JJ 11/70: It Don’t Mean A Thing – More Money

There's nothing new in cultural elitism. Fifty years ago Steve Voce had to take issue with the spending of public money on jazz hardly anybody listens to. First published in Jazz Journal November 1970

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No artistic con here: a 1941 Conn 10M tenor saxophone

The Melody Maker provided an interesting forum in recent issues for complaints and refutations about the Jazz Centre Society, the non-profit making organisation meagrely sub­sidised by the Arts Council and rather more generously by the MU.

It’s become very obvious over the last decade or so that much modern jazz is rubbish, and the pile of obsolete avant garde music left over from the 60s has taught the record companies a sharp lesson

Basically the furore was generated by a group of young moderns who claim that they are not receiving fair treatment from the society. Well, you can’t do much to change the face of jazz with three thousand quid a year.

Preparing once again to be called a reactionary and, as has become a popular but I hope unmerited description of me lately, a fascist (so I did vote Conservative), I would question the justification of the complaining musicians’ cause.

They admit that there is little public demand for their music. Because it is not commercially viable they ask for it to be subsidised. This means that they demand that someone some­where has the infallible genius to evaluate their music, compare it with other forms of jazz, and decide that it is artistically worthwhile throwing away some money on it. In other words, the world owes them a living.

It is axiomatic these days for artists in all media to feel this. It’s also a symptom of youth and inexperience. It’s become very obvious over the last decade or so that much modern jazz is rubbish, and the pile of obsolete avant-garde music left over from the 60s has taught the record companies a sharp lesson. The process of extrapolation has distilled the music so that the strong and worthwhile forces in modern jazz, in this country Michael Gibbs, Graham Collier and so on, have survived and achieved a moderate recognition. But, like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, they’ve had to earn their livings.

There is also the point that it’s not really much use being brilliant if you’re brilliant about something that no one wants to know about.

In the meantime I would like to draw the Jazz Centre Society’s attention to a really worthy cause.

For the last fifteen years I’ve been wasting my time working in engineering to support my family. In fact, given three thousand quid a year and provided with subsidised lessons from Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Alan Skidmore and Tubby Hayes, I know I could become the greatest tenor player in the world.

Oh, and just one other thing, the Arts Council would have to buy me a tenor. A Conn, perhaps. With a little persuasion I might be prepared to give it a go.