Like most music fans, I have been missing live gigs more than anything. In more normal times, I’d probably go to a couple of gigs a week. And so I have been devouring streaming events in their place.
Steamed shows are just a simulacrum of a live show, but beggars can’t be choosers; and there can be advantages – you don’t have to leave home, you can see shows from around the world, and, for some shows, you can see them when you want rather having to stick to the musicians’ diary. And by buying tickets or making donations, it’s a way to help musicias make ends meet when their income dried up. (If you watch any of these, please donate if you can afford to.)
Personally I don’t like watching music on a screen (be it a computer or tv), and I have often found myself switching off the screen and listening to the music through the speakers, as if listening to the radio.
Despite the ability to travel the globe listening to livestreams, I’ve generally stuck with musicians I’d have gone to see anyway. Early in the lockdown, I watched several streams of solo pianists – probably because they were used to playing solo. I think Liam Noble was the fastest out of the blocks with a series of witty performances on Saturday lunchtimes where he took tunes from outside the usual jazz repertoire – Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath spring to mind – and these are still available on YouTube – as well as several other I haven’t seen: I hadn’t realised he’d kept up his shows!
Another pianist who took to the internet early was Fergus McCreadie who took the opportunity to stream some completely improvised sessions (the videos are still available on Fergus’s Facebook page): he did one a week for several weeks – there were some technology issues early on (the stream sticking occasionally) though after the first couple of weeks he got the tech sorted properly – and it felt a privilege to watch an artist in the act of spontaneously creating. In the darkest of times, Fergus’s Tuesday night sessions were like a beacon.
There were some recorded – not-live – events too: Tommy Smith put together a video of highlights from various bands he’d been part of, as a fundraiser for the RCS – typically I can’t find that video now; it feaured some specially recorded solo sax peieces, a clip from the SNJO, and concert excerpts from Smith’s quartet palying a tribute to Coltrane; one of the high points was an excerpt from this show featuring Smith with an all star band of Joe Lovano, John Scofield, John Taylor, John Patitucci and Bill Stewart – well worth a watch!
Smith’s regular bassist, Calum Gourlay, produced a recorded video to raise funds for the Vortex in London. This show has some beautiful bass playing as well as Gourlay experimenting with the percussive possiblities of various objects… It’s still up on the Vortex website.
The Edinburgh Jazz Festival went online in July, with some highlights from previous years, such as tremendous gigs by Strata [Expanded] from 2019 and the premiere of Martin Kershaw’s suite “Dreaming of Ourselves” from 2018. But they also had several live sets especially recorded for this years festival, like solo piano shows from Dave Milligan and Steve Hamilton (both of whom released new solo records during the summer).
But for me the hit of the festival was Playtime, with special guests Laura MacDonald and Gina Rae. The guys from Playtime had been streaming from quite early in the lockdown, trying various ways to connect through FaceTime and Zoom, but the technology was as much a barrier as a facilitator. Then as Scotland began to open up in July, they realised they could get together, socially distanced and complying with all the regulations and guidelines in a village hall, which culminated in their jazz festival gig. It was a real gig. The vision was good (when the musicians remembered to stand in the light…) and the sound was excellent – indeed, the sound was so good they uploaded the audio file to BandCamp (you can get a CD if you prefer). A huge amount of kudos for the success of this show must go to Matt Elliot, who looked after the technical side of things.
It worked so well that Playtime have been running a series of weekly gigs more or less since August, featuring guests playing with the core quartet, or presenting bands from in place of the quartet. There has been some tremendous music: the Fergus McCreadie Trio, Konrad Wizsniewski and Euan Stevenson, Aidan O’Rourke, recent Scottish Jazz Award winners Liam Shortall and Anousha Nanguy, Chris Grieve and Kevin McKenzie Trio have all made appearances and produced some wonderful live music. All the videos are still available on Tom Bancroft’s YouTube channel.
They’re great: excellent music from the luxury of one’s own desktop. Please give generously…