Brecon Jazz Festival’s 20-page souvenir guide this year might suggest a host of punters ambling in the customary manner from one town venue to another. But the only movement involved was from wherever you were in the world and wherever you were stationed in the house to your means of downloading something on a screen.
Welcome to the world of big-time streaming, a term now almost exclusively technophile. BJF2020 might look like an Orwellian label hiding something faintly sinister; in fact, it was an emblazon illustrating the triumph of technology and human resourcefulness over the impositions of the pandemic.
The wonder and mystery of how the former Brecon Jazz Festival with its international reach for years flew in the likes of the gladiatorial Lionel Hampton Orchestra to perform in a Welsh market town still resonate. Its overnight decline and attempted rescue by, successively, Hay Festival and Orchard Entertainment, must have had this same wonderment and mysteriousness as its background. But the big backers walked away, bushed, and had no successors.
Enter the Brecon Jazz Club and those Breconians who along with it lent more than a hand in helping to keep the event going every year. The festival did rise once more from the ash, though it was a phoenix with far less inclination to fly off and flap wildly on the heights of nearby Penyfan and Corn Ddu. Continuity was the aim, for the cachet of Brecon, still remembered in the jazz-loving regions of the world for its quality and excellence, was worth preserving. The festival has been doing well in an obviously more modest way; so much so, that not even a coronavirus could staunch its movement onwards and moderately upwards this year, its 37th.
With the help of the Franco-UK video-hosting company Vialma and Wales’s Ratio Studios, pre-packed, pre-recorded and professional half-hour videos of no fewer than 36 events over three days have been made available for viewing, gratis. This is Brecon largesse at the point where it should be grabbed while it’s available. All the events – gigs, talks, and conversations – are available though the Brecon and Vialma websites until August 30. To pay or not to pay? That’s the question being asked by pandemically hamstrung musicians who have been performing in their front rooms and attics in videos of variable quality. Well, they’re musicians, not gigabyte nerds. Some of them who have been making their home-baked videos available for nothing or for a donation have been accused of busking, mostly by more “teccy” (or envious) musicians who can master the four- or five-camera viewpoints but are not up to scratch musically. Thus Brecon received no ticket income, nor any subvention from the Arts Council of Wales. It’s called devotion.
Brecon gave the job to Vialma. The programme was essentially what it would have been pre-lockdown, with some expansion. Among the shrinking of distances was the appearance of Spain-based Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada and her trio, playing a set with the ubiquitous Alan Barnes in the UK. Barnes was also filmed in conversation with Tony Kofi, who also appeared on tenor sax in a twosome with jazz harpist Alina Bzhezhinska. From this it can be guessed that the festival’s original world perspective was underscored, beside a strong UK contingent and within that a Welsh one only nominally distinguished from the rest of the country. Altoist Steve Lehman was filmed in California chatting with Xhosa Cole, BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018. Lehman gave a separate solo sax performance. Among other links made possible by video conjuring was that of pianist Lenore Raphael, locked down in North Carolina, her regular trio bassist Hilliard Greene, similarly constrained in New York, and altoist Glen Manby, ensconced in Cardiff. What a family the international jazz set can be when the pressure’s on.
There was much, much more. Brecon must be congratulated on getting this all together not because it wanted obstacles to mount but because they were there – unprecedented, as they say – and a way through was found. This may be the future – or a way of ensuring we get some sort of future, if only as ancillary to the live presentations we crave as restorative.
You can take a look at this amazing and successful project for nothing via https://breconjazz.org, with the option to donate first – an important way to help keep such ventures going. Or sign in directly at Vialma: https://email.vialma.com/brecon-email-entry.