I’m at a place called Vallekilde Højskole, about an hour outside of Copenhagen.
Every year, around 60 professional jazz musicians, mostly from Denmark but also from further afield, gather together for a kind of a learning retreat. It’s called Summer Session – and it’s been going since 1969.
World class musicians come along and lead workshops, there are jam sessions, chances to play together in different combinations – as well as meals together, socialising, football and ping pong. It’s not a school for student musicians, but a fascinating learning experience for established pro musicians of all ages.
The artistic director is Jakob Bro, and this year, the teachers include The Fringe (George Garzone, John Lockwood, Bob Gullotti), Joe Lovano, Judi Silvano, Rebecca Martin, Larry Grenadier, Lage Lund, Tyshawn Sorey, Ralph Alessi and Enrico Pieranunzi. If you’re a jazz fan, you may recognise one or two of those names.
Somehow, I’ve also been invited along. I don’t have to do anything, particularly – just hang out. Be part of it. Observe. And today, at lunchtime, I’ve been invited to explain what it is I do and why I’m here.
This is how I’m attempting to explain it.
I have five hats
There are lots of reasons why I’m here, and I suppose none of them are the typical reason that one might attend something like this. I can’t join in – and usually, that would have been a requirement.
The easiest way to make sense of what I do and (perhaps more importantly) how I can be useful is to think of it this way: I have a number of different hats.
New Music Strategies
I guess this is the main reason I’ve been invited here. For the past six years, I’ve been studying and writing about music in the digital age.
I established an organisation – a team of half a dozen people working under the name ‘New Music Strategies‘ and we work on projects that are about all sorts of things to do with music online. Pretty much everything except “Hi, I’d like to be famous on the internet.” Lots of stuff about music as a tool for social change and music participation. More music by more people in more places.
I’m also the author of a book called Music in the Digital Age. You can download that for free, or you can pay for it. Totally up to you. I wrote another book about five years ago called The 20 Things You Must Know About Music Online. Same deal there.
I’ve been invited a number of times by Jazz Danmark to talk to local musicians and music businesses about what it means that music is online – and not just from a marketing perspective, but also just from the perspective of understanding what it means for audiences, for performers, for business models, for policymakers, for culture and for society.
That doesn’t mean I tell people what to do – but rather I help them think through what they do, and how it relates to the current technological, social, cultural, political and economic environment. The ‘strategies’ bit of New Music Strategies is about coming up with useful responses to that understanding. Not all of those (in fact, hardly any) are about making more money or becoming more famous.
In many respects, those things are peripheral to music, just as they are peripheral to painting, to football, to learning, to photography, to boardgames and to cooking. And at the same time, they are crucial components. Without a commercial context, a social context, a political context and a technological context, there would be no reason to play jazz, nobody to play it to, nothing to play it with and no meaning to be derived from it.
My main focus as the guy from New Music Strategies is that people like these ones here at Vallekilde get to do what they do in a way that’s sustainable, that finds an audience — and it’s important to me that they don’t get exploited, so I’m in favour of independence, entrepreneurialism, ethical practices and artist-centred business models.
With that in mind, we started a record label – Any and All Records, which has become the fastest-growing record label in history. We signed 300 artists in our first two weeks of operation. And we did that by promising to do nothing. Our point was that the concept of ‘unsigned’ artists was no longer a useful idea – so we decided to start a label that would sign EVERYBODY.
If you want a record deal, for whatever reason, you can just get one here. We will take nothing from you, and we will do nothing for you. But you’ll be ‘signed’.
I’m also on the board of advisors for Bandcamp, which is an online service that provides a platform for artists to sell their music and merchandise directly to fans.
So with my New Music Strategies hat on – I’m here for people to have a conversation with, if they think that would be useful. You can treat it as a consultation, an opportunity to kick a few ideas around, or just a chat about these kinds of things.
This is the main reason that Lars from Jazz Danmark invited me. He thought it would be interesting – and potentially helpful for musicians here to have someone to talk about that kind of stuff with. I hope that he’s right, because it might mean that I get invited back.
Birmingham City University
Hi. I’m a university lecturer. My job title is Reader in Music Industries Innovation, and I run a Music Industries MA programme as well as a Music Radio MA degree. I’m also part of a team who have just established an MA in Jazz Studies.
The MA in Jazz Studies does not teach music performance or composition. Rather, it’s for people who want to study the culture, history, social and political context and institutions of jazz.
With my university hat on, I’m very keen to interview jazz musicians about what they do, why they do it, what it means, what it connects to, how they make sense of it – and what stories they might have to tell.
Those interviews will become texts that my students will study. They will be hearing about what jazz means from the people who make it at a world-class level, who fit into an international jazz context, and who have insights into how jazz makes sense in different places at different times, and how it joins up with the industries that both enable and depend on it.
Personally, I’m very interested in collectives, networks and national institutions like Jazz Danmark – but people in my team are interested in studying all sorts of things about jazz, from musical heritage and the portrayal of canons in media documentaries through to the ways that people behave in jazz performance contexts, the legislation that applies to live music performance, the working practices of record labels, visual design of jazz album covers and flyers… and so on.
With that hat on, I would welcome a conversation or interview with anyone who wants to talk about that stuff. You might have a particular story to tell, a unique insight to offer, or just simply want to have a chat about this kind of thing.
If you don’t think you have anything to say that I’d be interested in, you’re wrong. Trust me when I tell you are definitely one of the people I want to talk to, simply because you’re here. Everyone’s experience and perspective is different, and from the point of view of someone who studies jazz in this way – I am not only interested in people who are famous.
My third hat relates to my second one, as it’s part of my university work, but I am seconded one day a week to a research project led by another university. It’s a study of jazz in Europe.
Rhythm Changes is a three year European research project looking at jazz and identity, jazz and nationality and cultural dynamics. For my part, for obvious reasons, I’ve been researching and writing about online mediation of collective practice (working with the Kitchen Orchestra in Stavanger) and a comparative study of the ways in which national jazz agencies use (and talk about) the internet.
From the point of view of Rhythm Changes, simply being here and paying attention is a useful thing to be doing. If you want to have a conversation at any point about how your music connects with the fact that you’re here in Denmark, I’d be totally up for that, and that would certainly count as a good day at work for me with that hat on.
My fourth hat is simply as a music fan. With this hat on, I am nothing more than ‘guy in the corner quietly appreciating you and what you do’. I don’t know if there’s any value for you in that – but there’s a lot of value in it for me.
I’m an unusual music fan in the sense that I am usually more interested in recordings than I am in live concerts (I’m a record collector, among other things) – but even more than records, I am interested in workshops, rehearsals, lessons and the process of composition. I am more fascinated by where music comes from and the journey it takes toward completion than I am in the presentation of its finished form, packaged for consumption.
I know that musicians are sometimes a bit weirded out by that, but it’s perfectly harmless. As a former musician, this was always the bit that I enjoyed. As a researcher, I’m interested in the music not as a ‘thing’ to be studied, but as something that people DO together – and it’s that activity that I get the most out of.
That said, I’m a jazz record producer, former specialist jazz label owner, music blogger, I was a jazz broadcaster and host of a number of jazz radio programmes for almost a decade, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I ended up involved in releasing some jazz vinyl that involves some of the people in this room in the not too distant future.
So – with my (unusual) music fan hat on, I am simply an observer – enjoying what you guys do together, peeking behind the curtain, seeing the actual work that goes on to create the thing that most of the rest of us ‘non-musicians’ experience as being basically magic.
This is just a hat
My fifth hat is not a metaphor. It’s just a hat. Sometimes I wear a hat.
I suppose if you want to find me to come and talk to me, you could always just keep an eye out for the guy in the hat.
Pretend I’m not here – unless you’d like me to be
So I hope that goes some way to explaining why I’m here. My main objective, though, is to stay out of the way. If all I get to do this week is sit and hear some incredible musicians play some music together, this has been a very successful week.
And if you do want to have a chat, you don’t have to pick which of my objectives you’re meeting. It’s just nice to chat. This whole hats thing is just a way of trying to make it clear what I get out of this, and give you ways to think about how I might be useful to you.
Otherwise – ignore me and I’ll stay out of your way. I’d like to take some photos if nobody objects, but generally speaking, I shouldn’t impact on your experience of Summer Session unless you decide you’d like me to in some way.
Have a great week here – and thanks for having me.