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THE PERMANENT UNDERGROUND

Peter Rechniewski

Platform Paper 16

Australian Contemporary Jazz in the New Millennium

Peter Rechniewski

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Contemporary Australian jazz, by any measure, is flourishing, writes Peter Rechniewski. More talent, more recording, more audience development, widespread respect for our musicians overseas. So why is the jazz scene sick and likely to die? Why do musicians eke out the barest living? Why do old venues close and no new ones replace them? Why is jazz held in such low esteem by the media? For all its apparent vitality, jazz remains in crisis. Peter Rechniewski is well-placed to diagnose the problems and recommend a cure. In this hard-hitting account he traces the origins of the current crisis and proposes a new National Jazz Plan to raise the profile, increase the audiences, lift income levels and enhance the career pathways of a growing number of musicians. Jazz, he writes, demands an urgent revision of both the public and governmental attitudes if we are to ‘liberate jazz from its imprisonment in a permanent underground’.

 

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About the Author

Peter Rechniewski has been involved in jazz for thirty years. He was one of the founders of the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA) and is its current president and artistic director.

In Australia, jazz is not accorded the same respect as the other arts. Non-specialist writers are often assigned to cover jazz, the coverage is inconsistent, jazz reviews are rarely accompanied by photographs, and there are very few feature articles on specific aspects of the scene 

 

Comments

Responses to Peter Rechniewski's The Permanent Underground: Australian Contemporary Jazz in the New Millennium

Bruce Johnson is a professor at the universities of Glasgow, turku and Macquarie. a prolific author, he has extensive experience in arts administration and as a jazz musician.

I must begin by declaring a position: I worked with Peter Rechniewski for decade or so in the Jazz Co-ordination program. Along with the NSW and National Jazz Coordinator Eric Myers, Peter was one of a group that knew how to conduct the most robust disagreement without ever falling out personally or compromising our ability to work together constructively. I formed, and retain a strong friendship and greatest respect for these individuals. We know how to disagree, as I will sometimes do here.

Peter's analysis of jazz support and funding is a welcome update of my own study that brought us up to 1995.1 The most basic point made by both is that the nourishment of an expressive form requires a great deal more than promoting and funding performances. It is not enough to water the flower, but to engage with the landscape. He recognizes that whatever the problems that might afflict the jazz scene, they have little to do with the quality of the music that is his primary interest. Contemporary Australian jazz has a vitality, as well as a level of international acclaim-alas, still the signal of merit for many Australia arts organizations-that has rarely, if ever, been surpassed. Yet its position within local funding and support infrastructures positions it as the cultural equivalent of a 'third-world' economy (I suggest that the image is instructive). Why?

He candidly recognizes that many of the problems are of the jazz community's own making. Internecine factionalism based on style, geography and various personal agendas all of which aggravate myopias in many of its clubs and organizations (see, for example, pp. 16, 18, 20, 21 & 47) have undermined attempts to invigorate jazz as a national lobby, far more effectively than competition from other arts sectors. This is such a deeply-seated problem that it is central to an attempt to understand our jazz history.2 The message is simple here: grow up, or wither and die. Peter finds evidence of increasing maturity and harmonization of objectives within the national jazz community.

There is also a history of elected disempowerment, which I have argued is based ultimately on a particular discourse that has caused jazz to fall between two stools. The origins of current popular music scholarship so closely coincide with the emergence of rock and its derivatives from the 1950s and 1960s, that 'popular' music is largely equated with 'pop'. Rock created a new 'popular music' from which jazz sought fastidiously to distance itself, and so it has never yet enjoyed appropriate recognition in popular music studies as arguably the most important popular music of modernity.3 Seeking instead sanctuary from the 'vulgarity' of early rock in high art discourse, jazz was admitted but always doomed to remain a second class refugee. Without effacing itself altogether, jazz can never compete on equal terms with art music through high-art value-systems and their politics. When jazz attempts to appropriate its criteria from that discourse, it compromises its own identity and misreads its own strengths. Terms like 'originality', 'genius', 'avant-garde' are drawn from an earlier and less mediated music. They are profoundly misleading in an era of cut'n'mix and collage from such a plenitude of acoustic images, democratically accessible and promiscuously circulated. To declare that The Necks are not 'experimental' (p. 34) is to limit the sense of what constitutes experimentation in contemporary culture, and to deny exactly what has led to their international acclaim as 'one of the most extraordinary groups on the planet',4 'a revolutionary consortium redefining music for the new century'.5

Peter has contributed to the enlargement of the horizons of Australian jazz thinking in a way that can only be a fruitful step, standing back from the 'text' (the performance as self-sufficient product) to engage with the context (performance as interactive process). He has drawn attention to the complicity between the jazz community and the larger cultural policy climate, in attenuating performance opportunities. I would just like to suggest that this enlargement can go much further, and in two dimensions.

First, historically. The historical flatness of cultural discourse is not confined to Australian jazz, but is increasingly apparent in all Western societies in which I have worked. The reasons include the inundation of information generated in the present, vis-à-vis that which has emerged directly from the past; the rapidity of developments in information technology and circulation that make 'the past' something that happened last month. Regarding Australian jazz: we cannot fruitfully form a diagnosis of, or a prognosis for, the patient if we know nothing of the aetiology of the disease. I say this unequivocally: if our jazz administrators, lobbyists and educators do not take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the history of the music in their own country, they can not effectively foster the music. Could anyone get a job as US jazz educator if s/he were ignorant of US jazz history?

Jazz history lies within a larger history, which takes us to the other dimension in which we can instructively open our horizons. That is, culturally. The two Russian dolls that most proximately encompass jazz are its own infrastructures (jazz clubs and societies) and arts policies. But of course these are in turn enclosed in and therefore shaped by larger matrices. These include the music industries, entertainment patterns and technologies, employment, demographics, urban development, and perhaps the outer 'doll' is globalization. These determine the character of music and its functions. We live in a world where, more than ever before, everything is connected. When Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore recently called for regulation of bass speakers in urban apartment blocks, she showed a deeper understanding of the relationship between music, physiology, architecture and demography than any statement I have read by arts administrators. Apart from coming to understand it, how do we then introduce those insights into the society of which jazz is a component?

I conclude with this, as a supplement to the strategic plan outlined by Peter. Ultimately, this is based on a model prepared by the Jazz Co-ordination Association following discussions with its state and commonwealth funding bodies. I recall spending many months with Eric Myers drafting the document, inviting comment from various parties including Peter himself and Richard Letts. Eric's recollection and mine do not accord with Peter's on this, and I mention this for two reasons. The first is that I think it is salutary to be aware that this very ambitious plan was not imposed on the jazz community from outside. It was generated by representatives of that community. We do have agency, and the skills to engage with larger issues. The other reason takes me to my conclusion, which could seed a succession of further papers (and has done). Certainly, in the strategic statements I prepared for the Australian Jazz Archives, and I believe (but how fallible is memory) for the Jazz Co-ordination Strategic Plan, a major emphasis was on education. I don't mean 'training', which appears to remain the central objective of tertiary jazz-studies programs. If jazz is to prosper, it can only be as a component of our cultural mindset, not something separate from 'ordinary life'. It has to belong in the national consciousness. I personally believe that, historically, it should. No subsidized concert, no one-off festival, is going to lodge it there. I presented the country's first courses in Australian jazz history at the University of New South Wales from the 1980s. The responses were very rewarding. But I used to think of the Jesuit axiom, that if you had a child for the first seven years, it was yours for life. The information gap between adults and children widens every year, every month. If I had to choose just one factor in the long-term fostering of jazz in Australia, it would be early education.

1 'Jazz and the cultural politics of Australian music', Context 10 (Summer 1995), pp. 11-26. I don't present self-citation as validation, simply a source in which an idea is more fully developed.

2 See also my 'Australian Jazz: an overview', in Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now: Popular Music in Australia, ed. by Tony Mitchell & Shane Homan (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2008), pp. 113-29.

3 See also my 'Jazz as Cultural Practice', in The Cambridge Companion to Jazz, ed. by Mervyn Cooke & David Horn (Cambridge: CUP, 2002), pp. 96-113.

4 Guardian, 29 November 2002.

5 Guardian, 6 December 2002.

Shane homan, a drummer and senior lecturer in Communications and Media studies at Monash university, is co-author (with Bruce Johnson) of Vanishing Acts: an Inquiry into the State of Live Music Opportunities in NSW and co-editor (with tony Mitchell) of the forthcoming Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now: Popular Music in Australia.

Peter Rechniewski's overview of jazz's place in the Australian cultural landscape is a heartfelt cry to arrest the decline of jazz on several fronts, including solutions to the dearth of venues, mainstream media exposure and substantial government support. The author's career paths speak to his personal investment and administrative commitment, evident in the proposed 'National Jazz Plan'.

Beyond the historical account of jazz's 'heady' days of the 1960s and '70s, Rechniewski remains troubled by the 'improvisation'/ 'jazz' divide in terms of how musicians define their work. Perhaps more than any other art form, jazz remains haunted by its own taxonomy, wedged between 'high' and 'low' culture perceptions. Jazz 'cannot be safely categorized as folk, popular or art music, though it shares aspects of all three'.1 In this sense, worrying about 'improvisation' labels is beside the point, particularly when, as John Whiteoak has pointed out, improvisation has been at the heart of local jazz practice from colonial minstrel shows through to The Necks.2 The eclectic nature of Australian jazz remains one of its strengths, reflecting a culture which is multicultural and multi-disciplinary in its sources of genre, performances and performers. However, unlike other art forms (for example, film and rock music), jazz has failed to maintain a consistent case linking its diverse forms and activities with a collective identity of national expression. This has undoubtedly had implications for funding levels.

A key feature of the present landscape for Rechniewski is the substantial divide between performers and performance spaces, where the nation continues to produce highly-trained musicians with an acute sense of local and global traditions, who nonetheless struggle to find appropriate commercial and non-commercial venues to play in. That musicians are forced to seek other employment, or multiple avenues of music work, is not solely evident in jazz circles; many rock/pop musicians I know are members of five to six bands at any given time (this is particularly evident in smaller cities such as Newcastle). Yet given the emphasis on jazz upon bringing music 'into the moment'-the 'right here and now'-interplay within bands, and between bands and audiences, live performance remains a crucial aspect. The primacy of Melbourne venues within national circuits is no accident. The city is enjoying the benefits of liquor-licensing reform begun in the 1980s, increasing the number and diversity of licensed premises in ways that did not automatically equate with increased 'anti-social behaviour'.3 Crucially, arts and entertainment venues (and mini-precincts) were linked to wider urban planning, with judicious use made of the Melbourne's more peculiar niche streetscapes, with its various 'laneways projects' creating a national benchmark.

While it may take considerable time to change local practices, venue reforms in Sydney recently announced by the NSW Iemma government should provide greater incentives for commercial performance environments. They include a (much reduced) $2,500 licence fee for hotels; a streamlined Place of Public Entertainment licensing procedure; and the order of occupancy to be taken into account in noise disputes between residents and music venue. Of most significance is the creation of a 'Music' category of liquor licence that is less onerous in terms of building-code observance, public assembly risk and costs. Coupled with the new 'small bar' licence fee of $500, these reforms should encourage greater flexibility and innovative combinations of dining, music and drinking activities.4

The sad state of Sydney's live-music circuits presents us with a more sobering truth: that 'market failure' discourses are not confined to jazz. A compelling case was made to the NSW government that the commercial, everyday popular-music gig had succumbed to 'market failure' through a combination of commercial and regulatory atrophy. The place of popular music within key Australian suburban leisure contexts-the hotel, bar and club-was deemed for a long period to be immune to market forces and demographic and economic change. This is a partial answer to Rechniewski's question of why pop and rock music 'in such a short time, attained the same level of funding as jazz?'.

What I am arguing here is that many of the problems besetting jazz in particular can be made for other music forms in general. For example, lack of media exposure is not always indicative of artistic decline; the near invisibility of hip hop on television and radio does not reflect the healthy grassroots scenes evident across Australia in other forums. At the same time, the jazz sector needs to be more strategic about producing visible media sites, in an era when youth audiences in particular are scattered among delivery platforms, with consequences for modes of consumption and revenues (the internet, i-Pods, sitcom/drama soundtracks) and when music-chart programs show little Australian content of any genre.

Rechniewski's paper is valuable in charting how funding issues ripple through one particular artistic community. The 'National Jazz Plan' is, however, proposed at an interesting time. Despite the installment of a federal Arts Minister who surely carries some vivid memories of the pitfalls of carving out his own artistic career path, arts funding is not expected to be exempt from supposed cuts in all departmental funding in the imminent federal budget.5Realpolitik dictates, then, that like all artforms, jazz has to make careful decisions about which 'demand' aspects ('the audience, the organizations and infrastructure') warrant critical attention.

1 Barry Kernfeld cited in Bruce Johnson, The Inaudible Music: Jazz, Gender and Australian Modernity (Sydney: Currency Press, 2000), p. 19.

2 John Whiteoak (2008) 'Improvisation and Popular Music' in Shane Homan and Tony Mitchell (eds) Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now: Popular Music in Australia, ACYS, Hobart.

3 Trading hours for venues, are however, another matter. At the time of writing, the Victorian government is investigating the introduction of 'lockouts' or curfews placed upon licensed city premises to discourage drinkers wandering between venues late at night.

4 For an overview of the NSW regulatory changes, see my 'A portrait of the politician as a pub rocker': live music venue reform in Australia', Popular Music, 27.2 (2008), pp. 243-56.

5 Amid much (unverified) speculation about which programs will be affected: Rosemary Sorenson, 'Arts caravan hobbled by Rudd razor gang', Australian, 28 February 2008.

Louise denson is chair of the jazz area of the Queensland Conservatorium and an award-winning jazz pianist and composer.

Here it comes, the dreaded Jazz Area Open Day question: 'What kind of a job will Johnny/Janey be able to get if s/he gets a degree in jazz?'

And the never-voiced reply: 'Accountancy and plumbing are professions which attract six-figure incomes, and after only a few years of post-jazz-degree training, Johnny/Janey can be gainfully employed, playing jazz on the weekends for fun.'

Peter Rechniewski's examination of low levels of public funding and lamentable media coverage goes a long way towards explaining why 'improvising musician' is not currently a viable career choice in Australia. Of more immediate concern than career advancement for the gigging musician, however, is how little they are going to be paid this very weekend at the local watering hole for their professional services.

Several factors conspire to keep musicians' wages low in the commercial market: for example, music is often an add-on after every other expense has been budgeted for and therefore needs to be low-cost. Then there's the notion that musicians love what they do so much they don't need to be paid. But how do the musicians themselves contribute to this situation? The fact is that they agree to play for substandard wages, in unacceptable conditions. Why do they do it? Can they do anything on their own behalf to improve their lot?

One key factor is that jazz musicians do not have a professional association, a union or a guild which adequately represents their interests. Musicians' unions tend to concentrate their efforts on musicians who have full time positions with large organizations. Orchestral musicians, for example, have wages and conditions of work determined by the Symphony Orchestra Musicians' Agreement (SOMA), administered by the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA).

Most jazz musicians, on the other hand, would not be able to say what conditions govern their employment, nor what their minimum wage should be, nor even what state award might apply to them. Probably few of them have ever looked into membership in a union or professional association which would set higher minimums for their labour.

But let's suppose all jazz musicians joined such an organization. How would it help them to negotiate a gig at the local pub? Said organization would need a mechanism for enforcing minimum wages and conditions for its members, or else the musicians would soon feel they were paying their dues for nothing. This was certainly the case when I lived in Montreal, where a strong American Federation of Musicians' branch was largely ignored by jazz musicians. The casual gigging scene was deemed too hard to regulate, so free-lancers were left to their own devices, working for whatever wages a venue would pay.

And that, of course, is part of the problem: jazz musicians tend to play for whatever wages a venue will pay, because they want to play and there just aren't that many opportunities. So, even if they had an organization that represented their interests, chances are they themselves would ignore the agreed-upon minimums and play anyway.

The image of the jazz musician in popular culture is that of the misunderstood genius, the outsider to the music establishment, the heroic loner who spends thousands of hours developing a personal voice and pursuing a musical and spiritual ideal.... These things may all be true-indeed, they often are-but the emphasis on the individual most certainly serves to undermine any notions of collective action toward better employment conditions in the sector.

So what can we do, as gigging musicians, about this state of affairs?

We can inform ourselves about laws, statutes and awards which govern our sector.

We can investigate associations and organizations which claim to represent our interests as gigging musicians. We can join the ones that actually do, and ask the ones that don't what the incentive to join might be, if we don't see ourselves in their literature. We can also join advocacy groups such as, here in Brisbane, Jazz Queensland and Q Music, and become part of the public debate.

We can discuss what is going on in our local scenes, including rates of pay and conditions. This could prevent the inadvertent undercutting of wages that occurs when a new band on the scene doesn't know what the going rates are at a certain venue. Similarly, we should tell musicians who are deliberately undercutting other bands just to get the gig, how destructive their behaviour is for everyone on the scene. Given that many entertainment managers can't distinguish a musical silk purse from a sow's ear, they will always go for the cheaper option and then it's very difficult to recover lost ground.

Those of us who are also active in the organization of festivals and events can ask for higher wages per musician in grant applications. We may not get it: but we need to start asking, and keep asking over and over again.

Any of us who are teaching-and most of us are!-can talk to our students about the scene and emphasize that even though they are students, if they are supplying a professional service, then they should be paid a professional wage. Again, potential employers will go for the cheaper option if they can, and the whole scene suffers for it.

And lastly, we can support one another when someone is brave enough to make a stand against a venue offering unacceptable wages or conditions. Recently, a Brisbane club with a long-running low-paid gig tried to lower musicians' wages by no longer supplying a sound technician: they proposed that, if they needed this service, the musicians should hire one out of their wages. Word traveled round the community overnight, and several bands told the venue they would no longer be available to play under those conditions. Within a few days the venue had decided that they could afford the sound technician after all, and conditions were back to normal.

I look forward to the day that I can assure a worried parent at Jazz Area Open Day that Johnny or Janey will be able to enjoy a rewarding career and live a comfortable and decent life as an improvising musician in Australia. That day may be a long way off, but we in the jazz community can ensure it arrives sooner rather than later, if we take responsibility individually and collectively for our own well-being.

With his jazz ensemble, schmoe & Co., tenor saxophonist sylvan 'schmoe' Elhay has been performing all over australia and in and around san Franciso for over forty years.

Peter Rechniewski's essay on Australian contemporary jazz is a welcome addition to a subject area that is far too poorly represented in analysis and discussion. Indeed, his essay addresses this deficiency in quite some detail. His plan for jazz, drawn in part from the National Strategic Plan for Jazz Development, has much to commend it: there are very many fine jazz musicians in Australia and far too few of them make a living wage from their art. The art form is supported almost entirely by the interest and enthusiasm of the performers and a small number of active volunteers who are dedicated to it. A plan to remedy this long-standing situation is needed.

It's regrettable that the paper has some factual errors. For example, South Australia did indeed attract Australia Council funding in every year shown in Table 2. And it is a concern that Rechniewski's focus on New South Wales and Victoria omits some important history and gives too little credit to activity elsewhere. One might argue that the fact of more activity in NSW and VIC is more reason to look at states and capitals with smaller populations and to seek solutions there that overcome the critical mass phenomena. Adelaide's most important jazz club of the sixties The Cellar, which presented stars like Billy Ross, Darcy Wright, Ron Carson, Bob Gebert, Bob Bertels, Keith Barr, Keith Stirling, Alan Turnbull and Bob Jeffrey is worth noting, as is Michael Strautmanis' seventies jazz venue, The Creole Room. Over the years The Creole Room booked many nationally-known jazz stars of the time and a host of internationally-known names: Dave Liebman, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Phil Woods, John Scofield, Teramasu Hino, Ron McLure, Adam Nussbaum among them.

But these criticisms do nothing to diminish the importance of Rechniewski's review and the value of its contribution. I support all its recommendations and extend the call for dedicated jazz venues to apply to all state capitals, rather than Sydney and Melbourne alone.

To add to the discussion I would like to suggest a shift of emphasis in the New National Plan for jazz which ends the essay. The Plan briefly mentions education, where it addresses the long-term development of a viable jazz community. I press for more to be done by way of education.

Let me begin by explaining the rationale for this.

'Increasing the profile of jazz' is a commonly-stated objective and it appears in Rechniewski's plan. While I would, for example, like the profile of jazz in the media to be raised, I'm not convinced that the jazz musicians trying to make a living from their art form would notice much difference if the jazz media presence grew. The nature of the beast is that it is complex art music and not easily accessible.

Performing group music that is not improvised can be compared to a play reading in which the text is set and the players face the challenge of bringing the text to life. In order to play jazz (or any form of improvised music) at a high level, a musician must have highly developed execution skills, aural skills, compositional skills, and be able to use these skills dynamically and nimbly as the music is being created. Improvisers in a group understand that they are jointly creating a musical conversation which can change shape and direction without warning and they expect to be able to adapt what they do so that they continue to be part of and to support that conversation. This has to be done while respecting the harmonic and melodic construction of the compositions being played. Most importantly, a jazz performance relies on all the participants cooperating in the design, construction and execution of a single piece of music. The exercise fails if they cannot help one another realize the sounds that each hears in their imagination.

Given that creative, intelligent and determined men and women spend many thousands of hours developing their abilities to play jazz, it's no surprise that the music they end up playing is complicated, intricately constructed and often quite abstracted. And that's the problem. That's why it's not accessible to audiences not educated in its forms.

The answer is not, of course, to dumb it down or to make the music more accessible, but to increase the number of listeners better able to understand and appreciate it. We can do this by involving them in the music: by ensuring that as young persons they have an instrumental or vocal music education for as many years as they want it and by exposing them to many different kinds of music-making where they can begin to understand why music is important to us and how music-making improves our lives and our understandings of one another.

A lot of school music education is aimed at two fairly distinct groups. The first comprises those children who will most likely never play an instrument and would benefit from some exposure, by listening and discussion, to various genres of music. The second group consists of children whose parents and teachers, surely for the best of reasons, want to find out whether their children have any aptitude and would benefit by instrumental or vocal instruction. But hanging over the second group is a hope that they will be stars, and the instructional paradigm has it that they should be prepared for greatness, for the life of a talented soloist, a star, and that, if they are not willing to find a serious commitment to the study, then they should not proceed.

This neglects what is, for me, a very important constituency: the children who enjoy playing music with their friends, albeit at a not very high level of proficiency, and who by doing so gain an understanding of those elements of human experience that can be communicated by the language of music and probably by no other language. If those children are supported in their pursuit of playing music through all their school years, they will become those adults who want to hear music performed by others and who will look for ways to keep performing at their levels with like-minded others. People who have tried to play jazz and who understand what it is that the performers are trying to do, who understand why it is so hard to play jazz well, can make up the educated audiences we want for the best jazz players we have to offer. More importantly, as adults they might, with some encouragement, take their instruments out of the cupboards when the pressures of life begin to ease, dust them off and resume playing with others in the same situation.

I propose a shift of emphasis in Rechniewski's Plan towards a strong push for universal opportunity of instrumental or vocal instruction for all school children for as many years as they wish it. Within a few years enough of them would be interested in jazz to make up all the audiences we need to sustain the professionals. Down the track the benefits to society of having so many more people involved in playing music together throughout their lives is incalculable.

A lot of exposure to jazz on radio and television will make it more familiar, but not necessarily more accessible or intelligible to jazz's potential audiences. For that one needs to have experienced what it's like to play music with others and to have had some instruction in, and attempted, what one does when improvising.

I sincerely hope that Peter Rechniewski's essay will restart the discussion that needs to be had about this important art form.

Tony Mitchell teaches cultural studies and popular music at the University of technology, Sydney. author of Popular Music and Local Identity: Pop, Rock and Rap in Europe and Oceania (16), he is currently working on Local Noise (localnoise.net. au), an arC-funded project on australasian hip hop.

In my opinion, Peter Rechniewski over-dramatizes the neglect of Australian jazz in the media and elsewhere, and his prognosis amounts to a stultifying attempt to institutionalize it as a mainstream activity. Although I cannot speak as an 'insider', I am a music and cultural studies lecturer and researcher with a considerable collection of Australian jazz CDs, a regular listener to 'Jazz Track', and I frequently go to local jazz gigs, especially those by the Necks and related groups. I do consider myself to be an expert on Australian hip hop, which I have researched and written about over the past 10 years, and which-to its credit-occupies a niche much further 'underground' in Australian music than jazz does, and which has occasionally interacted with the Sydney jazz scene through groups such as Hermitage, Upshot and Good Buddha.

My impression is that, although Australian jazz has on the whole not achieved mainstream success locally (thankfully), and despite being 'weak, lacking in financial means and fragmented' (PP16, p. 45), it is thriving in terms of a prevailing sense of innovation, resilience, experimentation and diversity-which run the risk of being stifled by Rechniewski's 'modest plan'. An unfortunate aspect of Rechniewski's argument is that he insists on denigrating what he refers to as 'rock/pop', a meaningless category which presumably covers any kind of music that is not rigidly contained within art/classical or jazz parameters. One group he uses to exemplify the international recognition Australian jazz has received is the Necks, who, largely due to being regularly featured in British avant-garde style bible The Wire, have received considerable acclaim throughout Europe. But, according to Rechniewski, the Necks 'could not possibly be considered experimental or under-exposed' (p. 34). Indeed, they could not possibly be considered a jazz group either, as their music transcends boundaries, incorporating trance, minimalism, rock, classical and avant-garde. Yet the Necks have received little, if any, government funding for their music here, and in order to survive rely largely on the considerable versatility of their members in related music genres such as rock and avant-garde (pianist Chris Abrahams), jazz, dub and rock (Lloyd Swanton), and the Japanese, European and US avantgarde (Tony Buck). They exemplify what has become a widespread network of musical diversity in the Sydney jazz scene-being Sydney-based, admittedly I don't get to hear much live jazz from elsewhere in Australia-where most local musicians play in a variety of different groups and combinations, often crossing different genres.

One really has to wonder what Rechniewski regards as 'experimental' in Australian jazz, given his grotesque suggestion of a 'jazz and new music' series involving Ten Part Invention, Chris Abrahams, Scott Tinkler, the John Butler Trio, and Tim Friedman of the Whitlams. Throw in Katie Noonan and John Farnham and we'd have a real freak show - a ridiculously watered-down 'experimental' attempt to combine jazz and mainstream pop in a misguided kind of crossover that gives all involved a bad name. Of course, there are enduring stereotypes associated with the term 'jazz'-the trad band of elderly gents in white suits and straw hats springs to mind-which give it somewhat daggy overtones. But surely it has always been a bastard form, cannibalising other genres of music, and forging paths of improvisation, ingenuity and surprise which break boundaries of music genre. The recent sold-out concerts by Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins at the Sydney Opera House-the latter very ably, if only briefly, supported by Mike Nock-suggest that there may even be a mainstream audience for innovative, experimental jazz which attempts at institutionalisation will surely not help to flourish at all.

Kate Lidbetter is director of Music at the australia Council.

Peter Rechniewski offers a timely analysis of the Australian contemporary jazz and improvisation scene. His Platform Paper raises an important issue for the sector - will the creation of a national jazz plan assist the key stakeholders in providing better opportunities for jazz musicians, audiences and service providers? The Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts believes it will.

In his paper, Peter acknowledges that the jazz sector has been historically divided, and calls for his colleagues to end their rivalry and work together. Over recent months I have witnessed a united approach and am delighted to work with some of the key proponents of a jazz plan.

The Australia Council has convened two national jazz forums in recent years - the first at the 2006 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, and a second in late 2007 in Sydney. Predominantly attended by recipients (both individuals and organisations) of Music Board funding, these forums dwelled mainly on three issues-the future of the national jazz website (www.jazzaustralia.com.au), the benefits of a national network of jazz service organisations, and opportunities for national touring circuits. A real spirit of collaboration was evident at these forums and the outcomes have been positive.

Following discussion and consultation with the sector, the Music Board has committed a further $25,000 towards the redevelopment of the site. Applications for this redevelopment have now closed, and a steering committee of representatives from the forums aims to launch the new site at the 2008 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. The site will be revitalised, energised, and self-sufficient.

New national touring opportunities have also opened up with a new initiative called Sound Travellers (www. soundtravellers.com.au). This project, funded by the Australia Council, is managed by Ceres Solutions and Performing Lines and provides assistance to new music practitioners touring interstate. A number of jazz tours have been supported in its first round of funding and the initiative has been seen as a positive move that will facilitate some tours that would otherwise not have occurred.

A third important outcome has been the creation of a national jazz development officer (NJDO). This is the first step towards the national jazz plan that Peter calls for in his Platform Paper. The Music Board invested $30,000 and SIMA has agreed to auspice the grant and co-ordinate the recruitment process on behalf of the broader group that attended the forum. It is expected that the NJDO will undertake research into existing services, venues, infrastructure and support for jazz musicians; draft a national jazz plan for the period 2009-2011; oversee the redevelopment of the website; and seek further funding partners to continue the role into the future. Obviously all of this will be done in consultation and collaboration with the jazz sector, and the same steering committee that has generously taken on the role of overseeing the website development will also work closely with the NJDO.

These are really positive, substantial outcomes that came as a result of a group of passionate advocates for jazz having an open and constructive discussion. Not everyone will agree with every outcome or every recommendation made by the jazz plan. It's inevitable that what one group advocates, another may dismiss. But I am optimistic that this is a great moment for Australian jazz, and that when the sector speaks with a united, informed and persuasive voice, it will achieve its goals. The Music Board is excited to be one of the partners that will assist that outcome.

Louise Denson is head of Jazz Studies at the Queensland Conservatorium. A pianist and composer/arranger, she has performed extensively with various jazz and latin ensembles..

Here it comes, the dreaded Jazz Area Open Day question: 'What kind of a job will Johnny/Janey be able to get if s/he gets a degree in jazz?'

And the never-voiced reply: 'Accountancy and plumbing are professions which attract six-figure incomes, and after only a few years of post-jazz-degree training, Johnny/Janey can be gainfully employed, playing jazz on the weekends for fun.'

Peter Rechniewski's examination (PP16) of low levels of public funding and lamentable media coverage goes a long way towards explaining why 'improvising musician' is not currently a viable career choice in Australia. Of more immediate concern than career advancement for the gigging musician, however, is how little they are going to be paid this very weekend at the local watering hole for their professional services.

Several factors conspire to keep musicians' wages low in the commercial market: for example, music is often an add-on after every other expense has been budgeted for and therefore needs to be low cost. Then there's the notion that musicians love what they do so much they don't need to be paid. But how do the musicians themselves contribute to this situation? The fact is that they agree to play for substandard wages, in unacceptable conditions. Why do they do it? Can they do anything on their own behalf to improve their lot?

One key factor is that jazz musicians do not have a professional association, a union or a guild which adequately represents their interests. Musicians' unions tend to concentrate their efforts on musicians who have full-time positions with large organisations. Orchestral musicians, for example, have wages and conditions of work determined by the Symphony Orchestra Musicians' Agreement (SOMA), administered by the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA).

Most jazz musicians, on the other hand, would not be able to say what conditions govern their employment, nor what their minimum wage should be, nor even what state award might apply to them. Probably few of them have ever looked into membership in a union or professional association which would set higher minimums for their labour.

But supposing that all jazz musicians joined such an organisation? How would it help them when negotiating a gig at the local pub? Said organisation would need a mechanism for enforcing minimum wages and conditions for its members, or else the musicians would soon feel they were paying their dues for nothing. This was certainly the case when I lived in Montreal, where a strong American Federation of Musicians' branch was largely ignored by jazz musicians. The casual gigging scene was deemed too hard to regulate, so free-lancers were left to their own devices, working for whatever wages a venue would pay.

And that, of course, is part of the problem: jazz musicians tend to play for whatever wages a venue will pay, because they want to play and there just aren't that many opportunities. So even if they had an organisation representing their interests, chances are they themselves would ignore the agreed-upon minimums and play anyway.

The image of the jazz musician in popular culture is that of the misunderstood genius, the outsider to the music establishment, the heroic loner who spends thousands of hours developing a personal voice and pursuing a musical and spiritual ideal … These things may all be true-indeed, they often are true-but the emphasis on the individual most certainly serves to undermine any notions of collective action toward better employment conditions in the sector.

So what can we do, as gigging musicians, about this state of affairs?

We can inform ourselves about laws, statutes and awards which govern our sector.

We can investigate associations and organisations which claim to represent our interests as gigging musicians. We can join the ones that actually do, and ask the ones that don't what the incentive might be to join if we don't see ourselves in their literature. We can also join advocacy groups such as, here in Brisbane, Jazz Queensland and Q Music, and become part of the public debate.

We can discuss what is going on in our local scenes, including rates of pay and conditions. This could prevent the inadvertent undercutting of wages which occurs when a new band on the scene doesn't know what the going rates are at a certain venue. Similarly, we should tell musicians who are deliberately undercutting other bands just to get the gig, how destructive that behaviour is for everyone on the scene. Given that many entertainment managers can't distinguish a musical silk purse from a sow's ear, they will always go for the cheaper option and then it's very difficult to recover lost ground.

Any of us who are also active in the organisation of festivals and events can ask for higher wages per musician in grant applications. We may not get it: but we need to start asking, and keep asking over and over again.

Any of us who are teaching-and most of us are!-can talk to our students about the scene and emphasize that even though they are students, if they are supplying a professional service they should be paid a professional wage. Again, potential employers will go for the cheaper option if they can, and the whole scene suffers for it.

And lastly, we can support one another when someone is brave enough to make a stand against a venue offering unacceptable wages or conditions. Recently a Brisbane club with a long-running low-paid gig tried to lower musicians' wages by no longer supplying a sound technician: they proposed that the musicians should hire one out of their wages if they needed this service. Word travelled round the community overnight, and several bands told the venue they would no longer be available to play under those conditions. Within a few days the venue had decided that they could afford the sound technician after all and conditions were back to normal.

I look forward to the day that I can assure a worried parent at Jazz Area Open Day that Johnny or Janey will enjoy a rewarding career and live a comfortable and decent life as an improvising musician in Australia. That day may be a long way off, but we in the jazz community can ensure it arrives sooner rather than later if we take responsibility individually and collectively for our own well-being.