Which Deserve More Recognition? Venues or Festivals?

Montreal Jazz Festival

Yesterday's announcement that all three nominations for 'Venue of the Year' in the 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Awards were not in fact venues at all, but the London, Manchester and Love Supreme Jazz Festivals was bound - may even have been intended - to provoke comment. This is the first time that no venue has been included in the nominations.

The main comment I've heard so far is that venues struggle with suicidal economics, that keeping venues open all year round, mostly unsubsidized, is an act of heroism deserving huge respect, and that this decision to concentrate on festivals is plain wrong. There is another side; festivals and venues are mutually dependent. Festivals which spread themselves across a city can serve to draw new audiences to the venues, and audiences thus introduced may well return to those venues during the rest of the year.

Let the debate roll. Comments please, no bile.


  1. This is pretty disappointing way of presenting the options for live venues - it is the small, often struggling venues, surviving on a shoestring and sheer dedication, that can benefit from the exposure of being in the short list for these awards.

    The organisers of the Awards should now really create at least two categories for next year - 'Live Jazz Venues' and 'Jazz Festivals', then there would be no conflict between the small 'jazz cellars' and the huge festivals. The influence that the festival juggernauts assert when it comes to voting would then be confined to fighting it out with other festivals rather than automatically excluding the small venues which are the lifeblood of the jazz circuits. It is the small venues that give the vital performance opportunities to all kinds of musicians, the majority of whom will never get festival billing - and there must be a platform for them in the Awards.

    I would add that this criticism also applies to the newly-constituted 'Jazz Media Award', where the number of categories has inexplicably been reduced to a single Award. Rather than bundling every medium together to make a contest between media that are impossible to compare, there should be awards for the following: 'Jazz Journalist/Broadcaster', 'Jazz Printed Publication', 'Jazz Online Publication', 'Printed Jazz Book'.

    These are two 'Apples and Pears' situations which should have been finessed rather than made almost unworkable - hopefully there will be a sensible review of the categories for next year's awards and a more appropriate and expanded list of voting categories.

  2. Martin Pyne wrote by email:

    For my money it's the small venues and independent promoters we should be celebrating.

    They are the lifeblood of creative music giving artists space to experiment and develop in a supportive environment. There's nothing in it for these people - they just love music and musicians.

    For me, thejr endeavours are heroic and musicians and listeners should give them thanks and support.

  3. Mary Greig of Jazz in London wrote by email:

    I too am astonished that the category of 'Jazz Venue of the Year' includes no nominations for venues - only festivals.

    The significant number of long-standing small venues, usually run on a not-for-profit basis by devoted aficionados or musicians themselves, are surely the life-blood of the music in this country. They greatly enhance access to live jazz and provide much-needed regular work and exposure for musicians.

    To the tireless and unpaid organisers of such venues, some kind of public recognition of their service would, I'm sure, be very welcome. This seems to me to be a missed opportunity to do so.

  4. I work for Jazz Services, and we help organise the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in conjunction with PPL and APPJAG (the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group). In my capacity as editor of JazzUK I was asked to be on the discussion panel for the awards, so while I only offer my own personal opinions on this matter here, I do feel there are some relevant points I can raise in order to contribute to the debate.

    Coming up with the categories for the awards is a challenging task, and I can assert it’s something that’s re-evaluated each year, taking into account feedback received. The Jazz Venue award covers all aspects of live jazz, including venues, clubs, promoters and indeed festivals, and this criteria was included in the voting form we hosted on the Jazz Services site earlier this year. It was previously known as the Live Jazz award, covering the same criteria, but this seemed to cause some confusion at the public nomination stage about whether it included live performances so after extended discussion and debate the category was renamed.

    It’s worth remembering that the awards aren’t based on the number of votes received for each entry – even if only one nomination is made at the public voting stage, that nomination goes into the pot for consideration by the panel along with the rest, so larger festivals don’t command a great ‘share’ of the vote than smaller venues. If anyone’s interested, there’s more information on the voting and selection process and previous winners of the award on the Jazz Services website:


    The Jazz Venue category exists to champion the live scene, and festivals are absolutely a part of that. While every entrant in any category in any award will always be up for debate, all three festivals in the final nominations have contributed hugely to the UK’s jazz scene as a whole. This is not, of course, to deny the contribution made by venues or promoters working on a more regional basis; just that this time around these are the nominees that made the cut. It’s also worth noting that this is the first time all the live nominees are festivals, that a festival has never won the award before, and that *every* previous winner of this category has been a small local venue or promoter, so the awards have certainly done their fair share of celebrating the smaller and more regional aspect of the live scene.

    Personally, I think the nominees in this year’s category all have a lot going for them. The Manchester Jazz Festival does a great deal of work to promote new, local music; Love Supreme gave a lot of non-jazz listeners the opportunity to experience music they’d likely never otherwise hear; and jazz music in general never gets as much mainstream exposure and coverage as during the EFG London Jazz Festival. And of course they all presented a lot of quality jazz music.

    Do these positive factors warrant their inclusion in the award? Or does their relative size mean they’re somehow less worthy of recognition? Personally I’d go for the former, but I’m sure there will be plenty of debate about this. Should smaller promoters automatically be included to ensure they’re recognised every year, or would that be viewed as some sort of box-ticking exercise? It’s not for me to say, but I would disagree that the category is to the disadvantage or exclusion of smaller venues or promoters, who have just as equal an opportunity and platform to be considered as any other nominee. Perhaps it’s just a festival’s turn to shine this year?

    (1 of 2)

  5. (2 of 2)

    There have also been some comments about the categories being too narrow, and that there should be more categories to afford a greater choice to voters. This, I think, sadly comes down to a simple fact of practicality - being able to individually recognise a separate Media category for Journalist, Broadcaster, Website, Radio Show, Book, Research Paper and so on would be wonderful, but expanding each category quickly makes the awards a very convoluted affair, for public voters, for the nomination panel and also for the APPJAG committee, who make the final decision. Would that the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and those involved had the time and resources of something like the Grammys, but this is unfortunately not the case – and even the Grammys come under fire for not making the right choices! I think it was Lincoln (Abraham rather than Abbey…) who said, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, and while we would certainly like to do just that, we don't expect to. Awards of this nature will always create a lot of debate, and that’s no bad thing; any creative scene should be discussed and deliberated, argued over and analysed, reviewed and renewed. It’s part of what makes it all so interesting.

    Again, these are just my own thoughts on the subject and I’m afraid I can’t really enter in to the debate much beyond what I’ve offered for general consideration here, but I hope it helps contribute to the wider discussion. However, I do believe it would be a great shame for anyone to think that these awards are something other than an attempt to recognise and offer some appreciation of the huge amount of effort and work that goes into creating a healthy scene, from all quarters.

    Thanks to Seb and LondonJazz News for offering a space for comment and debate on this matter and also to all who entered their nominations in the awards earlier this year. And on behalf of Jazz Services, PPL and APPJAG - good luck to all the final nominees.

    John Norbury-Lyons,
    Communications Manager, Jazz Services / Editor, JazzUK

  6. Anonymous 5/4/2014, please put your name to your perceptive critique and we'll publish it. Seb

  7. Jack Davies wrote via email:

    These awards are a nice way of giving a morale boost to a hard working and under appreciated community. They are also a good way of maintaining relationships with jazz-friendly MPs and keeping the community in their minds (though, when last I checked, the crucial people at DCMS were still noticeable in their absence). As such, while it is important to celebrate unsubsidised success, it is dangerous to do so in a Parliamentary context. The hard work of volunteers should not become a proof point that subsidy is not needed. But then, perhaps this could just be reflected in acceptance speeches.

    A thought, anyway.

  8. I agree with the Anonymous comment above. No need to be Anon- come out! There should be a separate Festival and Venue award.

  9. Mike Collins wrote by email:

    The debate sparked by the festivals only short list for 'live venue' seems to have polarised somewhat, largely in defence of the unsung little guy. Martin Pyne and Mary Greig sum it up beautifully I think and who would seriously argue against Mary's plea for recognition for the 'tireless and unpaid organisers'.

    It would however be unfortunate if we end up championing one hugely valued part of the jazz scene against another. Over the last two years of the London Jazz Festival, this non-Londoner's two most magical memories are from the Con Cellar Bar and The Green Note, venues I'm pretty sure I may not have known about otherwise. There's no 'either/or' in my mind about who should be celebrated for making all this happen - don't forget the army of volunteers that make festivals work.

    The challenge here is the constraints of single winners for a necessarily limited range of categories and the unfortunate (but false) inference that by singling out one, others are somehow diminished. Here then is another suggestion, developing slightly the suggestion of an additional category by the anonymous commenter.

    I suggest a single additional category that celebrates many individuals.

    In December I wrote a sort of jazz New Years honours post for my local scene. This is the sort of thing I have in mind. There would be multiple 'winners' (10, 20?) in any one year. The announcement could be made in advance of the event for this category. Nominations could be by citation and open up the possibility of a wider group of people being recognised (not just the promoter, but the stalwart who has turned every week for ten years to do the door for example).

    I can think of no better institution than one associated with parliament to recognise this sort of contribution to our collective life.

    This is distinct from the existing 'services to jazz' category which is beginning to look like a (very appropriate) life time achievement award.