Hallelujah. There is hope. People who make their opinions public can and do change them when faced with the undeniable. Until last year, Evening Standard Pop Critic David Smyth appeared pathologically incapable of mentioning jazz without dolloping in an allusion to "turtle-necks" or "chin-scratching". No longer. This year he is a Mercury Prize judge. So , rather than indulging in the generally uninformed speculation on Tuesday when the nominations came out, he wrote:
British music is so strong that this year could have had 30 nominees
[...]Unlike the Brits, which reward sales, the Mercury considers artistic merit alone, which doesn't often tally with the people's favourites. It's surprising then, to count that seven of the 12 albums have been in the UK top 10.
As a member of the dozen-strong judging panel for the first time, I can confirm that the judges are as yet no wiser on the eventual winner than anyone else. We decide on the day of the ceremony, at Mayfair's Grosvenor House hotel on September 7, moments before Jools Holland opens the envelope. [...]
And let us not forget the jazz nominees, the Kit Downes Trio, who emerge at the top of what turns out to be an exceptionally strong year for British piano jazz. Who knew? Jazz belongs perfectly on a shortlist which could only please everyone if it were 30-strong. What a great sign for British music that this year it could have been.
Wow , let's raise a half-full glass to Luke 15:7! Yes folks, this is a transformation. "Wolle die Wandlung," said the poet,
Meanwhile, at the other, grumpier end of the scale, there are laggards who haven't clocked what's going on yet, like Neil McCormick of the Telegraph.
I’m not particularly surprised by any of the other six, apart from the Kit Downes Trio, which takes the annual token jazz album spot with a record that has had no impact outside of its tightly enclosed genre whatsoever. [...] The question is, [..] does anyone still want to win the Mercury Prize? Maybe they should just give it to the Kit Downes Trio, then nobody will notice if it proves a career killer again.
I had an email from one friend responding to this: "You should take this self-important shit to task." Thanks but no thanks. I'd rather not, and here's why.
Yes, I can see that the opinion has been reached without the writer seeing any need to inform his readers with any knowledge whatsoever of what Kit Downes' music is about. The question, then, must be how long zero knowledge can remain a tenable public stance for a professional with the role of pundit, or advisor, or gatekeeper in any field.
Calmos. Heads can't stay in the sand forever. Self-correction will happen of its own accord. Unless people want to treat the profession of rock journalism as a safe way to drift into retirement on a final salary scheme, eventually they will - inevitably - latch on that something quite astonishing has been happening in the past few years in British jazz.
I'm told that up to 15% of the entries in a typical year are jazz albums. And therefore by law of averages the judges - who are paid to LISTEN, rather than to regurgitate received opinion- are probably going to find something they like.
Anyway, rather than uninformed speculation or punditry, have some information. Here's the betting. The favourite is The xx at 3/1 (apparently there's been one substantial bet) and the Kit Downes Trio have the joint longest odds at 26/1.