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Jazz And The Beeb: A Love Supreme Or Kind Of Blue?

19th January 2010 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: The Cockpit Theatre

INTRO: This event will begin with an update on the economic impact of jazz in the UK, courtesy of an imminent follow-up report to The Economic Value of Jazz (2004/5), which serves to set the scene behind the continually evolving UK jazz economy.  The Economic Value of Jazz – pt II (2008) takes into account record sales, funding and other economic indicators, revealing the true picture of the changing face of jazz in Britain.

With the scene set, the main trust of this think tank will be consideration of the role of the BBC in supporting and developing jazz.  At its heart is Jazz Service’s soon-to-be- published report – The BBC – Public Sector Broadcasting, Jazz, Policy and Structure in The Digital Age – which looks at whether the BBC is doing all that it could and many argue should, to support jazz and other niche genre.  This think tank will also consider whether an increasingly competitive, commercial broadcast environment has put the BBC in an unenviable position with a swathe of musical heritage and culture falling victim to a tussle between programming spend and ratings?  With current interest in jazz experiencing a current high, are its pleas for more support from the ‘the nations favourite’ justified?


TOPIC: Jazz is currently undergoing an exciting resurgence.  Interest in this art form is enjoying a current high, with recent Mercury Music Prize nominees again serving to bolster its profile to a mass audience with Led Bib (‘09) the most recent in a long line of nominations that also includes Mobo and Grammy nominee Soweto Kinch and the Portico Quartet (’08).

Audience figures are up, too.  Jazz currently enjoys an audience of 6.6million (and growing), reflecting a market share of 1 in 8 of all ‘arts attendees’ – the same as opera 1.

Yet despite this, UK jazz’s mercurial broadcasting profile continues to struggle, particularly in the public broadcast sector, according to a recent Jazz Services Report – The BBC – Public Sector Broadcasting, Jazz, Policy and Structure in The Digital Age – which also asserts that “UK bands have been squeezed out of the BBC’s national radio programming to the detriment of both the jazz economy and its audience.”

Historically the BBC has developed, supported and nurtured UK jazz talent, thereby providing a platform for performance, broadcast, recording and composition.  All of this activity positively influenced a rapidly developing British scene and gave rise to some of the genre’s most successful bands and influential recordings.

However, the contrast between jazz’s BBC-supported hey-day and the present couldn’t be starker.

  • In 1978, 97% of ‘Sounds of Jazz’/’Jazz Club’ broadcasts and 99% of ‘Jazz in Britain’ broadcasts featured UK artists 2.  In 2007/8, only 55% of ‘Jazz Line Up’ broadcasts and 26% of ‘Jazz on Three’ broadcasts were from UK jazz artists 3.
  • Having previously supported the creation of bands for broadcast, only one is now meaningfully supported.  The BBC continues to support 5 classical orchestras and the UK’s only fulltime professional choir.
  • 2009 – BBC axed annual Jazz Awards
  • 2009 – BBC axed annual Big Band Competition

A recent study of Radio 3’s output (a station that specifically mentions jazz in its service licence) shows that the overwhelming majority of broadcasts – 88% – were of classical music, contrasting with just 3% for jazz 4.

And whilst Radios 2 and 4 show increases in the share of radio listening, Radio 3’s hours and reach have actually declined and currently enjoy a share of just 1.3% 5.

Elsewhere, BBC’s jazz output is further criticised for its marginalisation to late-night graveyard slots; for outsourcing programme production that features a disproportionate amount of US-focused content; that it falls prey to schedule changes in preference to lengthy live classical broadcasts; gives scant regard to regional/local representation and remains completely absent from any scheduled, national peak-time programming.

Unlike classical music which is keenly represented by a highly successful commercial rival (Classic FM), jazz has not been successfully sustained commercially to the same degree and jazz’s absence from the main broadcasting hours of the BBC contributes to a cumulative effect that jazz in the UK is engaged in an economic struggle.

The subsequent demise of commercial station theJazz (which latterly enjoyed a bigger jazz audience than Radio 3), whilst strengthening the charge that jazz’s audience is not meaningfully served by any radio station 6, raises fundamental questions about the economic viability of niche genre and the digital radio platform outside of public sector broadcasting.

Comparison with other European public sector broadcasters highlights stark differences in the roles of public sector radio.  In comparison to Germany where each region has its own public radio station (each having a jazz producer, funded big bands and a broadcasting policy that favours homegrown talent), this session will look to answer a fundamental question: should the BBC adopt both a policy and a strategy for the support of its national jazz scene?

Top


References:
1 Target Group Index Jul 2004–Jun 2005 BRMB International
2 Listings from Radio 3 Broadcasts, 1978
3 BBC web site listings, Jan 2007-Aug 2008
4 Random sample 9-15 March 2009, BBC Radio 3 listings
5 The BBC – Public Sector Broadcasting, Jazz, Policy and Structure in the Digital Age – Publ. Jazz Services, 2010
6 In September 2007 the audience for the digital radio station theJazz was 388k and the BBC Radio 3 jazz audience 15+ in June 2007 was 291k. In addition to the 388k of 15+ listeners thejazz had 53k people under the age of 15 listening in each week. theJazz reached a total of 441k of adults and young people each week. Taken from The BBC – Public Sector Broadcasting, Jazz, Policy and Structure in the Digital Age – Publ. Jazz Services, 2010

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