Dick & Christa Hughes – Twenty First Century Blues (ABC Music) James Morrison & The Idea Of North – Feels Like Spring (ABC Jazz) Joe Chindamo – Another Place Some Other Time (Jazzhead/MGM) Joseph Tawadros – The Hour of Separation (Independent/Planet) The Necks – Silverwater (Fish of Milk/Shock)
Artists with jazz background nominated in non-jazz categories:
(Megan) Washington Album of the Year: I Believe You Liar (Mercury/UMA) Single of the Year: How To Tame Lions (Mercury/UMA) Best Female Artist: I Believe You Liar (Mercury/UMA) Breakthrough Artist: I Believe You Liar (Mercury/UMA) Best Adult Alternative Album: I Believe You Liar (Mercury/UMA)
It's interesting to see the ongoing phenomenon of artists crossing between jazz and "pop". Obviously Megan Washington and Katie Noonan. But also Rai Thistlethwaite and Phil Stack in Thirsty Merc. Does anyone think this is more common in Australia than elsewhere? I'm talking about crossing into the real mainstream. Obviously bands like The Necks and The Bad Plus cross out of jazz, but only into the fringes of the mainstream. Sort of left-field, niche mainstream and retaining many recognisable jazz elements. The above actually are mainstream (or at least mainstream/alternative).
And we'd probably all be more uppity if there were no jazz section at all!
Presumably you mean 'upset' or 'uptight', and if so, that's a fair enough call. But even setting aside the problem of competitive assessment in artistic enterprise, what if the awards actually did mean something? Wouldn't that be better?
Why not, for the sake of argument, compare this with an award that actually does translate to sales and hold genuine community interest: the Man Booker Prize, which ‘aims to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland’.1 Now obviously this has heaps more funding behind it, so the prize is pretty huge and it's genuinely worth winning - I'm aware of the fundamental and major differences in scale. But look at the structural, procedural things that distinguish it: the judges change every year, and their names are made public. They are actually specialists; not one of them would ever say anything as dumb as ‘The Necks’ music is completely unstructured’, as once I heard one of Australia’s (non-performing) jazz greats say. A longlist is, after some months – during which time the judges presumably read the books they’re judging, all of them – reduced to a shortlist, and both are published. The announcement is made after meetings, discussion, readings and – heaven help us! – re-readings, and so you know the opinion that is delivered is a thoroughly informed one.
I posted here originally about the ARIA shortlist as it was community news that an administrator might well post and I hoped to stimulate discussion about the awards (including my observation about the recurring interesting cases of crossing from jazz to pop that I imagined might be particularly Australian?).
I think it's unhelpful to throw at Tim some sort of accusation of lack of respect for his colleagues in response to his contribution.
Tim went on to clarify his initial comments with really interesting points about the state of the process, not the worth of the artists.
The difficulty is that those whom the awards effect (contender artists) are divided into WINNERS and LOSERS already.
I'm a LOSER. In a 30-year discography of 15 releases ranging back to the age of 21 it wasn't until a few months shy of my 50th birthday that I was even shortlisted for an ARIA or Bell. I still have not won any jazz-specific award (ARIA, Bell or Mo). [EDIT: still true as of March 2018, 8 years after the post was made; have never won a jazz-specific award in 40 years of distinguished contribution to Australian jazz]
Others are WINNERS, sometimes multiple winners.
For a LOSER to be critical of the process it takes courage, because there will be the potential for accusations of sour grapes and spoiling.
For a WINNER to be critical of the process also takes courage because they could be seen as churlish ingrates, self-defeatingly invalidating by implication the choice to validate them.
Someone jack enough of the process might feel they had nothing left to lose.
I will take the risk entailed in a LOSER-who-hopes-to-become-a-WINNER speaking out and follow on from Tim's perceptive comments.
For me, the bit that rings most true in what Tim said (without dismissing the rest of his contribution) is the lack of changeover of "insider personnel" on all the various panels. It is a criticism I make of our Australian jazz scene generally. Amongst the non-musician "gatekeepers" (critics, festival directors, key organisation leaders etc) there is a small group of people many of whom have been grafted on for 20 years or more and keep reappearing on panels. Whereas amongst the artistic practitioners there is a huge variety of new faces appearing every few years across the generations.
The result is our scene is to a great extent being shaped by the gatekeepers' tastes, including by their annointing of whom they view as the canonic artists. All respect to those artists but others are being written out of the history.
And not only Australian artists. The international artists who are imported also reflect Gatekeeper Taste. What are the chances of The Yellowjackets or Alan Holdsworth being brought to Australia?
The business of imposing one's own taste is fine and works well if there is some turnover amongst the gatekeepers. Paul Grabowsky will have a few years to shape the Adelaide Festival to his Muse, and then he will be replaced. Once we get to 20 years of people being in the same position as critics, at the helm of festivals and performing organisations - and being on all the judging panels - a community might like to question if this is ideal.
The topic is sensitive as it involves people's employment and livelihood, indeed in our small community they are known to us personally. But turn it around the other way. If for 20 years or more I was one of only a small handful of jazz musicians on any instrument who - due to habit, inertia, lack of imagination and apathy in other people connected to the scene - were holding down all the gigs and as a result (but not necessarily by intention) limiting the artistic discourse to our own predilections, wouldn't people be entitled to wonder if that is ideal and how indeed it comes about. And wouldn't the fact that any remedial change might well carry the personally unfortunate side-effect of "less gigs for me" be - quite rightly - a non-issue in the big picture?
Your concerns mirror the concerns of some people regarding the bookings at certain clubs, but obviously a club owner/manager has their own business-based reasoning for favouring certain bands/artists.
I also think that the points you highlight also serve to highlight what a remarkable job some of the more respected festival/program directors have done over 20 years and more. There are a number of these who, although they may have favourites, have managed to present fresh and balanced programs year after year, or season after season if that's the case.
Yes, I would like my post to be read as a generality that was raised, a thought bubble. I do not wish to single out anyone in particular and the other side of the coin is that terrific work continues to be done by people who have been in positions for long periods of time, and appreciation is warranted for that. That sort of long term experience is hard won and an asset to a community.