The Daily Telegraph has a new column from Sameer Rahim, a.k.a. the "Opera Novice". "Might it be interesting to have a novice’s-eye view on a world that often seems forbidding?" he asks. Judging by the comments online, all his readers seem to be paid-up opera aficionados, rather than fellow newcomers to the music.
Could the experience of a "jazz novice" in one of the broadsheets help coax more people across the thresholds of our jazz venues? It's definitely worth a try.
The Guardian’s rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis did write a one-off article for the Guardian in 2008 on his 6-week crash course in jazz. But, as wonderfully entertaining as Petridis’ article is, perhaps a more practically useful perspective would come from someone with the kind of regular slot Sameer Rahim has, which would give the opportunity for a writer to follow their own path, make their own choices, to develop their own long term affinity with music which appeals to them, rather than making one snap judgment and moving on.
My own experience of attracting new audience members through running a weekly gig is mostly positive. The vast majority of people who come to the venue stay and evidently enjoy the atmosphere and the music, often becoming regular audience members. But an incident a few weeks ago did set me thinking:
A young couple approached the door of the upstairs room at the North London Tavern, peering nervously inside to see Shabaka Hutchings, John Edwards and Mark Sanders midway through an intensely beautiful, abstract set. They scanned the room, looking mildly terrified, had what looked like a short but intense discussion - and retreated back down the stairs to the pub below.
The couple had clearly been enterprising and adventurous enough to find the venue, and to be drawn upstairs by the sound of the music, but maybe found that they just weren't in the mood to listen.
I’ve had conversations with friends who seem mystified by jazz – they often think they need to completely understand everything that is going on to appreciate the music. They often seem strangely reassured when I tell them that - sometimes - I have no idea what is going on either, that my attention also wanders.
But I know that there are also times when the music is a transporting force, an ecstatic, ephemeral experience of sharing the same air with others whose attention is completely taken. Or as Keith Jarrett said: "Jazz is there and gone. It happens. You have to be present for it. That simple."
Is there a Jazz Novice out there whom we can try to show the richness, energy and excitement of all the different kinds of jazz going in London every night of the year? Get in touch, we'll guide you, but in the end you will not be getting told what you're SUPPOSED to like, when it's important to pay attention, etc. as in opera. You will be free, you'll find your own likes and dislikes. What's to lose?