Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Judgey Jazz

I don't like Jazz competitions. I don't like the subjective tastes of the judges being the arbiter of what's good and what isn't at that particular time. Often the judges are the same names being drawn from one particular area of Jazz performance. This is no criticism of the musicians who accept the role of judge. Hey, it's a gig. They are good musicians with great ears, but a beauty pageant of Jazz just makes my teeth itch.

I tell you what I do like. I love Jazz and improvised music. I love music that challenges the listener to a battle of wits. That grabs the ear by the lugs and bellows LISTEN TO ME - even in the whisper of a delicate ballad. I love the artfulness of human creativity and the collective YEAH when it is just sounding incredible (Exhibit A: Ascension, John Coltrane).

I could write a very, very long list of staggeringly great Jazz musicians and Improvisers who have never won an award or competition. And I'm glad they haven't because it means their music remains judgement-free, unscrutinised, never determined to be 'good enough' or better than - or worse than- the next woman or man's playing. The decision as to whether they hit the spot has been left to the privacy of the listener either live or on record- which for me is the meaning of success.

Some will know I teach Improvisation and assess student jazz musicians at a London Conservatoire and will say - but you sit in judgement of these younger musicians, you 'decide' whether they 'go on to the next round' as it were. I do that job because I believe that education and the valuable constructive critique that it offers can only help build the skills, confidence and ingenuity of a creative person. They get to perform their art over and over again to us and we hear them improve - and they really do - develop and regularly knock us out with their ability to play inventive, interesting and excellent Jazz. This is a progressive process that doesn't place one above another through subjective opinion. It is not a 'one shot' at a prize.

Some like Jazz competitions and awards because they are an opportunity to honour or recognise someone's talent. I think putting on some gigs would be a better use of the money. Set up a tour, educate, support and promote. Highlight Jazz by putting it on mainstream TV and radio, but as a performance, rather than as a test.

Some might think I am kvetching because I have never won an award. I've been nominated for a few. And truly, I would gracefully turn one down if it was offered. We can win as many awards as we like, but Jazz is surely not a popularity contest. If it were then Buddy Rich wouldn't have lasted a week. Jazz is art. Art is expression of the personal made public. Awards and competitions don't fit into that process.

Miles, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston, Kenny Wheeler, John Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Ella, Keith Jarrett -they are all brilliant, beautiful jazz musicians and have, like all of us human musicians, played a bit duff on gigs where it just didn't happen that night for one reason for another (yes, even Jarrett, but don't tell him I said that). But not often enough for it to have made them crawl off and never come back, thankfully. They learnt from it and soldiered on.

I'm glad the judging panels weren't there on that gig to hear them.



Sunday, 9 October 2011

Television is a wife beater

Something struck me the other day. No, it literally struck me. I was in the fake house/ wine bar/ pub/ knicker factory, when 'whump', a hand/ shoe/ baseball bat landed on my head & I was out, cold. The next thing I know, the fake building I'm in is ablaze. I stagger out, to be confronted by the Cartoon Evil Fiancé that everyone knows is a Cartoon Evil Fiancé- everyone but stupid, deluded me.

At gun point, Cartoon Evil Fiancé then sets about brutally sexually assaulting me, calling me mysoginist, offensive names, to confirm that I am worthless piece of shit after all.

After an heroic rescue by A Manly Man, I recover, but plunge head long into a corrosive alcohol/drug addiction as my life continues to disintegrate.

My next persecution comes in the form of being wrongly accused of a spurious crime.
Not letting the grass grow under my weary feet, I am convicted, sentenced & jailed,only to be released on a technicality, known legally as 'early release due to need to punish her a little bit more' or 'actress finished panto acquittal'.

On release I begin to re-build my life. But I'm subdued, lack confidence (can't think why) & I'm not fit to babysit a gerbil, let alone form a normal relationship. I am now a tragic loner, to add to my list of sadness.

Before my ordeals, I was clever, successful, glamorous, sexy, confident with an attitude & fast wit & mouth to match. I was heading for my 40s, but looking good on it. No kids, no family life, but it wasn't what I wanted (but I did really, isn't that what every woman craves?)

Enjoying my alcoholism, I nurse a glass of wine in the fake pub & look over at the married woman with kids. I wonder if she's any happier, being as her husband humiliated her by having an affair with a woman half her age?

She has beautiful but troublesome ingrates for kids (bad mothering,that) but she's a saggy frump who's seen better days, so everyone understands why her virile, 'middle aged but no erectile dysfunction here, thanks' husband was 'literally forced' to look elsewhere.Or he was witlessly seduced by a naughty little temptress. Oooh, racey!

Yeah, it's Saggy Frump's fault, really. She wants to be a bit more independent, sexy & glam like me (oh, that's quite dangerous though) & not a boring mumsy- mum with a menial part time job (who then has to overcome a life threatening illness incase public humiliation & heartbreak aren't really punishing enough).

I ponder whether, I should have become a housewife, but, ah, that too leads to ruin & heartbreak. Hmm, seems I just can't win.

Well, at least I'm not an elderly woman as I'd only get wheeled out to be laughed at /humiliated/ pitied or articulate a moral position not covered by the ridiculous plot.

Or I could be Tart with a With a Heart or a Cartoon Evil temptress/nutcase whose absurd personality always leads to nowhere/jail.

Basically, whatever happens to me, I do know that I am Soap Character Woman. I am to be raped, beaten, humiliated, marginalised, degraded, derided, used, abused, pointed & laughed at, even killed horribly. My boyfriends/husbands are Ne'er Do Wells or wealthy, nasty types who I submit my foolish heart to, confirming again that we women just ask for it, don't we.

We are, however, undeserving of devotion and/or nothing will stop us from dismantling another woman's marriage. But then, she is Soap Character Woman too, so she had it coming.

OK, enough of the 1st person narrative device.

Let's face it. Soaps are Televisual Arse but they are powerful, dramatic vehicles, viewed by millions- mostly aimed at women. So, it would be a joyous & refreshing day when Soaps depicted women as most of us really are. Nuanced, 3 dimensional, strong, capable, loveable, flawed & funny- just because we damn well are & not because we are tragic heroines & lived 'I've seen a thing or two' lives.

The Carlas, Sallys, Mollys, Elsie Tanners, Bet Lynches & Ritas, that have had their faces ground into their own fictional dirt, are not forces of nature that are beacons of hope for women everywhere. They 2 dimensional disaster areas, that Soap makers use to convey the following message:

"This is what happens to women. We reinforce the notion that it is normal for women to suffer & be abused. It is normal for men to commit horrible acts & walk away, unscathed & often unpunished. It is normal.

Women, keep watching this shit & don't do anything about your own life, which may see you achieving great things with that massive brain of yours & not watching our crap- filled 30 minutes. Don't let those ratings drop, ladies or we are out of our well-paid gig.

Watch the hapless rape victim attempt suicide & fall off the edge. It is normal, it could be you. Soap Woman can settle down or live it up, it's no odds to us. We are Soap Storyliners & it's our job to punish Soap Women, whatever they do. It is normal."

I don't want to see women depicted on televison as victims & only victims. Sure, bad things happen to some women but that is not all of us, all the time. I don't know about you but I manage to struggle through most weeks without my life being shredded by yet another humiliating, vicious incident.

Yes, they are Soaps. It's their job to scandalise & sensationalise. However, producers & writers, take notice of this:

Get off your creatively lazy arses & come up with something more novel than stereotyping a female character, punishing her & making her schlep about a bucket full of woe. And don't give me that rubbish about giving the audience a gripping drama that reflects real life in some half arsed attempt to help process 'issues'. For Carla's sake, don't normalise brutality against women through the telly.

It is not normal, it is dangerous. Stop it.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

sometimes it's hard to be a woman


I was on recuperative & hopefully inspirational trip, but as I write this, I am waiting to be discharged from a Scottish hospital following emergency treatment for a ruptured ovarian cyst, caused by a long term development of a disease called endometriosis.

I have experienced true, transformative pain in the last 3 days. Every moment I am away from those absolutely awful hours of agonising, shrieking pain, I rejoice. But my celebrations can only be reserved for the brilliant & swift diagnosis, surgery & aftercare of the men & women who looked after me at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. (Go NHS Scotland!). I'll rant on about how I'll string Andrew Lansley up by his currently pain-free testicles if he takes a penny away from these amazing people another time...

I have some difficult weeks ahead. I may have to cancel some lovely work I have in the diary (I may not, I'll see how tough this old bird is...) I also have to get better. But I have to now get to my own doctor at home & start treating this incurable disease. Incurable disease. It sounds very dramatic when you say it like that, I will be able to carry on with my normal life but that normal life won't quite be the same again.

I don't have children & at 40, am unlikely to. A combination of not the right time, not the right man, & when it did happen (by accident, mind) I lost it at 6 weeks anyway. Also, I don't think I want to have a child. Anyone who knows me well, will be aware that if I do really want something I'll pretty much keep going until it's mine. So, that ambivalence is telling me my heart wouldn't be in it. I like children & society enough not to chuck out yet another human being with attachment issues.

I'm revealing all this very personal biography as it is intrinsic to my incurable disease & my current stay in hospital. Endometriosis is either diminished or unlikely to develop in women who have children. My lifestyle choice has lead me to this moment.

This year, a friend's wife gave birth to their lovely daughter. She is indeed a 'miracle baby' as his wife ( in her early 40s) has been through many rounds of IVF to finally achieve her dream of being a mum. My friend said whilst watching his wife go through the gruelling treatment & then the hours & hours of labour, it crossed his mind that he's very glad he's not a woman.

If a woman goes through the frankly heroic act of pregnancy, labour & birth, her body is altered, possibly injured & basically, I think it hurts. I am sure that plenty, if not all mums will say it's worth it for the joy motherhood can bring, but I bet they would not choose to go through a battle of body against nature to achieve being a mum if they didn't have to & there was an easier way of getting a baby out from within.

If a woman does not have a child, she risks a slap on the wrist from mother nature in the shape of 'an incurable disease'. Choosing to not let out your womb on nine month, short term tenancies appears to be a health risk as much as doing so.

Indeed, I don't ignore the fact that men have plenty of gender-specific medical complications that can occur & boy, do they suffer 'down below' when they get a smack.

But for a woman & reproduction, there's not much more that justifies the phrase 'damned if you do, damned if you don't.' I don't mean to damn a woman for having a child. I mean that she will probably suffer, whatever she does.

I'm not blaming anyone, I'm not implying that Cameron or Thatcher or the Tax Payers Alliance are responsible (although I wish I could, just for chuckles) or anything that baseless. I just hope we appreciate that being a woman is hard work, pure and simple & we don't deserve the debasing, the routine sexism we encounter & the continuing saga of unequal pay when let's face it, our bodies are at the very heart of whether human kind functions & continues at all.

I plan to take my 'End' on, like a fool that's lost its way in the middle of my body & start treatment as soon as possible. But I'll never forget the hours in the middle of the night after my operation, in awful pain, sobbing & feeling immensely sorry for myself, wishing, momentarily, that I had been born a man.