A Case for Collective Creativity
Words by Paul Lewis
Paul was NYJO’s Creative Producer from 2019 to 2022, delivering innovative and exciting projects such as our Amy Winehouse: A Celebration of Her Life & Music programme; the 2022 collaboration with Hermeto Pascoal; the Tony Kofi & NYJO Present: The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall tour; and the 2023 Tommy Blaize & NYJO Present: The Music of Ray Charles.
Art should be inclusive. Coming from a rural community where opportunities to participate were – and remain – limited, I am surely biased to this point. Music is our shared passion. It brings people together and soundtracks our break-ups. With music we celebrate our joys and lament our most private sorrows. It is a conduit around which community forms and through which we explore and express ourselves.
The benefits of studying music extend beyond its apparent utility: non-musical educational outcomes improve when instrument playing is part of a student’s discipline; it impacts positively upon personal wellbeing; communication and cooperative social skills core to ensemble playing offer lasting, universal benefit. It should not be an elite pursuit or preserve of some remote, privileged sub-section of our society.
In terms of investment, it is no party-political point to say music gets a raw deal. In 2019 arts and culture contributed £10.47 billion to the UK economy. Every pound of public funding going to the Arts Council’s national portfolio organisations pays back £5 in tax contributions from the sector as a whole. It is a noble part of our national identity, our economy, and plays a vital role in our communities, homes, and personal lives. It might reasonably be asked why then is it that music programmes up and down the country continue to see budgets cut and funding withdrawn? Without the long-term grassroots investment required to sustain the UK’s music culture it cannot thrive.
Despite the obvious return on investment, government is clearly vacating the space – capital is preoccupied with its short-term profit motive and will not fill that void – it is therefore the third sector that must intervene. It is the work of organisations like NYJO that will secure the future of UK music and unlock talent in our communities. It is our job to find new ways to engage and support aspiring artists in terms relevant to them.
Now is an exciting time for UK jazz. The music is vibrant, creatively diverse and connecting with a new generation of music fans. Whilst the story of the music is positive, the situation for musicians is challenging. The scene has been heavily hit by the pandemic, loss of venues, loss of income and spiralling expenses in a cost-of-living crisis. The next generation of British talent needs support. Without it, we risk losing a generation of promising artists.
Intersecting with the stark financial reality of our work is a complex of social norms and barriers to participation. There is no simple, single solution. Socio-economic status, gender identity, race, ethnicity can be limiting factors in our work. We are interrogating our approach, trying to find better ways to meet the disparate and changing needs of emerging artists. To that end, creative pluralism informs our programming.
NYJO wants to engage and serve our national jazz community through joyful performance & learning opportunities. The creative freedoms of large-ensemble music extend beyond the taut discipline of traditional jazz orchestras. It is a medium with boundless possibilities. We want to explore these outer edges with a love and respect for the heritage of jazz tradition. It is a process that our recent projects and collaborations reflect. From the soulful Pop of Amy Winehouse to the exuberant avant-garde of Hermeto Pascoal, NYJO can be a vehicle for wildly contrasting creative impulses. Our projects connect aspiring artists with audiences nationwide by offering a range of artistically eclectic experiences. Mentored by a diverse range of MDs, emerging professionals develop their creative practice alongside talented peers, through challenging musical encounters – away from the harsh realities of the commercial market – in a nurturing, supportive environment.
It is beyond the scope of any one organisation to address the fundamental inequalities that underpin the culture sector, but we are working in partnership with peer organisations to nurture the next generations of UK talent with opportunities for relevant and meaningful professional development across a range of styles and tastes. It is a collective endeavour. Get involved.