A Modest Plan

Extract from Peter Rechniewski
The Permanent Underground: Australian Contemporary Jazz in the New Millennium
Platform Papers 16: April 2008, Currency House Inc

A modest plan

In reflecting on these issues, I have concluded that the jazz sector needs a National Jazz Plan (NJP), to guide the actions of the funding bodies and bring some strategic thinking into the work of our organizations. In 2001, a National Strategic Plan for Jazz Development (NSPJD), first drafted in 1998, was released by the National Jazz Co-ordination Office, with the support of the Music Council of Australia. Unfortunately, the National and NSW Jazz Co-ordination programs collapsed soon after; the old plan became the site of a power struggle and went into limbo.

The jazz community must not allow personal agendas or slow consultative processes to destroy another opportunity to take control of its future. A representative group must agree on the basic objectives, work quickly to develop appropriate strategies for implementation and then commence lobbying the relevant government bodies. David Throsby, who has described the process of creating policy documents as either top-down or bottom-up, comments that in creating cultural policy a top-down process ‘smacks of a cultural elite telling us what to do’.[i] The present strategy is top-down, but in the present context the problem of elitism is unimportant. Having a focus, which is what I believe the NJP outline provides, is crucial. The jazz community must work on the detail and see the process through.

My new NJP is influenced by the old plan, in the development of which I was personally involved. Indeed, I have retained some of its wording.[ii] The plan needs to address the three areas that bear directly on the health of the Australian jazz scene—

· Career sustainability and audience development
· Jazz infrastructure
· Jazz culture

—and break the vicious cycle of weak economic power and low cultural status that historically has inhibited its development. The issues that divided the jazz community and sank the original plan have evaporated, and at the recent Australia Council-sponsored jazz forum there was wide support for the creation of a new one.

While the NJP would not be totally dependent on public funding, substantial increases in funding levels would play a key role in achieving its goals. The additional funding, annual or triennial, would be channelled through key organizations and project grants to ensembles and individual musicians, to provide increased performance opportunities and substantially increased fees.

The first important step is the creation of a representative national advocacy body that will take on the responsibility to work on the NJP. At the time of writing such a body is being formed.

A New National Jazz Plan

The NJP seeks to raise the national profile of jazz, increase substantially the national jazz audience and thereby increase all forms of income to jazz and enhance career sustainability for an increasing number of jazz musicians.


It will be necessary for all major jazz organizations and the national advocacy body to accept responsibility for, and work collaboratively on, the detailed development of the NJP in order for it to be implemented successfully. Furthermore, commonwealth and state funding bodies, and existing programs accessed by jazz musicians (Playing Australia, Sound Travellers and CMTP etc.) would be invited to make a commitment to support the plan. `

Key Elements
Properly resourced and well-administered organizations are the key drivers of increased box office, as well as enhanced public and private funding.

· In order that an appropriate response to the needs of the jazz sector as a whole is formulated, it is imperative that funding bodies recognise that low funding levels have obliged jazz organizations to under-resource their administration and maintain a low marketing spend. An increase in financial support is required at the earliest possible opportunity to bolster these areas.

· The increases should target presenting organizations, to enable them to carry out the roles they undertake as part of their commitment to the plan. An increase would also allow these organizations to lift their own non-grant income more effectively.

A national campaign of audience development is central to the NJP. Such a campaign would seek to raise the profile of jazz in the media and offer support to artists/ensembles and private and public presenting organizations. The campaign would operate at regional and national levels and target the electronic, print and virtual media.

· Ideally, and in the first instance, a marketing and promotional specialist would develop a feasible strategy for the entire jazz sector, one that is adaptable to meet differing needs. This might be funded through a project grant to one of the presenting organizations.

Crucially, the NJP must address the paucity of adequate venues by calling for the establishment of full-time, dedicated venues in the major centres of Sydney and Melbourne. Elsewhere it may be necessary to establish part-time venues in hotels, theatres or even, perhaps, registered clubs, as appropriate to local conditions.

· Such venues would present innovative programs and involve local groups, groups from outside the region and, where affordable, from overseas. The venues would become centres of energy for the development of jazz and its audience, as well as help sustain a touring circuit. By aggregating income from box office and other trading, they will generate considerably more income to be spent on marketing and promotion, as well as artists’ fees.

· The establishment costs of these venues would be sought from the states and, where possible, from local authorities. Capital funding may be necessary for piano, sound and other necessary equipment, while subsidies for the program would be sought from the public and private sectors, and from philanthropic foundations.

The NJP should recognise the important role of individual band leaders as entrepreneurs/presenters and facilitate access to project funding, for example, by scheduling staggered closing-dates and ensuring a quick turn-around time for small grants.

· A small grant program would support activities such as a series of performances in a concert hall, or club; regional and national touring; recording and/or production of a DVD; commissions and contracting of advisory services to practitioners for matters such as marketing and grant applications.

· Such activities would require an immediate injection of funding in order to achieve a significantly greater success rate for applications.

Special support should be directed to emerging artists and a number of large ensembles.

· Emerging artists require support to develop a public profile early in their careers. To this end additional project funding should be provided for rehearsals and performances that are either self-entrepreneured or arranged by an existing presenting organization.

· Additional support for large ensembles would recognise the important role of these groups in encouraging original compositions and arrangements, and in enhancing ensemble-playing skills.

An important element in audience development and the establishment of touring circuits will be the creation of new jazz festivals and the development of existing ones.

· Support should be given for the creation of new jazz festivals in major jazz centres and to well-organized but under-funded regional events. Priority in the allocation of addition funding should be (i) adequate musicians’ fees, (ii) an effective level of marketing and promotional spend and (iii) professional administration (including a paid artistic director or a fee to an artistic sub-committee).

For the long-term development of the full spectrum of needs of a viable jazz community (audiences, performers and administrators), education and communication are pivotal.

· Given the strength of tertiary jazz education, support should be provided for projects that target secondary-school students.

· The funding, and viability, of a national jazz magazine should be investigated, or perhaps of a quarterly newspaper, to be distributed free of charge at selected outlets, in the manner of RealTime. The possibility of amalgamating such a publication with RealTime might be explored.


With regard to additional funding, a total of $1.15m over four years should be sought, $400,000 in the first year of the plan, and $250,000 in each of the following three years. The initial figure of $400,000 reflects (approximately) the amount level allocated by the Australia Council to jazz organizations for 2008. The objective is to raise the amount of public funding ultimately allocated to jazz to a total of $2.4m, i.e. double the current amount.

The main thrust of the NJP must be the provision of support for musicians and the development of a larger audience for jazz. As the American critic Gary Giddens puts it, ‘Jazz musicians have virtually no access to the machinery of capitalism.’[iii] In Australia, at present, they have no more than a small, uncomfortable and precarious seat at the table of subsidised music. They deserve much better.

rrp $14.95. Currency House Inc. www.currencyhouse.org.au

[i] David Throsby, Does Australia Need A Cultural Policy?, Platform Papers No. 7 (Sydney: Currency House, 2006), p. 47.

[ii] On the jazz scene in north–west Britain, see Kathy Dyson’s 2004 report for the Arts Council of England, available at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/documents/news/NWJazzdevelopmentreport_phpGYSMvw.pdf (accessed 18 February 2008).

[iii] Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of its Second Century (Oxford: OUP, 2004), p. 603.


2 responses to “A Modest Plan

  1. Pingback: A NATIONAL STRATEGIC PLAN FOR JAZZ DEVELOPMENT, January 2001 « National Jazz Alliance

  2. Pingback: A Modest Plan « National Jazz Alliance

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