondering what the parameters of the Live Remix are.  How far should they draw on the original?  Is it sufficient to create something original that does no more than reflect the vibe of the original?

A couple of observations: I found Fiona Talkington’s introductions very informative, especially those on the first day when she conducted a brief Q&A with the musicians.  Secondly, the festival was dominated by guitars, keyboard and drums.  Not one group had a saxophone!

The Birmingham Punkt Festival with the two co-directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and a mix of British and Norwegian musicians will take place at Birmingham City University from 18th to 20th March.

The photographs above were taken by Petter Sandell

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A Comparison Between Louis Moholo Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice and The Five Blokes Band

Last week I was delighted to be able to buy Spirits Rejoice!, the 1978 recording by the Louis Moholo Octet on the Ogun label, now reissued on Otoroku, the Café Oto label, to coincide with the two-day residency of Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Five Blokes (perhaps not the best name for a band in these Key Change days!).

Louis MoholoI was there for the first night of the residency and loved the energy and the sheer joy of the quintet.  It seems to be directed by Alex Hawkins at the piano strongly supported by John Edwards on the double bass and the intricate patterns woven by Moholo at the drums.  The form of the two sets the quintet played was based on seamless moves in and out of the strong South African melodies, and a movement between these melodies and the passionate improvising of the two reed players, Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax and bass clarinet, and Jason Yarde on alto sax.  The interplay between the two was a key part of the wonderful atmosphere created by the band.  As I recall, the band played in both sets one long passage including various tunes interwoven with the improvisation before pausing and concluding the set with one or two shorter passages.

It was fascinating then to sit down and listen several times over the weekend to the Spirits Rejoice! LP and compare the music of the Octet with that of the Five Blokes band.  Of course, the Octet is a different and larger band with two bass players –  Johnny Dyani and Harry Miller – and two trombonists –  Nick Evans and Radu Malfatti -, plus Evan Parker on tenor sax, Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Keith Tippett on piano and Moholo on drums.   The music brings together African melodies and free improvisation in a way that seems entirely natural.  Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998, p. 1069) note in discussing Moholo’s albums that ‘traditional African musics frequently anticipated the methodologies of free music’; this is certainly borne out on the Spirits Rejoice album.

One notable difference between the Octet album and the live Five Blokes gig is that on the album there is much less movement in and out of the melodies and there is usually a clear delineation between the statement of the melody and the solos.  This is immediately apparent on the first track, Khanya Apho Ukhona (meaning Shine Wherever You Are) where the statement of the theme moves into a long solo by Evan Parker.  Evan is brilliant throughout the album as are Keith Tippett on several tracks and Kenny Wheeler on the Wedding Hymn track.  The track where there is most to and fro between the melody and the improvisation is the second track, Mongezi Feza’s You Ain’t Gonna Know Me ‘Cos You Think You Know Me which features the two trombonists.  Interesting that this tune also featured in the Five Blokes set.

alex hawkinsBy contrast, the music of the Five Blokes is much more fluid with the constant movement between the tunes and the improvisation that really keeps the listener anticipating quite rapid changes from one to the other.  The changes seem to be cued either by Hawkins at the piano or by certain drum patterns from Louis Moholo.  All this gives the music a freshness and an excitement that is very special.

It is excellent that the music that developed from the interaction between the South African exiles and the British free players that began in the 1970s lives on despite the loss of so many of the original exiles.  It is such a special blend of musics that adds a wonderful, joyous and heartening sound to the scene.  It is also very encouraging that the scene in South Africa continues to produce lively and distinctive music.  A good example is the young pianist Bokani Dyer who has a different take on the South African tradition; he is establishing a niche for his trio touring in Britain and continental Europe.

 

Reference

Richard Cook and Brian Morton (1998) The Peguin Guide To Jazz On CD  London: Penguin

The Fizzle and TDE Promotions Autumn Programme

This autumn the collaboration between Fizzle run by Andy Woodhead and TDE Promotions run by myself presents one of the best seasons of improvised music and free jazz ever seen in Birmingham.  There are 14 gigs taking in all kinds of experimental music: free jazz, electronics, improvisation to silent film, British and Swedish electro-acoustic music, a residency with the Archipelago group, solo and duo performances through to large ensembles.

The programme has been supported for the third time by an Arts Council England Project Grant and we are very grateful to them for this support.

The programme takes place in three main venues: the regular Fizzle programme takes place at the Lamp Tavern, a lovely intimate pub on the edge of the Digbeth area, and this season they will run on Tuesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, both on a monthly basis.  The TDE Promotions take place in the unique Hexagon Theatre at mac (Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park) and also in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.  Other occasional events take place at the Artefact venue in Stirchley – the silent film improvisations – and in the BEAST studio at the Bramall Hall at the University of Birmingham for the electro-acoustic concert.

hannah marshallThe season begins on Tuesday 17th September at the Lamp Tavern with a Fizzle double bill featuring a duo between Andy Woodhead on piano and Hannah Marshall on cello and a quartet featuring four young improvisers: Filippo Radicchi, drums, David Sear, trombone, Alex Astbury, trumpet and bass and Lee Griffiths saxophone.

This is followed by a TDE Promotion on Thursday 1st October in the Hexagon Theatre at mac featuring a piano trio Punkt Vrt Plastik that features three of the most exciting players in Europe: drummer Christian Lillinger, pianist Kaja Draksler and double bass player Petter Eldh.  Tony Dudley-Evans heard the trio at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis venue a few years ago and believes that the trio is the most exciting piano trio anywhere in the world!!christian lillinger

The rest of the programme is:

Sunday 6th October  Lamp Tavern  Treppenwitz and Paul Dunmall Quartet with Phil Gibbs, James Owston and Jim Bashford

Thursday 10th October    Artefact   Silent film improvisations, a collaboration with Flatpack

Tuesday 15th October Lamp Tavern  Toby Delius, Olie Brice, Mark Sanders plus Piera Onacko,  Nathan England-Jones and Lee Griffiths

Thursday 31st October Eastside        Tim Berne residency playing with student groups and in duo  with Liam Noble

Sunday 3rd November Lamp Tavern Archipelago with guests, part of a short residency.

Friday 7th and Saturday 8th

November     BEAST Studio                Swedish and British electro-acoustic music

Tuesday 19th November Lamp          Yvonne Magda, Hannah Marshall, Tina Hitchens, Caitlin Callahan   +  Bruce Coates, Trevor Lines, Ed Gauden

Thursday 21st November Hexagon   Annie Whitehead and Rude 2.0 + Andy Woodhead solo electronics

Wednesday 27th November Eastside Paul Dunmall Quintet The Soultime Suite + Brass Section.

Thursday 5th December   Hexagon     Kit Downes Quartet + Steve Saunders’ Glitch

Sunday 8th December Lamp Tavern    Toshimaru Nakamura + Dave Birchall, Sam Andrae Otto Willburg  + a set by Birmingham Conservatoire students

Tuesday 10th December Hexagon       Raymond Macdonald Gunter ‘Baby’ Sommer Duo. Saxophones + Drums

A Case Study of English and French Jazz Collectives

I have felt for some time that the system of musician collectives has provided an important step forward for musicians and for the development of the jazz scene.  At their best musician collectives have given musicians the opportunity to develop their own projects, find and run their own venues and, more generally, take control of their own careers.

In Britain I have had some involvement with various collectives that were formed in the early years of the 21st century, notably the Cobweb Collective in Birmingham (see Wall and Barber, 2015, for a description of the formation of the collective, now rather out of date) and the F-Ire Collective in London.  This led to a connection to French collectives through the Jazz Shuttle programme that involved the creation of joint UK French bands that toured to both countries, a project funded by the SACEM, the French equivalent of PRS.  I became increasingly impressed by the activities of French collectives such as the COAX Collective and the Onze Heures Collective in the greater Paris region and the Grolektif in Lyon.  I was impressed by the way they had been able to create activity for young musicians which they ran themselves, but for which they were able to obtain funding that facilitated both the projects themselves and administrative support for the activity.

The key to success for these French collectives seemed to be that they were formed of a relatively small number of musicians, between 12 and 15, who were all committed to working together in various groups.  The fact that they were able to obtain funding for administrative support was also a major factor.  This approach contrasted with that of the collectives I was familiar with in Britain, The Cobweb Collective and the F-Ire Collective; these had a large number of members so that the creation of new projects from within the membership seemed less of a priority than the running of gigs for existing bands.  Also, these collectives largely failed to raise funds for administrative support.

 

romain dugelayWith these interests in mind, it was fascinating to hear Romain Dugelay at the recent Jazz Connective meeting in Łodz describe the history of the Grolektif collective of which he was a co-founder and the reasons why it had ceased to exist.   The collective was set up in 2004 by a group of musicians recently graduated from the jazz course at the Lyon Conservatoire.  The first year was devoted to developing repertoire for the bands that members of the collective formed, the second year was devoted to developing original material for the bands.  After three years the collective had sufficient funding to support 10 bands and a label, but urgently needed their own venue to provide regular playing opportunities.  Thus in 2007 the Grolektif Collectif along with a second collective, the Polycarpe Collectif, helped establish Le Périscope venue in Lyon, actively participating in building and creating a space suitable for creative music.  This is now a thriving venue that promotes up to 130 concerts a year in the area of creative music, i.e. jazz, improvised music, hip hop, rock.

After a few years Le Periscope and Grolektif became independent organisations with their own boards and administration, but the links between the two organisations continued to be strong; members of the collective continued to be on the Board of Le Periscope and to use the rehearsal facilities at the club.   The activities of the collective continued, but five years later in 2017 it was decided to discontinue the collective.  There were two main reasons for this, one was that the members began to differ over what was the right approach to the collective’s activity and a series of disputes weakened the organisation.  The other was that the members of the collective had begun to be more established on the French scene and gradually moved off in different directions.  In other words, they no longer needed the collective in order to support their careers.  The collective had clearly helped to establish the careers of its members, but had served its purpose.

It should be noted here that Lyon has another well-established collective Arfi formed in 1977 and still active.  Its website lists 11 groups that are part of the collective.

seb rochford
Seb Rochford

The parallels with the English collectives I was familiar with are striking.  The F-Ire Collective was established in 1998 by Barak Schmool and in its heyday had members such as Seb Rochford, Pete Wareham, David Okumu, Ingrid Laubrock, Julia Biel and supported the early days of bands such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and the Ingrid Laubrock Quintet.  These players have become major figures on the contemporary British scene, or on the New York scene in the case of Ingrid Laubrock.  All these players moved on after a successful national tour in 2005 for the F-Ire Collective Large Ensemble.  The collective did recruit new members such as Fred Thomas, Zac Gvi, but has been inactive for a number of years; its last Facebook entry was in 2015.

The Cobweb Collective always focussed on creating spaces for its members to play.  It was set up by students on the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire (now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) who were keen to find a space for student groups to play.  It ran a very successful Thursday night session at the Yardbird pub in Paradise Circus for many years, but that became increasingly separate from the collective.  Although many excellent groups have formed from the graduates of the jazz course, the collective never really played a role in their establishment and development.  The focus was on the venue and this gradually became run by individuals not directly associated with the collective.  The successor venue to the Yardbird is the Spotted Dog that runs a very popular Tuesday night session run by graduates of the jazz course and which features mostly young bands from Birmingham or bands from outside the city that are on tour.  The two main sets are followed by a jam session.  The Cobweb Collective relaunched as the BLAM Collective, but that second formation never really took off, and there has been no active collective in Birmingham for many years.  Its main legacy has been the Spotted Dog programme.

In England other collectives such as The Loop Collective, The Lume Collective, the Chaos Collective, all in London, and LIMA (Leeds Improvised Music Association) have played similar roles in establishing the careers of young musicians and in setting up nights in venues that continue to operate after the collective’s activity has ceased.

A number of conclusions arise from these descriptions and observations.  Collectives have a key role in providing a stepping stone for young musicians either in their final year on a jazz course or in the years immediately after graduation.  These musicians may form new groups and set up innovative projects under the auspices of the collective, but after a number of years will move on and concentrate on their own careers.  This phenomenon seems to apply as much in France as in Britain.  Collectives thus have a relatively short but active life span.

They have two significant main legacies, one is the creation of venues or nights in venues that have a much longer life. The second is the support given to the emergence of many of the most talented musicians playing today, players in Britain such as Seb Rochford, Pete Wareham, David Okumu and Ingrid Laubrock from the F-Ire Collective, Robin Fincker (now back in France), Dave Smith and Dan Nicholls from the Loop Collective, and in France players such as Théo Ceccaldi from the Tri Collectif, Julian Desprez from the COAX Collective, Romain Dugelay from the Grolektif and Anne Quiller from the Pince Oreilles Collective.

This is very much a prelinimary set of thoughts and I hope to develop the points made in a future blog that goes into the issues in greater depth.

Reference

Wall, T. and Barber, S (2015) Collective Cultures and Live Jazz in Birmingham in Gebhardt, N. and Whyton, T The Cultural Politics of Jazz Collectives London: Routledge

A Change In Audience Reaction?

nikki yeohA visit to Ronnie Scott’s this week to hear a new project of Nikki Yeoh’s based on the music of the French Algerian composer Maurice El-Medioni and featuring a trio with Shirley Smart on cello and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums has led to a reflection on my part on the nature of audience reaction.  The trio was appearing as part of Ronnie Scott’s International Piano Trio Festival and an added bonus was the appearance of the Bokani Dyer Trio in the opening set.

All three sets, one by Bokani and two from Nikki, were excellent and both followed similar musical principles, that of integrating jazz with Arab and Sephardic music in the case of Nikki Yeoh’s reinterpretation of El-Medioni’s music, and jazz with South African music in the case of the Bokani Trio.

bill evansThis very satisfying experience  and the visit to Ronnie Scott’s led me to spend the following evening listening to the recently issued double Cd (Bill Evans: Evans in England on the Resonance label) of Bill Evans playing live with his trio with Eddie Gomez on double bass and Marty Morell on drums at Ronnie Scott’s in December 1969.  The music on the CD is very different from that which I heard live at Ronnies; it focusses on Bill Evans’ reworking of show tunes such as Stella By Starlight, Our Love Is Here to Stay etc, though the interaction between the members of the trio and the freedom of the bass and drums was the forerunner of the integration at the heart of both trios I heard at Ronnies.

I will leave a full review of the night to others, see Mike Hobart’s review in the Financial Times (https://www.ft.com/content/a47faeb8-ba88-11e9-8a88-aa6628ac896c, but subject to a Paywall).  But one, perhaps rather trivial, aspect of the audience reaction to the music struck me.   The audience for the Bill Evans Trio – at Ronnie Scott’s in 1969 – applauds by clapping at the end of each tune and in the traditional jazz way at the end of most solos.  The applause is warm and enthusiastic, but rarely goes beyond that.  I did detect a gentle bit of cheering at the end of the set, but this was muted.  By contrast, at Ronnie Scott’s this week each tune, particularly in the Nikki Yeoh set, was greeted with an outburst of cheering, whooping and shouts as well as clapping.  Some of the solos, especially some excellent drum solos from Demi Garcia Sabat, were applauded, but not all.

Others, notably Richard Williams on The Blue Moment site, have noted that audiences for the new wave of young jazz groups such as Sons of Kemet or Ezra Collective similarly show their appreciation by cheering and whooping, even during solos as well as at their end.

POSTSCRIPT:

I had to leave just before the end of Nikki Yeoh’s second set so missed her finish with a participatory event that got the Ronnie Scott’s audience up on its feet.  I am gratreful to Brian Homer for this information.

A Snapshot of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival

This year the Copenhagen Jazz Festival has celebrated its 40th anniversary.  It’s an amazing festival, surely the biggest in the world.  I couldn’t find a figure for the total number of gigs and I suspect nobody has had the courage to attempt to count them all.  I arrived on the Wednesday around the middle of the 10-day festival, and I counted 161 gigs on that day with an amazing 27 gigs starting at 8pm.

The festival takes place all around Copenhagen in concert halls, clubs, cafes, restaurants, bookshops, museums, chapels, media centres, the open air etc. etc.   Getting to gigs needs to be planned carefully, but it is a wonderful way to get to know the city, including many areas outside the city centre that are off the tourist track.

I was there for just two days, so this is very much a quick impression of the festival with a few comments on the bands I heard.  My main conclusion is that it is vital to plan one’s day, especially as the smaller venues fill up very early.  I was the guest of Jazz Denmark and they had worked out a tight programme focussing on interesting Danish bands, so the planning had already been done for me.

First up was Jeppe Zeeberg with his modestly named band The Absolute Pinnacle of Human Achievement playing at 4pm in BLOX, a large arts and media centre near the waterfront that houses the Danish Architecture Centre.  The band played a kind of free funk, but with excellent compositions from Zeeberg.  The room was large but a good sized standing audience was in attendance.

Then off to the Design Museum to see Sissel Vera Pettersen, a solo artist focussing on vocals and electronics with just the one short outing on saxophone.  This was a beautiful ambient set that I found totally absorbing.  The concert was part of the mini-festival within the overall festival named the Spacehouse Series.  Apparently all participants in that series had been asked to include in their set a version of either What A Wonderful World or Blowing In The Wind.  Sissel chose the latter and gave a beautiful version of it that brought out the full meaning of the words and which I found captivating.

The next gig was some way out of the city centre in the Østre Chapel in the main cemetery.  This was an attractive chapel, but one which has not been used for 70 years; apparently bodies used to be piled up in it before burial!  This was the venue peter bruunfor Peter Bruun’s All Too Human, a quartet with Bruun on drums, Marc Ducret on guitar, Kasper Tranberg on trumpet and Simon Toldam on keys.  This was a fantastic concert with a strong focus on Bruun’s compositions.  The language was essentially that of free jazz, but within the context of a structured approach involving rather more composition than improvised solos.  Bruun gave a fascinating insight into his writing process when he introduced one tune by telling the audience that the composition came directly from his transcription of a solo by Ducret that Bruun had heard at a concert given by Big Satan, the band that Tim Berne leads with Ducret and Tom Rainey.  There had been a certain amount of banter about the tune with Tim Berne claiming – I assume in good humour – that the tune should really be his, and Ducret being unhappy at playing a tune based on a solo of his that he felt had several mistakes.

The final gig of the night took place in a former train or tram station, Lygten Station, now a nicely informal club just right for the heavy jazz rock approach of SVIN.

Day 2 started early with a showcase for the Kutimangoes band at a small venue in the former Meat Packing District, an area which is now dominated by arts venues.  I had heard the band in Poland at the JazzArt Festival in Katowice; I much preferred the Copehagen set in which the band were clearly going deeper into West African music and producing a more unusual and more attractive blend of jazz and African music than many of the jazz + Afrobeat bands.

Back at BLOX Selhventer, a four piece group with two drummers, trombone and saxophone plus electronics really impressed with a groove based improv.  Then The Horse Orchestra in the small and intimate Mellemrummet venue were good fun.

The final gig of my short visit was very much a theatrical performance under the direction of a theatre director, a designer and a stage designer with the aim of breaking away from traditional forms of presentation in jazz.  The project Hess Is More: Apollonian Circles 7 was part of a 10-day series of concerts in the festival involving the musicians, the directors and the designers.  The event took place in a hesssmall room with a large dining table in the middle with places set, candles on the table and everything seemingly ready for a banquet.  The musicians were all dressed in white robes with a black sash; they entered the room one by one and invited several members of the audience to join them at the table and have a glass of wine.   There then followed a series of musical events around the table and then on the table carefully avoiding any contact between the robes and the candles.  The music moved from vocals to passages led by percussion to some free playing.  I loved the approach of creating a situation for music very different from that of the concert hall, but I remained uncertain about the actual music.  Much of it was excellent, but I still felt something was lacking.

This short visit was overall a very rich experience even though I only had two days at the festival.

15 Years of Jazz on the Foyer at Symphony Hall

This Friday, 12th July at 5pm, Jazzlines celebrates 15 years of the Foyer Jazzlines Programme at Symphony Hall.  As it is a special occasion, the session will feature steve ajaoSteve Ajao and the Blues Giants, one of the favourite bands with the audience, and it will take place in the Main Hall rather than on the foyer.  Symphony Hall’s Chief Executive, Nick Reed, will be there to outline the plans for the development of the foyer, which will be closing this month as part of the Making An Entrance project.  The entrance and the foyers will be refurbished so that there will be a new foyer space specially designed for live music.

The new foyers are due to open in September 2020 and in the meantime the Friday evening jazz sessions and other events such as The Notebenders Saturday afternoon session will take place in other halls in the ICC (International Convention Centre).

The Friday early evening sessions, which run from 5pm to 6.30 every Friday apart from mid July to early September, have become a major part of the Birmingham scene and very popular with audiences with up 350 people attending each week.  They are well known on the jazz circuit and, while the priority is given to Birmingham and West Midlands musicians, many national and even international musicians contact Jazzlines because they have heard that it is such a fantastic session.

bryan corbettIt all began 15 years ago when Birmingham Jazz of which I was then Chair  agreed with Symphony Hall to run a series on  the foyer. The first gig featured the  Bryan Corbett Quartet and we were delighted that a large crowd turned up for this first gig and even more delighted that they have continued to come regularly over the 15 years.  I well remember that first gig: Bryan Corbett is a brilliant player and his group got us off to a tremendous start playing top class jazz that was accessible to an audience many of whom were just tipping their toes in the water with jazz.  That night, A R Rahman, the well-known composer of music for Indian films, was in town conducting the CBSO, and it was very pleasing that many South Asians came early to that concert, either deliberately to hear the jazz, or catching it just by chance, but seemingly enjoying it.

We initially called the session Commuter Jazz as we assumed that most people attending would be calling in after work for a listen and a drink.  However, we soon realised that a lot of people were coming especially for the session, and arriving early to grab a seat.  So we renamed it Rush Hour Blues and that name stuck for some time and is still often used, though not officially.  These days the name has become just Jazz in The Foyer, or Jazz in the Café Bar.

The sessions have always been very popular and it is fascinating to observe how the audience has become more open to different styles of jazz.  It is a listening audience that really concentrates on the music, has its favourites, but is always prepared to check out new bands.  It is a very good example of the phenomenon that the more one listens to different types of music, the more open one becomes.  Moreover it is free entry gig and this has the advantage that many people who want to give jazz a try and find out whether they like it can come and, if it is not to their taste, leave.  The sessions also attract many who somehow do not see themselves going to what they see as a more formal concert starting at 8 or 8.30pm and finishing after 10pm.  They enjoy the hassle free aspect of the foyer events.

In this way the Friday foyer sessions have built up a significant knowledgeable audience who would probably not otherwise be attending jazz or indeed any music events.  Of course, Jazzlines would love some at least to be moving on to its ticketed events at the CBSO Centre, or in the main Symphony or Town Hall; we do encourage the audience to try other events, and there have been notable successes there.

In the meantime, we celebrate the success of the last 15 years, and look forward to the future this Friday (12th July) with Steve Ajao and the Blues Giants in the main Symphony Hall.  It’s completely free and there will be a photographic exhibition with photos taken over the 15 years by Russ Escritt, Garry Corbett and Bill Shakespeare.   And a raffle with excellent prizes.