The Scottish Jazz Federation has launched a new initiative, The J-Word, designed to establish Scotland as a major stopping off place for international touring jazz musicians.

The J-word’s stated aims are:

  • To establish Scotland as a market leader for international jazz touring
  • To create a strong network of promoters and venues for small and medium scale jazz touring across Scotland
  • To raise the profile and increase quality of International and Scottish jazz programming throughout Scotland
  • To develop touring opportunities for Scottish-based jazz artists
  • To maintain and increase the Scottish jazz audience

Essentially what they’ve done is to get a number of larger venues in Scotland (and Newcastle / Gateshead) to collaborate on hosting gigs by touring big name artists, with support from Scottish bands.

First up, in March, is a tour by jazz-funk outfit The Yellowjackets (supported by Tom Bancroft’s Trio Red). Unfortunately they haven’t got a date lined up for Glasgow, but they will be playing in Inverness, Perth, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glenrothes between the 10th and the 15th of March.

Next, in late April and early May, it’s the turn of a world music / jazz crossover trio of Trilok Gurtu, Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa, supported by Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen. They’ve got gigs in Gateshead and Perth before appearing in Glasgow on Tuesday 30th April, and then go on to perform in Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh and Dunfermline.

As part of the initiative, the project also has some marketing companies involved to try to find ways of getting jazz across to new audiences who are put off by the music’s alleged “beards and beer bellies” image. It will be interesting to see how this works out. There’s an article about this aspect of the initiative in the Scotsman, and Cathie Rae of the Scottish Jazz Federation has also made several appearances on BBC Radio Scotland talking about the new scheme (including one on Good Morning Scotland).

Despite what the Scotsman article implies (and may well be the case in other parts of the country) in Glasgow quite a few, though not enough, younger people do come along to gigs, although a lot of them are musicians or friends of musicians. It’s the people in their thirties and forties who are missing. Is this something peculiar to jazz, or is it simply that they’re the folk who find it most difficult to go out in the evening because of work or family commitments? Whatever the reason, it does have to be said that audience numbers are often worryingly low and any work to build new audiences is most welcome.

Folk music has gone through a bit of a revival over the past couple of decades: is there anything we can learn from the success of events like Celtic Connections? Why has that festival taken off in a way that the Glasgow Jazz Festival never really has? Is it purely a marketing thing (it’s coincided with the emergence of the term “Celtic music” as an alternative to the bearded and beer-bellied “folk music”), or has it be seen as part of the cultural small-N nationalism which emerged in Scotland as a reaction to Thatcherism?

Finally, if you doubt that jazz has an image problem, ask yourself if The Scotsman couldn’t have got a picture of someone a bit hipper than Glenn Miller to illustrate their article? Preferably someone who hasn’t been dead for almost seventy years.