‘We’re still here!’ was a constant refrain at Monday night’s celebration concert for 15 years of Jazz Factory. Why were they so surprised? It was a simple enough idea. ‘Let’s start a jazz workshop’, the plan cooked up by a group
of local movers, shakers and players one night in 1998 as they discussed how to use the newly opened, lottery funded Music Centre in Bradford on Avon. An idea that had legs, although they surely didn’t gaze into the future then and dream of a cold December night, 15 years hence, and the warm glow of a near full house of returning founders, former participants, supporters, friends and family of the current crew all whooping and thrilled by a thoroughly entertaining evening’s music. The returning ‘alumni’ formed a mini big band and rattled out some great arrangements of standards like Blue Bossa and Killer Joe. The regular workshoppers brought out their newly polished work; everything from the calypso of Fungi Mama, to the funk of Mr Magic and classic standards like Whisper Not with a show stopping vocal on ‘It never entered my mind’ that had hairs tingling on necks. And one of those original plotters, Jason Rebello, brought the house down with a bravura solo work out before being joined by a cooking band of supporters, graduates and tutors in Simon Marsh, Mike Daniels, Ralph Dorell, Ben Vleminckx, Kevin Figes and Nick Sorensen.
Why has this weekly workshop for all comers on any instrument worked? Some of the vital elements were on display on Monday. First ‘the idea’, simple enough to be clear and big enough to create something; ‘Come and play jazz, come and learn how to play it together – everyone can do it if they want to enough’. Second the people, just enough resources and some inspiration. In this case an enthusiastic bunch of musician tutors, a fabulous new centre and its management who wanted them there, and the inspiration of local world class musicians who supported and tutored (Jason Rebello for a number of years and in the early days Pee Wee Ellis). Finally, the right formula, small bands with a tutor coaching, presented in the right way for the most important ingredient, the workshoppers, whose response created this weekly pop-up community. It was sustained by more prosaic qualities. A stalwart band of tutors who kept going once a bit of momentum was achieved. Nearly thirty have come and gone in that time but Mike Daniels and Ralph Dorell have been there all along. Then there were supporters who were do-ers (keeping lists, accounts, making bookings) chief amongst them Lynden Marsh and the continuing home of the Wiltshire Music Centre. And of course it continues to be sustained by workshoppers who keep coming.
A crystal anniversary then for Jazz Factory. The workshop or weekly rehearsal is a common enough phenomenon in plenty of cities and towns in all types of music and hopefully celebrated and appreciated now and then. At it’s simplest that idea, ‘ let’s make music together’, is a powerful glue and enormous fun. The grins on faces and tapped feet on Monday night were testimony to that.