Sue Edwards has had a long and varied career as a programmer, producer, project manager and now artist manager. From 1990 – 2005 she was producer of Freestage and Outdoor Music Events at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London, in addition to programming at several other UK venues. She also originated and shaped ‘the Write Stuff’ – a week-long writing workshop for aspiring jazz critics, which takes place each year as part of the London Jazz Festival’s education programme. She has worked as a Project Manager for Jazz Services and ESIP Ltd. Sue has served a trustee to the Board of Jazz Services for several years, as well as sitting on various awards panels. Sue Edwards manages acclaimed piano trio, Phronesis.
You have had a long and varied career as a programmer, project manager and artist manager in jazz. What brought you to the genre?
My father was an avid jazz fan and as a young child I used to spend every Saturday listening with him to whichever new jazz records he’d brought back from Birmingham record library that week, so I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t hear and love jazz. The day he brought back Gil Evans’ ‘There Comes a Time’ there was no going back for me – it was the most exciting music I’d ever heard, and from then on I started to explore the music myself, seeking out all types of jazz. It was seeing Sue Evans playing percussion in Gil’s big band that prompted me to take up percussion and drums myself. My mum was horrified (and blamed my father for making me listen to ‘that horrible racket!’) – females in the 70’s in Midlands suburbia weren’t ‘supposed to be’ jazz drummers... I then joined the Walsall Youth Jazz Orchestra, an amazing youth jazz band run by a very inspirational music teacher - John Hughes. Many of my fellow band members from that time went on to have careers in jazz – such as the Arguelles brothers, Martin Shaw, Pete Cater, Duncan Mackay & Nick Purnell, and the band always prided itself (and still does), on having a very high percentage of female players.
Do you think female musicians are less aggressive than men in terms of self-promotion? What advice would you give to female musicians looking to increase their profile.
Self-promotion is an increasingly important part of any musician’s career – female or male, there’s no difference. There’s more and more competition for an ever-decreasing number of gigs and column inches, so you have to somehow get your music heard. However, as a programmer I was always very suspicious of musicians whose self-promotion angle was to tell me how amazing they were. ‘Aggressive’ anything doesn’t work in my book. The music needs to speak for itself. Every musician needs a decent website these days (and I don’t mean myspace) and as much internet/social media presence as possible, a good press kit and the ability to pick up the phone and follow-up on promotional material. But all the promotion in the world isn’t going to do any good unless you’ve got the music down and you’re constantly learning and developing and getting better as a musician. If that’s in hand and you can provide promoters, press and the public with user-friendly ways to access your work, then that’s the best way to increase your profile.
You recently returned from five years living in the US. Did you notice any differences in the scene for women over there?
Jazz remains a predominantly male scene, and I don’t have the statistics, but I doubt it’s any different anywhere in the world. I certainly didn’t notice any difference in the US. There is a historical bias towards men in jazz, which still impacts on the scene today, and there are still some very under-represented areas of the jazz industry – written journalism for instance. But there appear to be more women on the business side than there used to be and I would hope that’s encouraging more women to enter the industry in all its aspects. I think it’s hard to be a jazz musician anywhere but it’s probably harder to be a female jazz musician - not only are they greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts (and being in any minority brings its own challenges), but also the jazz musician’s hours and lifestyle are not particularly conducive to having and bringing up a family. I know many female musicians who have taken time out to have a family and then found it really difficult to get back into the scene at the same career level as their peers, or they’ve simply not wanted to. The same is true in other careers of course, it’s just that there are less women in jazz in the first place.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to forge a career behind the scenes in jazz?
Your love of the music and what it leads you to do are ultimately the things that will get you a career in the industry. If you’re going to gigs all the time, it won’t be long before you’ll meet and get to know the people who are likely to give you a job – it’s a very small world. There are also many opportunities these days for internships in all aspects of the jazz industry such as at Jazzwise Magazine and Dune and many venues. Otherwise volunteer your services – I started out volunteering for Jazz FM radio and London Jazz Action (an umbrella organization for improvised jazz in the 80’s) whilst I was working in venue administration, and it was through all those various experiences and the contacts I made that I managed to make jazz my career.