Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


Implications of Covid-19 for Working Musicians?

Barry Guy kindly sent me a copy of the programme for the Krakow concerts, which took place on 6-8th of this month, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO). The reasons for this minor largesse is that I wrote the accompanying programme notes for the concerts, and it was great to see my words given the dignity of appearing in a professionally produced format. It’s also nice to get a heads-up in these times of viral insanity (’viral’ in both senses of the word). Over here, for example, my favourite three venues, Cafe Oto, The Vortex and I’Klecktik, are closed for the foreseeable future. Barry was very lucky to have planned his concerts for when he did, as, only two weeks on from them, such performances are now impossible to stage, what with the banning of both large and small-scale public gatherings of all kinds. Months, and even years in the planning, it would have been a heavy blow indeed to have seen all that work go up in smoke. In his letter to me that came with the programme, he expressed the difficulties that such bands as the LJCO, which is a large, international (seventeen musicians, from seven different countries) ensemble, will face in our Coronavirus-dominated near future. And well beyond.

The seventeen improvisers all managed to travel to and from Poland, which is a tremendous feat of organisation by Barry Guy and Maya Homburger, his wife and LJCO violinist, but they apparently have had to cancel “all sorts of other projects”. Given the amount of projects the couple always seem to be be involved with, I can only imagine the frustrations that the various lock-downs will cause this most hard-working and much-travelled duo. Unfortunately for working musicians, they do not fit into the ‘key worker’ category that Boris Johnson and his party have arbitrarily promulgated as being essential to the nation’s well being and functioning, so artists like Guy and Homburger could face considerable under-employment. Small gestures such as Bandcamp (which the Guys have joined up with, subsequent to their bust-up with Intakt Records) waiving their administrative charges will help, but surely projects like the eleven-piece Blue Shroud Band, which appeared over here in November last year, will have to go into probably-permanent abeyance? 

It seems t me that the couple’s best bet might be to record from home: ’working from home’ appears to be the choice that many ‘non-essential’ professionals have made, as a consequence of the virus’s risk factors that potentially affect the working environment. My wife tells me that, apparently, ‘Zoom’ is a visual internet platform that allows for high-quality live transmissions from a domestic setting. Maybe that sort of format might allow for solo and/or small group performance, and might meet the Guys exacting presentation standards?

We shall see. Whatever, the LJCO has seen nothing like Covid-19 in all of it’s fifty-year existence, which is sorely testing, even in it’s early stages, the resilience of musicians and audiences alike. The prospect of no live improv for no-one knows how long makes the prospect of self-isolation a tad easier perhaps, but it isn’t exactly an enticing notion, is it?. At least we have YouTube now, and it’s very hard to remember a time when we didn’t. 

Stay well if you can, everybody.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby