Well, my good friends, I’m sure you will have heard of the impending closure of our first national 24-hour jazz station ‘theJazz’ which began just over a year ago and started presenter-led shows last Easter. Since ‘theJazz’ began it has quickly accrued almost half a million listeners nationally – including 100,000 in London and 50,000 under the age of fifteen. A great figure for a newly-formed DAB-only station (mind you, you can also get it through Sky, Cable and Computer as many of you do already!). And its success met with universal approval as an innovatory triumph for DAB radio all over the national press.
The story’s this! ‘theJazz’ was started by a radio visionary Ralph Bernard (who also brought ‘Classic FM’ – Britain’s most successful radio station – to the airwaves, and pioneered digital radio) Bernard was the Chairman of G-Cap – the powerful corporation which controls Classic FM and a number of other stations. However recently it was found that G-Cap was losing money and shareholders inthe City said ‘Shut everything down that isn’t making a profit NOW!’. An instruction which blew asunder Bernard’s commitment to the four-year period his G-Cap Board had already granted him to implant ‘theJazz’ securely in radio’s cultural spectrum. “After all” they had said wisely ” – he did it for Classical music. He can do it for jazz too. Wait a while and the money will roll in!”
Name and shame however. Bernard was deposed by one of his former employees Fru Hazlitt. She was instructed by her shareholders to put a red pen through every station which wasn’t making money for G-Cap (you might like to know that some of the less-successful ones were ‘Life”Core and I gather ‘Disney’! – which very few people DID listen to!). Admittedly this was an unenviable and difficult job for Hazlitt (her job, too, was – and presumably still is – ‘hanging by a thread’). But she has been widely criticized for ‘negative thinking’ in view of the fact that her employers, G-Cap, pioneered digital radio in the first place and its future is secure. However, for the sake of immediate savings, ‘theJazz’ – with its burgeoning listenership and thoroughly tested artistic policies – went under Hazlitt’s red pen too; a shameful example of ’emergency tactics’ and a sad indicator of how a great art-form can be trodden underfoot by someone without either the need, commitment or knowledge of what she – or he – is doing, to try a call a halt to a bad move as well as a piece of thoroughly short-sighted financial thinking.
This disgraceful situation I was happy to describe on the ‘Today’ programme, the day after the announcement, as a ‘cultural rape’. Which is no overstatement! Our music has waited almost one hundred years for national representation in Britain. And no-one who knows about our jazz scene in Britain can deny the charge. Jazz is taught inevery major music college, hundreds of emergent musicians (as wellas weathered respected veterans) are playing it to old and new generations of listeners, just as they’ve done for generations now.
Then of course there’s the long-aggravating sore of the paucity of jazz on national airwaves where every tired rock record is played on a couple of hundred stations a couple of hundred times a day, in a form of (inadvertent) cultural censorship; unique so far as I can see, or hear – to Britain!
A story! A few weeks ago – on theJazz’s ‘Jazz Jury’ – we played a new record by a young singer. She’d recorded it at home and put it on ‘MySpace’; the good people at ‘theJazz’ downloaded it, and it was played on national radio the same day. Tenorist Derek Nash – one of our on-the-air jurors – pointed out that this would have been an artistic impossibility a year ago. And how right he was. Why SHOULD every talentless Indie rock band get the kind of coverage serious arists like jazz musicians and singers could only dream of, since radio was born?
But heigh-ho! Let’s not spend time pondering – indeed, banging on – about the longterm cultural injustices that have been meted out to jazz in Britain. There’s no point, and more immediate work to do. So what CAN we do? Well, ‘theJazz’ doesn’t HAVE to go under. It’s for sale, can be bought and kept on the air, and this is most likely to happen within the powerful corridors of the Radio industry. Let’s hope and pray! But don’t just do that! Write to your MP or the Minister for Culture! TALK about this grievous – if not irretrievable – situation! Above all, keep the faith. If jazz can survive the Beatles it can survive anything. The music won’t die. But it has taken a vicious and unwarranted assault from people who know nothing of us. And we don’t deserve it. Your thoughts, good friends?