INTERVIEW: Tony Dudley-Evans (2017 Parliamentary Award Winner for Services To Jazz)

Tony Dudley-Evans

TONY DUDLEY-EVANS - TDE as he’s affectionately known - has been a driving force in British jazz for more than 40 years. Having built up Birmingham Jazz to be the major jazz promoter in the West Midlands, he later took it under the umbrella of Performances Birmingham as Jazzlines. Meanwhile he was also artistic director of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. He’s still involved in both as a programme advisor, and has fingers in more than a few other jazz pies. He even finds time occasionally to write for LondonJazz News. As a result he fully deserved the 2017 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Services To Jazz, awarded at a ceremony at Pizza Express Live in Holborn earlier this month. LJN Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon asked the questions:

LondonJazz News: Having programmed both Jazzlines (and before that Birmingham Jazz) and Cheltenham Jazz Festival, in recent years you have stepped back a little. What are your current roles a Jazzlines and Cheltenham and what do they mean in practice?

Tony Dudley-Evans: In both Jazzlines and Cheltenham my role is as programme adviser and I put ideas to my colleagues, Phil Woods and Mary Wakelam Sloan in Jazzlines, and Emily Jones and Ian George in Cheltenham.  Jazzlines Phil and I (Mary is on maternity leave) discuss the whole programme, while with Cheltenham I focus on the programme in the Parabola Arts Centre and the jazz bookings for The Arena and Town Hall. I have welcomed the current arrangements in which I concentrate on the music and leave the actual booking and general gig admin to my colleagues. I enjoy working with others in this way, and the jazz teams in both Birmingham and Cheltenham get on well. I think it is very important that older promoters bring on younger people rather than just go on doing everything. But, of course, I still love being involved.  

LJN: This is by no means all you do - what are the other organisations you are involved with, both in this country and in Europe?

TDE: I am heavily involved with Fizzle and TDE promotions, more on that in Q3.  I was until the summer Chair of the Jazz Promotion Network, but handed over to Emily Jones at the end of the JPN conference. I attend Europe Jazz Network meetings. I also participate in the Performance Platform sessions at Birmingham Conservatoire, giving feedback to 3rd and 4th Year jazz students on their performances, both on the music and on the general  presentation including announcements. It's a role that I enjoy immensely. I am also a member of the Jazz Research Group in the Media Dept at Birmingham City University.

In the past I was on the Arts Council's Music and Touring panels, the Contemporary Music Network committee and Jazz Services' touring panel, but these no longer exist!

LJN: You started TDE Promotions a year or two back. Tell us about how this began, how it works and how you decide which bands/musicians you would like to work with.

TDE: A few years ago I started attending regularly the gigs run by Fizzle. I was impressed by the way that Andrew Woodhead had built up the audience for Fizzle's ambitious programme. I could see that in a bigger venue the programme could become even more ambitious and put on a more international programme. So, in association with Fizzle, I began to put some events in the Hexagon Theatre at mac. This room works well for improvised music and we have had good audiences there.  As at Cheltenham and Jazzlines, I am working with Andy and mentoring him.

The main aim of TDE Promotions is to put on higher profile bands in the free jazz/improvised music areas, such as Sounding Tears last week, the band with Paul Dunmall featuring Hamid Drake, also local heroes Gonimoblast, in a suitable venue and to build up audiences for more experimental music.
The Fizzle sessions at The Lamp Tavern focus on less well-known, more experimental bands. Andy books these and I book the TDE Promotions. The nice thing about having a small Grants for the Arts Award is that we can pay everyone a decent fee as opposed to the situation where bands playing for Fizzle at The Lamp Tavern played for door money.

How do I select bands? I am lucky enough to be invited to a lot of international festivals and showcases, so I get ideas there. I also enjoy working with Midlands-based improvisers such as Paul Dunmall, Mark Sanders, Chris Mapp and many others.    

LJN: A recent, modest grant from ACE means you have been able to be a little more ambitious in future TDE Promotions events. Tell us about what’s coming up.

TDE: Till the end of the year TDE Promotions/Fizzle have: 8 November at mac: Black Top with Orphy Robinson, Pat Thomas with special guest Jean Paul Bourelly who played guitar on Miles Davis' Amandla, one of the albums which Marcus Miller produced. Then on 22 November at the Hare & Hounds in association with Jazzlines we have the Scandinavian power trio The Thing. In December at mac a double bill of Article XI  and Favourite Animals (5 December) and a quartet led by Andrew Bain on drums with Peter Evans, John  O'Gallagher and Alex Bonney (14 December). In the New Year I'm really looking forward to a short tour in January with Paul Dunmall, John O'Gallagher, John  Edwards and  Mark Sanders. We put Paul and John together at this year's Surge festival and it was very powerful. In April I'm setting up a nonet for Mark Sanders and Rachel Musson.

TDE presenting Jazzlines
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

LJN: You have a more comprehensive understanding than most of the current state of UK jazz. How healthy is it? And where does it need to develop/improve?

TDE: I think the festival scene is very healthy and there are a number of festivals that reflect the diversity of both the UK and the international scenes. The year-round scene is more patchy; the Birmingham scene is healthy with good gigs on virtually every night of the week in a wide range of venues; London is good, of course, but other cities have smaller scenes and a lot of promoters struggle to cope with small or no grants.

There is so much talent around, both in UK but also round Europe, but it is a struggle to find enough gigs to make it all viable for these talented musicians. The Arts Council seem to be focussing rather more on the musicians than on the promoters, but I'd like to see more support for promoters. With funding promoters can make things happen. I'd also like to see the development of one major UK festival that concentrated entirely on the best of the contemporary jazz scene with bands from UK, Europe and the USA. A "British Moers Festival" - as Moers was till last year.

LJN: The number of live jazz events you attend - not only as promoter but also as punter - would exhaust a 25-year-old. Where do you find that energy, and what is it about live jazz that keeps you going?

TDE: I love the expectation and the surprises of going to good live gigs. I also think it's important for promoters and advisers to catch bands live, and I love discovering new bands and trying to find the right context to put them in.

LJN: I understand that you have wide and eclectic tastes, but if you could narrow it down in true Desert Island Discs fashion, please give us your eight favourite pieces of music. And if you could save just one from the waves?

TDE: This is very hard as my choices will probably vary from week to week. For example, I am currently loving Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, but next week I'll be moving on elsewhere. I would want:

1. Something by John Coltrane, possibly A Love Supreme, possibly Transitions

2. Kind Of Blue, Miles of course

3. Something by Gil Evans: Out of the Cool?

4. Something by Mike Gibbs: The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra

5. Any Loose Tubes album

6. A Tim Berne Snakeoil album

7. Bobby Previte's Miro album

8. Any Paul Dunmall album

Just one? Very difficult. I'll go for a Loose Tubes album as they were so important in my involvement in the 1980s and again two years ago at Cheltenham.

LJN: A couple of tips for 2018 - who should we keep an ear out for?

TDE: Look out for Chris Mapp's new "quiet" band: Stillefelt with Percy Pursglove and Tom Seminar Ford. Also Lucia Cadotsch, a singer who played at mac (Birmingham) last year whose interpretations of classic songs such as Moon River are stunning. If I can be allowed a third, I was impressed by the sax-bass-drums trio led by Josephine Davies.


LINK: The current Fizzle/TDE Promotions programme

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