Jazz Open Space - Conference Report

ROSIE HANLEY attended the UK Jazz Open Space Conference on Monday 21st November at Conway Hall and reports on the day's proceedings:

Dozens of jazz aficionados, musicians, promoters, teachers, agents, press and more gathered at Conway Hall on Monday for an event presented by Jazz Services and the Musician’s Union to attempt to answer the question: What are we doing about jazz?


The question was raised after the Arts Council asked what the needs of the jazz community were. Subsequently a conference was planned and an open invitation was sent out to all those who were interested, passionate, angry about, or intrigued by jazz.

Each arrived with their own passions, woes, questions and/or agendas, participants somewhat tentatively gathered in a circle to learn how the day would unfold. The day was run using Open Space technology, which in essence allows for anyone’s voice to be heard at whatever place and time that person chooses.

Participants were given the opportunity to suggest a seminar topic and schedule the seminars into the day. The seminars put forward for discussion were:

-Does there need to be antipathy/tribalism in jazz?

-How do we get more recognition of UK jazz musicians on the European and World circuits?

-What are we worth?

-Are there enough black musicians on UK stages?

-More entry points for young people

-What is the future –and the value – of the voluntary jazz club?

-Should we address gender equality in jazz?

-How should local jazz clubs judge their success?

-Is jazz a four letter word?

-How do we increase the impact of Jazz Services?

-Should the BBC focus more on jazz?

-How can we increase audiences for jazz?

-Are UK promoters selling the music short?

-Is jazz music threatened by the fusion of RnB and Hip-hop becoming mainstream?

Participants were not obliged to attend any particular seminars and could go to all or none if they wished, as again, the principles of Open Space Technology are, whatever happens, happens for the right reason at that particular time or place. Therefore a diverse and somewhat disparate collection of ideas and questions surfaced. A short report of what was discussed in each scheduled seminar was written and can be accessed online: jazzopenspace.blogspot.com

The free laws of open space technology mean that the initial results are rather fragmented sketches of discussions which in the main, posed further thought provoking issues and questions; nonetheless they are a starting point, which successfully highlight some of the varying wants and needs of the jazz community. Of course, the results from the day only represent the views of those who attended. Further events such as this are needed on a much larger scale to be thorough.

A ‘closing circle’ was called at the end of the day and all participants were given a final chance to have their say if they wished. The recurring issue raised at this point was a concern for what happens next and how the conversations from the UK Jazz Open Space Day are to be taken forward. There will be a consultation exercise, details of which will emerge later.

Some discussions were difficult, tense, seemingly ‘going round in circles’, which at times led to a feeling of foreboding for the future of jazz. But I’m pleased to report triumph over adversity, as a more uplifting sense of community was felt by many, who realised that their own experiences were shared by others within the jazz community and viewed the day as incredibly productive, bolstering, and certainly a step in the right direction for the future of jazz.

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