Spare a thought for the lives of travelling jazz musicians. Before returning to our corner of the world in October Gilad Atzmon, mentioned in closing in last month’s column, will have whirlwind-toured London, St Ives (Cornwall), Welwyn Garden City, Paris, Germany, Switzerland; San Francisco, Portland, New York City and Baltimore, and then back to Kendal, Shropshire and Skegness. Over a month, let alone having crossed continents, that’s more than three-and-a-half thousand miles all the way – somewhat more than those kicks on Route 66.
Other seasoned performers supplement their London and home-grown gigs by other means. Fast-bop saxophonist Dave O’Higgins, on the Jazz Weekender’s OPEN bill this month, takes in summer festivals in Dorset and north Wales as well as teaching at the Loire Valley Summer School. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Andy Panayi, who’s been up to Snape and Clare recently, in addition to his Sussex and provincial club dates has professorships at London and Birmingham music colleges. He also devises those ABRSM jazz courses and exams you might take. On the other hand virtuoso pianist and vocalist Liane Carroll, appearing at Norwich’s Playhouse is, according to her own webpage, ‘happily settled in Hastings’ as a base for those celebrated gigs in London, plus the occasional trip further north.
Needless to say those free-entry doors, or even tickets priced around £10, around the country are not going to pay the bills year-round. Fortunately therefore international arts funds have backed British jazz for some years, while BBC commissions and royalties is another staple source. But there has also been a healthy trend in music colleges and university departments employing the expertise of players. Being a musician-turned-educator not only might pay bills but is also about ploughing back into what is now fertile ground for the young and inventive. Julian Argüelles, who was at Cambridge Modern Jazz club in June, perhaps exemplifies this: a founder of the large co-operative ensemble Loose Tubes emanating from workshops and multicultural London, this 21-piece group then released a generation of leaders and composers who have populated jazz music education. Argüelles has taught at Royal Academy, Royal Northern and Guildhall music colleges and on York’s university course, and is now a Professor of Music in Austria.
All of these individuals are among the interesting generation of, mostly 1960s-born, British modern jazz musicians appearing in the late ‘80s after the rare signing by major record labels of newcomers Andy Sheppard and Courtney Pine. But as popularised jazz in Britain wilted once more the new generation still needed to make a living within the jazz world. Some older hands have surprising day jobs – tenor saxophonist Art Themen (at Headhunters club in Bury St Edmunds last month) once moonlighted as an eminent orthopaedic surgeon; others might have had to maintain more lowly trades (q.v. Digby Fairweather in my March column). It is thankful therefore that the ‘musician, composer and educator’ path has made the economics of being a jazz player a bit more viable than just having to clock up those miles each month.