By last Sunday afternoon Alan Barnes, Andy Hague and Jim Blomfield had seen quite a bit of each other. Late May Bank Holiday 2013? It must be the eighth Play Jazz Weekend at Bradford on Avon’s Wiltshire Music Centre under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry. With nearly 40 aspiring jazzers of varied background, age and experience the trio plus bass player Bill Lynn had formed the teaching faculty of this pop – up Jazz school. Alan, Andy and Jim had started on Friday evening playing the Bristol’s BeBop club accompanied by Greg Cordez on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums. The BeBop club has been going over 20 years now, for much of that time with Andy Hague as the chief booker, animateur and worrier. What a great gig it was too. The packed club were sighing with delight as yet another unpredictable brew of classic tunes with a twist and unfamiliar corners of the jazz canon were explored. Barnes just has to reel off a few phrases to remind you of what a fabulous and fluent improviser he is and the jousting and trading of ideas with Andy Hague a delightful reminder that this was a meeting of old friends. And then an early start on Saturday, coaching and encouraging until by Sunday afternoon there were performances to be proud of and visible nerves for some of the weekend students.
A familiar thought was niggling away while I was doing some of the support (serving teas, taking sandwich orders for hungry tutors and students). The network of clubs, festivals, workshops, weekend and longer courses that make up so much of the jazz scene in all its variety is sustained by a frequently un-sung army of people. They organise, book, ‘do the door’, promote. It makes a huge difference to a very large number of people. One line of thought might be to try and put a price on all that and even calculate what it would cost if all that time and effort were somehow paid for (by whom I’m not sure). There may well be something in that and there are some harsh economics that constrain what can be done (everyone had paid to come on the weekend and that was the only source of finance to cover the very real costs). I’ve been reflecting on a slightly different angle however. I haven’t asked Andy why he has worked to keep the BeBop club going or Rachel exactly what motivates her to organise that weekend. Even if they are able to recoup any costs they incur, it seems unlikely that’s why they do it. It’s an example of doing something that benefits others, undoubtedly deriving satisfaction from it, but the reasons and the benefits aren’t primarily material ones. I’ve enjoyed thousands of hours of music at the bebop club, met many longstanding friends there, feel connected with a community in some sense. You can see it happening on the course as well. I think its what the american philosopher Michael Sandel (in town recently) calls citizenship – you actually can’t buy it. It’s quite an old fashioned word, but captures something I quite like. I think we should celebrate our jazz citizens who act somewhat altruistically, yes maybe so that they get to enjoy great music too, but we all benefit. I’m sure most people could think of someone to nominate for a jazz citizen award (what to call it? ‘Order of the Jazz Community’ (OJC)?). Maybe the parliamentary Jazz Awards should have a new category. Where better to celebrate Jazz Citizens! Most areas of our lives depend on people with the same instincts, but I’m convinced our jazz scene simply wouldn’t exist without them.