How To Develop A Jazz Scene In Hong Kong
Every few weeks I field a question about the jazz scene in Hong Kong. What’s it like? Why isn’t it growing? How come I don’t play live? What could be done to make it better? Sometimes the questions come from people outside the city, but often they arise in conversations with the few jazz fans […]
Every few weeks I field a question about the jazz scene in Hong Kong. What’s it like? Why isn’t it growing? How come I don’t play live? What could be done to make it better? Sometimes the questions come from people outside the city, but often they arise in conversations with the few jazz fans and various musical omnivores who call this town home.
Last May I jotted down some thoughts on this (and the follow-up post, on the Music Matters live showcase also comes to mind). I wrote those posts after having “nearly” returned to the stage. But, none of those opportunities bore fruit and in the past year I haven’t really thought twice about playing live (aside from the crazy iPad performance coming up this Thursday).
But, I do keep wondering what it might take for Hong Kong to develop a richer jazz scene. Right now there are a few good musicians based here, a handful of small venues and even a decent annual jazz festival (more on that later). Maybe the situation bears comparison with London where, according to the Jazz Services UK report, The Value of Jazz in Britain II (PDF link) THE VALUE OF JAZZ IN BRITAIN II 11.7% of live music venues are jazz-centric.
In fact, that report makes for very interesting reading; in 2008, 5.7% of UK adult population attended some kind of live jazz event, compared to 4% for opera and 8.1% for classical music. Overall jazz revenue went up between 2005 and 2008, despite a significant decline in recorded music sales (with downloads not making up the difference in falling CD sales). Moreover, there was growing creativity in the hosting of live events, with alternative venues (i.e., not pubs, arts centres, concert halls, jazz clubs, theatres or restaurants) accounting for 27% of gigs (up from 20% in 2005) In fact, Jazz seems to be doing well in the UK despite a lack of media coverage.
A sobering picture emerges in Andy Derrick’s post, How to develop the jazz scene in the UK. Andy highlights a number of tensions for working bands and creative groups seeking funding. I was particularly drawn to his suggestions,
“What I would like to see is a two pronged campaign from those organisations that fund and support live jazz in the UK.
Provide training in marketing, promotion, social media, gig management etc. for gig promoters
Provide a fund that promoters can bid into that will subsidise musicians’ fees and not audience development”
That got me thinking – what would I propose for growing the Jazz scene here? Well, here are a few ideas,
Excellence – Brutal truth time – unstructured jams and soft, pseudo-bossa duets will not get us very far. We need music that will appeal to real jazz fans and curious musical omnivores. I’ve seen these people respond at gigs for Omar Sosa, McCoy Tyner & Christian Scott, Roy Hargrove, Cafe de los Maestros, Scott Henderson, Lee Ritenour, Hiromi and others. But, to do that the music has to be excellent, well-thought out, or at least outrageously inventive and original.
Engagement Social media has given us musicians a golden opportunity to engage fans, but too few people involved in the jazz scene are taking advantage of that. Festivals, venues and promoters could start by responding to emails and requests for information. Artists could talk to their fans, make themselves more available for lessons and offer more of their material for download or easy purchase. And fans could build momentum on blogs and other platforms.
Collaboration Look at any city in the world where jazz is thriving and you will notice a lot of collaboration. Not loose jams, but meaningful projects, both within and across genres.
Regionality Reading the jazz in the UK report I mentioned above reminded me that as much as I miss the Jazz scene in London, the truth is that musicians there sustain themselves by playing across the whole of the country. There’s no future in trying to be “big in Hong Kong.” Whether by touring, or engaging online, musicians have to develop a regional following in order to sustain themselves.
Patronage Patronage is most historically successful model for supporting musicians. With the death of the large scale recorded music industry it makes sense to come back to thinking about patronage, especially for venues and festivals.
Anyway, that’s a small set of ideas. Perhaps even that would not be enough. I’m not sure, but if you love jazz and would like to talk more about this, please leave a comment or get in touch via email.