Image: The Fluid Orchestra rehearsals by Ken Drew
During the course of my conversation with Jazz North East about their fiftieth anniversary year, it rapidly becomes apparent that nostalgia is not on the cards. “We start our second fifty years looking forward with anticipation rather than backwards with nostalgia.” Says Paul Bream, one of the organisation’s six directors.
It’s a testament to the hard work of the Jazz North East team and their continued efforts to push boundaries with their programming that has led to fifty years’ worth of success in the region. “I think the important thing for Jazz North East has been its willingness right from the start to recognise that jazz covers a really wide spectrum of approaches, and that these are continuously evolving, so what might have seemed outrageously avant-garde when the organisation started out is now part of the mainstream. While some jazz promoters are locked into a particular style, our programming has always tried to reflect the music’s diversity and to move forward with new developments.”
Paul has a huge enthusiasm for new music, the work of young musicians and events that really push the extremes of performance. “I generally get my biggest buzz from bands who are taking risks, pushing the music in new directions. If I had to say which gigs have given me greatest satisfaction as a promoter, it would be the ones where we’ve actually initiated new combinations of musicians, so that there’s a real spark of the instantaneous creativity that, for me, is improvised music at its best.”
We start our second fifty years looking forward with anticipation rather than backwards with nostalgia
Paul’s own initiation into the genre came in the early 60s, when Charles Mingus’ Gunslinging Bird sent a shiver of excitement through him. “I’m fortunate in that I grew up at a time when there was a lot more jazz being broadcast, not just in dedicated programmes, but as part of more general music output, and by my early teens I was already recognising that there was an energy in jazz that certainly wasn’t evident in the bland pop music of the day. To this day that’s what keeps me hooked on jazz, the possibility that at any moment I’ll hear something completely unexpected. Sod nostalgia, give me progress every time.”
Over the years the Jazz North East team have brought some of the biggest and brightest stars of the genre to the region, in fact two of their first gigs in 1966 featured pianist Earl Hines (a veteran of Louis Armstrong’s 1920 recordings) and revolutionary free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Artists who have graced their stages over the years include Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bass player extraordinaire William Parker, and innovative jazz pianist Alistair Spence, but it’s the spirit of collaboration that excites Paul the most. “With improvisation at its core, it needs musicians who really listen closely to each other and are able to instantly respond to what’s happening.”
Having brought together musicians from around the world to play together, with particularly strong links with collectives in Europe, it seems fitting that to celebrate their last gig of their fiftieth year they’re putting together a jazz super-group that epitomises innovative performance. The Fluid Orchestra, who will perform at Black Swan Bar & Venue in Newcastle on Tuesday 13th December, is made up of twelve of the most imaginative improvising musicians in the region and beyond including Zoe Gilby, Graham Hardy, Corey Mwamba, James Mainwaring and Andy Champion. “I certainly can’t think of any other bands that have a theremin and a violin sitting alongside the more conventional line of saxophonists! It opens up all sorts of fascinating new possibilities.”