Although I see the steps taken by Out Front! as small (it has a ten-year plan), I think our impact nationally has been important; we have helped improve the way Derby is perceived as a city with arts and culture. We are artist-led. We have a focus on musicians' well-being. And perhaps it is the focus on all these things that meant that I had missed the organisation's first birthday last week.
Of course, it's older than that. In a sense I see it more as a child that was first born as One Note Sunday which then grew (slowly, with some struggle; but eventually with a lot of relief) into The Family Album.
At some point between O had a parallel life as 2ndline, which was co-opted by Derby Jazz; and when they (or rather, since I'm now the programmer for Derby Jazz, we) dropped 2ndline, it was apparent that something else had to be done.
But I had been thinking about it already; especially with the context of Jazz Services[^1] at that time. In the rationale document for Out Front! I was able to write the following and feel absolutely certain that I was correct (emphasis in original):
On the national level, there is a lack of real infrastructure in jazz and improvised music in this country. Although there is a model of connected thinking in Jazz North's Northern Line scheme, there is nothing as structured as for example Soundtrips NRW in the North Rhine–Westphalian region of Germany, where two artists travel around the region performing as a duo and with local improvisers in a fully-financed tour of between five and eight days. The focus is entirely on totally improvised music. As a reference, the area of North Rhine–Westphalian (13,160 sq. mi.) is slightly larger than the East and West Midlands regions combined (11,054 sq. mi.), with a slightly larger population (17.1 million against 10.1 million).
Although Soundtrips has been running since 2010, I did not hear about it until I was selected for a tour in February 2014; and independently of this, saxophonist Sam Andreae organised a group of promoters from Sheffield (Jazz At The Lescar), Newcastle (Jazz North East), Liverpool (Lost Voices), Manchester (The Noise Upstairs), Leeds (Fusebox) and Derby (The Family Album) to select a group to tour each of the cities. The financial situation was very different in each city, but the value of the tour to the selected band (Dors, an Anglo–French quartet) was clear.
This gap in connected thinking scales from regional to national touring, especially with international artists. This April, Myra Melford is playing one date in London. Although she is a musician of international standing within jazz and improvised music, she was unable to secure dates anywhere else as no one else knew about it — I found out in March. Another example is Anthony Braxton's Diamond Curtain Wall Tour this year. In January he performed in Colston Hall, Bristol, but he is appearing in Italy and Belgium twice. The situation of a larger artist not touring to other parts of the country is repeated regularly, but I suspect it is rarely down to the musicians' schedules or inclinations and more a matter of lack of communication, sharing and forward planning. This gap in foresight was raised as an issue at the inaugural Jazz Promotion Network (JPN) conference in July 2014, but so far nothing has been done about it.
Thinking about the next phases of Out Front!, I'm wondering how things have changed; and whether the beneficial links (and the open access to those links) that are needed to form a decent infrastructure are emerging, or are there. But more immediately, I'm looking at the ideas we want to put in place for here and feeling quite excited.