It might seem strange to have an English person, however well-intentioned and jazz-oriented I may be, writing Jazz Ireland’s first “think-piece”. But I am assured that other contributors will follow in the fullness of time, such as bassist and researcher Damian Evans. Well, actually he’s Australian, I know, but you get the point. And it would be good to be told here of other existing Irish jazz blogs, such as the stimulating comments from Ronan Guilfoyle, and others that we may not know about so far.
In the meantime, it feels positively perverse if I now write about an English-based periodical, namely Jazzwise. But blogs are supposed to have a personal angle, and I believe I hold the record of being the only writer to have contributed at least a few words to every single one of the magazine’s 217 issues so far. The latest of my increasingly infrequent visits to London was to join in the celebrations of its 20th anniversary, the first issue having hit the news-stands in April 1997. Of course, although I’m of the generation that considers the print version to be the “real” magazine, much of their traffic and indeed their subscriptions now relate to the online edition (jazzwise.com).
The main thrust of Jazzwise’s celebration was to lend its name to a week of big-name presentations on the main stage of the Ronnie Scott club, led off by none other than John McLaughlin. He used to appear there in the late 1960s before emigrating full-time to the US and indeed, having hinted at my great age, I can own up to having first seen John playing at Ronnie’s as a member of the Mike Carr organ trio (with fellow Tynesider, Jackie Denton, on drums). In an interview for the magazine’s anniversary issue, McLaughlin revealed that it was Ronnie, already involved with bringing in American musicians under the then strict “exchange” arrangements required by the UK Musicians’ Union, who organised John’s US visa. One of the many plus points for Scott, who left us 20 years ago already.
A less obvious celebration was the private party held in Ronnie’s upstairs room for both the loyal contributors to the magazine and its advertisers and other supporters, without whom such a successful operation could not have survived. Editor-in-chief Jon Newey’s speech, incidentally, pointed out that after the unsurprising dip in its fortunes after the 2008 crash, Jazzwise is now healthier than ever in terms of sales. He also acknowledged the inspiration and leg-work of its original publisher Charles Alexander, whose printed music business of the same name provided (until three years ago) support staff and indeed office space for the magazine. He neglected to mention the long-term contributions of the initial editor, Northern Ireland-born Stephen Graham, who now runs the jazz blog marlbank.net.
A plus point for the magazine itself, from my own point of view, is that many of the long-standing personnel are themselves musicians. Alexander, for instance, is a fine post-bop guitarist, while Newey is a former professional conga-player and the current day-to-day editor, third-generation Irish immigrant Mike Flynn, is an excellent bass-guitarist. In fact, when the previously mentioned private party merged into the Ronnie’s Upstairs jam-session, both Newey and Flynn joined the house-band on a couple of numbers (your correspondent on piano) to the general approval of the regular punters. Other writers present, including guitarist Andy Robson and saxophonist Mike Hobart, had unaccountably failed to bring their ax, while others include author/broadcaster Alyn Shipton who is a frequent bassist and bandleader. Another Jazzwise writer, Peter Quinn, even plays the piano in a London-based Irish-trad band called Artisan Row.
You can tell that I’m a bit of a fan of Jazzwise as well as a contributor. My hope is that Jazz Ireland may evolve into something similar, in terms of covering the scene here. The last attempt that I’m aware of on this island was Jazz News, edited by Dara O’Lochlainn, which ran for two or three years in the late 1980s until, in the recent words of contributor Grainne Farren, “it ran out of money”. Jazz Ireland could also take inspiration from the blog London Jazz News, launched five years ago by Sebastian Scotney and now edited by Peter Bacon. More specifically, the gig listing website and phone-app JazzLondonLive (jazzinlondon.live) – started last year by musicians Mike Sexton and Sarah Chaplin, whom some will know from the annual Sligo Jazz Project – is certainly something we could and should emulate here.
Actually, I have to admit my favourite line in Jazzwise every month is at the foot of the radio listings, where in the smallest typeface imaginable there’s a reference to my own weekly show on Radio Kerry. Perhaps I’ll write about my love of radio on other occasion but, although it won’t be possible to co-host the show here on this website, I hope to be able to pass on details of each forthcoming programme every Wednesday. So, if I’m not already, I look forward to talking to you directly, between tracks on That’s Jazz.