I have to begin by saying the support from the start and feedback since the event has been quite phenomenal. I have been touched by those from the UK and much further afield who have wanted the event to be a success and supported me through social media, offering free web pages and listings, pushing on the radio, in magazines – everywhere really and helping in practical terms on the day.
So, it all started when I was interviewed on Jazz Bites Radio – the US based radio station which supports jazz and encourages new acts of quality to gain airplay and exposure. At the end of an hour long interview the final question was did I have any ambitions? I said I would not mind sometime putting on a jazz event in the UK – a mini-festival to showcase jazz here and near by. To cut a long story short Jazz Bites Radio sponsored it so next thing, armed with a few thousand dollars and no experience, I found myself trying to put a mini-festival together. The adventure began.
First the aims – I decided the aim was to have people experience as many different genres of jazz over a day. Simple. The format would be 10 acts rolling one after the other, each of a different jazz genre. So, I made a list of who to approach. They needed to be musicians who might know my writing and I had talked with so understood where I was coming from in jazz terms. Every one I contacted said, ‘yes’ apart from one who could not get back from Europe in time to get to the event. Everyone also agreed they would get the same length of time on stage and the same fee.
Next a venue. I contacted halls, pubs with dance arenas, village and music venues, eventually deciding on The Brewhouse in London Fields. I went and saw them and the space, which was a railway arch with a courtyard outside and another arch beside it, seemed perfect. We could have sole use of the large green room and the larger arch. So all was in place. Then the promotion – publicity pieces for magazines, web page pieces for radio stations, articles for my columns, Twitter account for the event, Facebook, specialist sites for jazz gigs, you name it, LJP, as it had become known, was there. I was bowled over by the number of radio stations and editors who gave me free publicity – all I had to do was write the pieces. Jazz in Europe even put a banner across the top of their home page with a ticket link. I realised this event had momentum and people had a genuine desire to see a new event for jazz in London. At that time I had just lost a close friend to cancer so I decided to use the event also to raise money for cancer research. There was also the opportunity to offer young people interested in the music business a chance to experience an event under supervision, taking on roles such as stage manager so I got those things arranged.
The venue had no instruments so I organised a piano and for one or two of the acts to share various parts of musical kit. Tech specs for the venue and acts were exchanged and a tech guy, security and bar people organised at the venue. A doorman was hired and a merchandise stall organised. I had a few ups and downs with musicians’ fortunes as one of them lost his visa to work in the UK, and one had personal problems so had to pull out but I found 2 willing replacements from the right genres to keep the balance. Don’t panic! I found advice from musicians and even had a couple of drinks and a meal with people who had experience and went through the day with me – I had not thought about a merchandise stall (thanks Mr Jolly) and a photographer (thanks Mats) but soon I got these organised.
Next ticket sales – Eventbrite and WeGotTickets to the rescue. This was February. Then I waited – and waited. Nothing moved. By March I realised I needed to do something to start the ball rolling in terms of tickets going so I offered reduced tickets in return for agreed donations to cancer research on the day as I had organised boxes to be set up around the venue. I was also lucky enough to get musicians come in, one from the US, one from London whose experience of events like this and popularity brought followers who of course bought tickets so, slowly tickets moved and just before the event we had just over 130 sold, some for the afternoon, some for the evening and most for all day. The day itself came, I organised water and snacks for the musicians and we were all set. We got a photographer organised as well.
Then the real adventure and challenges began – first the weather hit 30 degrees plus – it was the hottest day of the year so far. The venue had no air conditioning so we had a fan in the greenroom, which blew slightly warmed air into an already green-house like atmosphere. The performance area was boiling and only one very noisy fan was working. Luckily we had a courtyard – until the wrap stall set up – we had agreed he would use a gazebo but it proved too tall for the event’s ceiling so cooking tables got set up – complete with gas burners like blast furnaces – and took half the courtyard. The venue announced they also had a gig in the next door arch – which was fine as insulation was good so you could not hear it from our side – but what they forgot to tell us was it was a drum and bass gig for the local teenagers. So, come 3pm to get to the green room we had to work our way through hundreds of sweaty teenagers, which had both ups and downs.
A security guard ended up protecting our green room and instruments which in turn meant everyone had to have a bright wrist band to gain access. To top it all, in our courtyard you could hear the drum and bass and not the music coming from the performance area inside so people did not know when to go in to hear the music. Most people sat outside , either on the few tables there were or went across to get ice creams at the local park and came back to see groups they wanted to see. I got texts from two people saying they had come to the venue, seen the youngsters queuing for the other gig and decided it was not for them and from one guy and his family stuck on a train – the heat had caused problems on the tracks. So, one way or another we were depleted in numbers actually inside at any one time. It meant some of the acts played to an almost empty room. I learned later it was never actually less than 20 people in the room – they just gathered in the area where the fan was blowing cooler air so it felt like there were less. I began to feel the day was not turning out as I thought.
However, there is always an upbeat with jazz music and whilst I was feeling a bit sorry about the whole day, the musicians and most of the audience were thoroughly enjoying themselves – albeit in a different way than if they had just sat and watched the acts one after the other. The photographer, Ryan Bedingfield, was having a great day too, catching musicians from all angles and coming up with some amazing pictures. We even had a visit from a couple of the drum and bass brigade and they wanted to know all about jazz.
So many people commented on the mix of jazz and that they had heard music they would never normally listen to like free jazz and for the young stage manager it was a very positive experience. I learned a great deal, not only about being organised and checking everything at least twice but also about my own limitations. Sometimes the idea is great but you have to be aware of whether you can actually come through in the end. I had envisaged introducing every act. I had cards with facts and album titles, you know, blurb, on each one and intended to use them as prompts but when it came to doing this I was so out of my comfort zone that several times I either got the stage manager to do it or twice got the acts to introduce themselves. So I learned that stage front is not my thing.
I found out a couple of truths about human nature too. Firstly, some of the people who said they would donate to the charity never did so, they got reduced tickets for nothing; not sure how they can do that and sleep but there you go. Also, our wrap stall had agreed to give a portion of their takings to the charity but when I spoke to them at the end of the day, they said they had not sold much due to the weather so I said not to worry. Someone else later told me they were doing a roaring trade to the people at the drum and bass gig. Another lesson in human nature. Also, tickets sell in the last few weeks so early starts on promotion might be wasted energy. Also, you can’t control the heat!
But in terms of a learning curve, it was amazing and I am really glad I did this event. Without Jazz Bites Radio’s sponsorship and encouragement initially, I would never have pushed myself to put the idea into action but forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is actually a good thing sometimes, and I think I gained from it. Most importantly, good jazz music reached people who would never have gone to such a mix of genres and those who came back to me (and there are a lot) completely loved the day. It was not as full as I thought but when we looked back at the door figures, we had a surprisingly large number across the day, it was just they were never all together in the venue. Most were trying to get cool. People said they loved the eclectic mix – the acts we had were Lars Fiil, Gg, Colin Webster, Paul Jolly and Mike Adcock, Marco Marconi, Fiona Ross, Kitty La Roar Quartet, John Edwards, Carmela Rappazzo, Deelee Dube, Sarah Brand, John Russell and Tom Harrison and this proved a very popular combination with something for everyone.
I also learned that when you are completely exhausted and the event is over, not to make a judgement as host because you are not in a position to do that objectively until you get home, rest and get feedback, if any, from people you trust to be honest. And for the event there was massive feedback, both on social media and to me personally and it was totally positive. I had no control over the heat and the venue was not as suitable as I had thought. When I saw it in back in March with an empty courtyard which seemed massive and I never even thought about the lack of air conditioning back then but these are all things to remember for the future.
And the best thing of all – it proved that live music, jazz music, this music is completely different from streaming, hearing on earpieces or any other kind of musical experience. Live is vibrant, energetic and completely beautiful. From the feed back I have had a good number of other people feel the same way.
Text: Sammy Stein
Images: Ryan Bedingfield