Magazine article The Spectator

Global Village

Magazine article The Spectator

Global Village

Article excerpt

Almost without anybody noticing, the London Jazz Festival, which opens on 11 November and continues full pelt until 20 November, has grown in stature and significance. It's now over a decade since the first festival, and it's a fair bet that during the hand-to-mouth existence of its early incarnations even the most optimistic crystal-ball gazing by the organisers would never have envisaged the size of today's festival or that it would be picking up sobriquets like 'a major cultural event' or 'London's widest-ranging music festival'.

This year, ticket sales are expected to exceed 50,000 and, through the festival's association with Radio Three, it is anticipated that almost 2 million will tune into concerts broadcast on Radios Two, Three and Four, BBC4 and the BBC website.

Yet the growth of the festival has not taken place in a vacuum. It has to be seen against a gradual raising of jazz's profile in recent years, in which the festival itself has played no small part, and an interest in the music among younger audiences. It recently prompted the distinguished classical music critic Fiona Maddocks to observe that we are witnessing 'a seismic change in British musical life: jazz is everywhere'.

Today, more young people than ever before are participating in jazz at all levels of education. In 1999, the Associated Board launched the first national jazz examinations for piano and ensemble, defining a set of standards for the early stages of learning jazz between Grades One to Five. It was followed two years ago by the syllabus for trumpet, trombone, saxophones and clarinet (also Grades One to Five). Opportunities to learn jazz have not been so plentiful since the National Curriculum included improvisation in primary musical education, introducing pupils to rudimentary improvisation at Key Stages One and Two. At Key Stage Three, the National Curriculum requires that jazz be part of general music education.

Thousands of teachers have attended Associated Board workshops around the country, which now means the average music teacher can introduce young people to jazz. For students who want to pursue jazz at higher-education level there is no shortage of universities offering jazz, and, as Fiona Maddocks pointed out, during the past three years applications to jazz courses at London music colleges have risen by 20 per cent.

But as jazz moves slowly and inexorably up the cultural agenda there are some who see this as simply another manifestation of the cultural imperialism thesis, with jazz another example of Americanism being thrust down our throats. Yet, while jazz originated in the bordellos, speakeasies and nightclubs of the United States, it very quickly moved out into the world at large. …

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