Founded in 2015, Jazz Plus Productions have an explicit “desire to uproot the UK jazz scene”. To pursue this ambition, and in the process get a whole new younger generation experiencing and enjoying jazz music, Jazz Plus Productions both organise live gigs in London, and have their own record label – onto which they look to sign promising bands and thus distribute their music to a wider audience. In order to find out more about this young enterprise, culturised caught up with the two founders of Jazz Plus Productions, Charles Price and Chris Jones, so they could tell us more about the work they’re doing and their plans for the future.
You say on your website that Jazz Plus Productions was born out of a desire to “uproot the UK jazz scene”. What about it do you think needs uprooting?
Charles: Well essentially from the notion that a lot of people, I think, still have of jazz: that it’s this really old, fusty genre of music suited mainly for background noise that doesn’t really have a place in modern culture at all. Essentially that it’s a relic of history that doesn’t really have any relevance to today’s society. That’s what we want to uproot. Obviously it’s not just us; loads of people have been doing that in the past, but we felt – especially at university – that there was this assumption that if you went to a jazz gig you would just go and– well actually you wouldn’t really go to a jazz gig: jazz would just be something that happened at a drinks reception.
Chris: From my experience, it’s a very insular kind of jazz movement, and if people do go to jazz gigs they go to hear music that they’ve heard before and where they know what to expect. But what we’ve found from the few gigs we’ve done already is that we get people who wouldn’t normally come to that kind of thing, but they’ve come along and they’ve had a great time because it’s not what they were expecting to hear; it’s not where they were expecting to go. That’s kind of what we’re trying to push.
So once you’ve uprooted jazz from its fusty reputation, where are you trying to “root” it?
Charles: It’s going in a direction where people see jazz effectively less as a genre and more as a way of doing things. Instead of someone saying “oh yeah, we went to this jazz gig”, they might say, “I went to this great gig and there was this artist that played a track that I really liked, and which sounded almost like hip-hop, but the next thing they did was completely different and something I had never heard before”. So we’re trying to engage audiences by finding artists that guide people through a whole range of musical genres, but is all collectively pulled together by jazz. If that makes sense?
So you’re using the cross-generic potentials of jazz to merge it with lots of other modern popular styles?
Charles: Exactly, yeah. Because, if you think of the history of music, jazz is a really broad genre anyway, but everything essentially stems from the ideas of groove and rhythm that came out of the 1920s in America, and then you’ve got all these things coming off it: you’ve got big band, small band, bop, hard bop, and you eventually get to things like the blues, hip-hop, and R&B. There’s so much music that, if you trace it back, gets to jazz. I think people don’t realise that at the moment: they just see jazz as one thing. I always think it’s a bit like looking at a family tree; at the moment it feels like audiences are just looking at one little branch, and maybe that branch’s parents and siblings, but they’re not going on to look at the cousins and the second cousins and the great aunts. There are so many more possibilities to be had for seeing connections, but people seem not to be exploring them, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to show people artists and music which will be interesting and challenging to them, and is somehow connected to jazz.
And do you view these connections across time becoming more visible as something that’s encouraging more young people to get into jazz? And do you feel that there is a current hunger from young people to engage with the genre?
Chris: I think it’s is tied to what a lot of artists are doing now – as we’ve talked about – with crossing genres and doing new things with jazz. We’re trying to open it out to as many people as possible so they experience something different and interesting, and something that sounds different to what they traditionally think jazz is.
Charles: In terms of the feeling of a current hunger for jazz, though, I think it comes down to the idea of connectivity. One of the reasons why we established Jazz Plus Productions was because when we left university we thought to ourselves, “right, what’s our next thing? What’s our challenge?” and I think a lot of our fans are also at that stage: at the beginnings of careers and they just need… or they’d like to go to something, to explore and be connected to something. Especially if you’re in London, there’s so much out there and we’ve found that loads of people that wouldn’t have come to a jazz gig we ran at university have actually come to these gigs. I don’t really know how you put your finger on that, but I think it does come down to people wanting to go out and do something interesting after work in terms of live events. I mean, that’s my impression of what’s been happening over the last year.
Chris: I think that’s exactly what’s been happening and that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do: bringing people we know together with people who the band know and complete strangers all together to hear something completely different. And so far it’s been a great success, with people actually finding out they really enjoy the gigs and the experience of not knowing what they were going to hear beforehand.
So that’s the event side of things, but you guys are also a record label. How do you balance the two ventures? Do you see yourself more as live show producers with a record label attached, or do you keep a good balance, and how do the two interact with each other?
Charles: At the moment they are interacting in that we signed a band at the beginning of last year, almost at the same time as we launched Jazz Plus Productions, and they performed at the launch gig, so that was kind of a nice tie between the events and the label. So the first gig we did was very much a “label launch” event. The band is called Districts; all the members are graduates of Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course and actually as we speak they’re currently in a studio recording their new album, which we’ll hopefully be releasing later this year. They very much follow our ethos. In a sense they’re a traditional sextet in their formation: trumpet, trombone, saxophone, drums, bass, and piano, but then their music is very much non-traditional jazz in that it really pushes your aural expectations. They play pretty much only their own compositions, which is really good. They’re currently the only band we have on the roster, which is nice as it gives us a family feel and we know everyone in the band really well. In terms of other links between the shows and the label, there’s no expectation that people playing at a gig has to be signed to the label; it would be great in the future if bands that we have playing at the gigs turn around to us for help in recording and releasing music, but there is no contractual obligation, so we keep the two sides of the business separate in that sense.
Chris: That’s exactly right. We’re putting on anyone who is interested in doing a Jazz Plus gig at the same time as anyone who we are interested in putting on because we think they’re great and people will enjoy them. What tends to happen if we don’t know the guys who are playing the gig is that we’ll get to know them and stay in touch, and hopefully produce some music for them if they want us to.
So on the events side of things, what is it that is particularly different about your events? What makes a Jazz Plus Productions gig stand out?
Charles: There’s definitely a family feel to the gigs. The last few we’ve run have been very home-made kind of affairs. We’ve tended to know a lot of people coming along, and it’s been a really good chance to catch up with them having left university, but also to meet their friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. I’ve found the gigs to be very social: people really get to know each other.
Chris: Also musically there’s definitely an emphasis on genre crossing, as we have talked about. We really do aim to try and produce interesting music both in the gigs and as part of the label.
Charles: In the gigs there in an emphasis on… we want them to be an interesting night. So, with the upcoming gigs at Notting Hill Arts Club, we’re going to make sure that people are dancing all night and getting up close and personal with the music and not treating it as background noise over which they are talking. Every step is going to be taken to get people really involved in the gig. We kind of MC the gigs throughout the night (and have been known to tell a few jokes as well). The important thing for us is that we enjoy it as much as the audience and the bands do: it’s just so much fun to be there for the night and to introduce the audience to a great band. That’s the real joy.
So do you feel that jazz, almost more than any other genre of music, is something that benefits from being seen live?
Chris: That’s partly right I think. As I say, one of the main reason we do the events is that they are so much fun. There obviously is an element that any music is going to be different live, which is why Jazz Plus Productions is two-pronged, with both the label and the gigs. So yeah, I suppose I would agree with you.
Charles: Also, you get more from a live gig. You don’t just get the music, you get everything that’s attached to it: the venue, the drinks, and just the general experience adds up to a memorable night. Listening to a record is great, but there’s not as much attached to it. Glowrogues, who are performing at our upcoming gig in May, released an EP about a year and a half that has three or four tracks on it, and that’s the only recorded music currently available from them online. But at the gig they’re going to be playing a full hour and a half set for us – they have so much music that has just not been recorded. So in coming along and watching them perform live you get so much more than you’d get from buying their CD.
Chris: And obviously the improvisatory element of jazz means you’re never going to see the same thing twice, and even more so when it comes to our gigs, which only makes it more important that we keep putting on great gigs and finding great bands.
Charles: Yeah, I agree with Chris and the only thing I could add would be that jazz artists are often really, really into their performance, and coming along to the gigs gives you the chance to admire their facial expressions and how they perform on stage, and you obviously can’t see that when you listen to a recorded track. I’m not saying that a classical artist, or even a pop star, wouldn’t do that, but there is something particularly incredible to watch with a jazz drummer really in the groove. Being able to see the mastery they have of their instrument is just brilliant. So there’s a sense of admiration that comes with attending the gigs, almost more so than when you go and see a large orchestra live: with a six or seven piece band the you can really see everyone’s role that’s being played.
In terms of the future, where are you looking to take Jazz Plus Productions? What counts as “success” for you?
Charles: Well, we have a few projects in the pipeline that we can’t really talk about yet, but hopefully those will really help us pick up momentum and grow. We’re currently building slowly and we’re just going to keep going with it and see where it takes us. By the end of this month we will have done four gigs in just over a year, with some really great artists. If you had asked me a year ago whether that would have been possible I’d probably have said no, so I suppose we have been successful in that way.
Chris: As Charles says, we’re always thinking of new projects to do, but I suppose in the short term it comes down really to putting on more gigs, and bigger gigs. We can then use that to get more people signed to the label and just grow it from there and see what projects come about and what we can do. I suppose we’ll see.
Jazz Plus Productions have two upcoming gigs at London’s Notting Hill Arts Club, both with a hip-hop edge. On the 29th of April they are hosting Laark: a band who focus on creating jazz-infused hip-hop beats (for tickets see here). And on the 20th of May they will be playing host to Glowrogues: a Manchester-based jazz, funk, and hip-hop band (for tickets see here).