5 May 2013


This is CJBlog post no. 1000.

So what do I make of it? I’ve had a great time in jazz over recent years, heard lots of intriguing and much-varied music and met many friendly and committed people who concern themselves with things of some substance. Jazz is an excellent interest to have as a traveller. There are jazz clubs everywhere, they are open to the public, they announce themselves on the Net, they welcome visitors and contain people with similar interests. And these interests are not just jazz. Jazz is a complex and sophisticated art form. People who commit to such things are interesting, broadminded, hard-working, in short have some depth. They may not always share common views, but they share a seriousness. Jazz is also worldly, so there’s an openness and wisdom, although, like the wit in jazz songs, the seriousness is worn lightly. That’s attractive. Examples? Attending a lunchtime concert at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic and running into Reuben and Ronny, or musing over a smashed windscreen (not mine) one morning when leaving the Moruya Jazz festival and thinking that, despite their careless looks, the young jazzers I’d listened to were much more dignified and positive than whoever had done this.

Looking at recent posts, though, it’s clear that things around Canberra are changed. Very few recent posts have reported on jazz. They’ve mostly covered classical or choral music and odd ones about theatre or poetry. Partly, this is a product of the C100 Musical Offering and the Canberra International Music Festival, but not all. There have been no concerts at the Music School and very few locals at the Loft. Megan has even suggested I change the name to CanberraMusic. A few months ago while musing about changes at the Music School, Geoff Page suggested that we had lived through a golden age of jazz in Canberra. It’s certainly looking like that. I believe that golden age was almost totally a product of the ANU School of Music so I can only hope the Music School recovers. I hear of staff working ridiculously hard in an uncertain environment. This change was hard on students but devastating on remaining staff and I expect it will be devastating for culture in Canberra. I also hear such changes are sweeping through music courses in Australia. Are classical economists responding to their failures by imparting more of their solutions? They’ve had a habit of responding to failure with a demand for more purity. We’ve learnt little from the GFC, but all that is another story (for AginSpin, my now-defunct political blog). There’s a lot we have to learn about longer-term survival, in music and climate change and resources and wealth distribution and more. I remain pessimistic but hope to be proved wrong.

It saddens me to think of the changes at the Music School. They had such a powerful combination, jazz and classical collocated, students sharing classes as they felt the desire. But each discipline, jazz and classical, is a life’s work. To ask students to do both is inevitably a diminishing of each. It amazes me that all this comes from 12 notes in the same way that engineering comes from a common physics. Perhaps the civil engineers should have a common course with the electronic engineers. Now, that would save money. It wouldn’t work, of course, but it’s efficient. Until the bridges collapse and the electronics-based industries go broke. In these days of wealth from information and culture (remember, the biggest export from the USA is culture), can we afford to ignore the arts? They are big business. But beyond that, they are our soul. Tragedy.

Has CJ been successful? Early on, I tried to get others involved. A few band mates wrote posts (~25) and provided pics, but I haven’t been successful in expanding input. CJGroup on Facebook has some interest but it’s limited. Google stats show about 250,000 visits over the years; 30-90 visits per day; ~70% from Australia, then US, UK and many other countries. The CJBlog index has over 2,600 names. I’ve assisted musos visiting Australia or Canberra. CJCalendar is subsumed into ArtSound’s. Since I’ve taken up recording, I’ve had one track on a CD and another few more coming. My pics have appeared on numerous websites, with and without recognition. One appeared (with permission) on the Bösendorfer front page for a month or so. I’ve been quoted on album covers a few times. I’ve been thanked for the work I do for jazz in Canberra, but also obliquely reminded by a local of his wisdom: “Those who know, don't speak; Those who speak, don't know”. It’s the obvious concern of any writer - to me no less than any other - but it becomes hard to judge value from the inside. How much is there to say after 1,000 posts? My preparation is learning bass, but there’s a wealth of musical and cultural history that I know only peripherally. I call my posts reports, not reviews, for that reason. One disappointment is the lack of response to CJ. Perhaps it’s a function of the topic and readership (sadly, jazz is predominently a male pursuit). Several female friends, blogging on books and chocolates (with mostly female audiences) have plenty of comments. It’s rare to get any comment on a post of CJ. I just console myself that jazzers are less loquatious and they should be practising anyway. Volunteer activities are labours of love, sometimes useful and often thankless, and often a trivial passtime in a wealthy society. CJ is no different.

Otherwise, over the years of CJ, I’ve returned to playing music and changed from electric to double bass. After 4 years of the big instrument I finally feel more comfortable with the acoustic bass. CJ keeps me ridiculously busy, but I’m not ready to close it. It’s too much part of my life these days, but I might take it easier. I remember being surprised when CJBlog posts reached 250. Now it’s at 1,000, but the next step is immeasurably larger. As for the pic, it's unrelated but I needed one and I chose this. I’m restringing my bass today to try out Velvet Blues. Any jazz bassist will pick the Velvet Blues (E- and G-strings); the A and D are Thomastik Purples.

This is CJBlog post no. 1000

  • AginSpin

    Whispering Gums said...

    Congratulations Eric ... that's a great achievement. I must say that I think that statement - "Those who know etc" - which I've heard before is incorrect at best, unkind at worst. And, anyhow, I reckon that by writing we put ourselves out there and ask for "those who know" to join in the conversation! To keep it to themselves is ungenerous!

    Oh and that's interesting re the apparently impact on Jazz of the change in the Music School. Not surprised but sad. The Wesley Music Scholar Foundation is deeply concerned too.

    Anyhow, keep up the good work ...

    Neal G said...

    Well I've enjoyed reading all your reports Eric, especially when I'm overseas or away camping somewhere in Oz.
    Yes it's a pity the Canberra Jazz scene has taken a hit with the changes to ANU SoM.

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Eric,

    Congratulations on your important contribution!

    Tom Fell