The following is the Chairman of Trustee's report for the Annual General Meeting of the National Jazz Archive, held online on 7 December 2020 and presented by the Chairman, Paul Kaufman.
I've received apologies from our trustees Professor Tim Wall from Birmingham City University and Andy Linehan, who heads the popular music collection at the British library, from Jane Hunter Randall, a former trustee and a stalwart volunteer, and from Richard Baker, another valued supporter.
A big welcome to everybody who has joined this AGM online and to anyone who is viewing a recording. It is being held as we come to the end of the 32nd year since the founding of the National Jazz Archive.
As an archive we are always mindful of posterity. At last year’s AGM I mentioned that it was taking place on the eve of an important general election. This was to give it some historic context, and to underline how the archive has to navigate its way through all the uncertainty that life throws up.
Never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine the way that a pandemic would impact on the life of everyone in 2021, not least the archive.
It is a tribute to the resilience, enthusiasm, and dedication of all the people involved in the archive that we have not only been able to keep going but have made important advances during the course of the last year. We have of course also had our own difficult issues to contend with.
The impact of Covid-19
Before detailing what has been achieved in the archive, it is important to pause and reflect on what a devastating year this has been for so many people, not least in the world of jazz.
We feel immensely for all the musicians whose livelihoods have been catastrophically affected and whose plans have been stopped in their tracks, not to mention the emotional impact of losing the opportunity to play with others and play before live audiences. We remember all the clubs and venues that have suffered, and hope that they will be able to recover.
And we pay tribute to those artists and others who have lost their lives during the year. There are too many to mention everyone by name. However, one particular friend of the archive we have lost this year is John Cummings. Among his many achievements was the founding of the London Jazz festival.
Another particular friend of the archive we lost is Les Tomkins, a great writer on jazz, whose legacy includes a remarkable collection of recordings of interviews and music dating back to the early 1960s.
We remember all of those we have lost with great affection and gratitude.
Change of Trustees
I will start the review of the year by expressing thanks to two trustees who left the board during the year and welcoming two trustees who have joined.
In 2020 Jez Collins retired from the board due to other commitments. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to Jez for his part in helping forge the links between the archive and Birmingham City University, which ultimately led to the thriving partnership we enjoy today.
However, we are delighted that we now have on-board a new trustee who is based at BCU, Dr Corey Mwamba. Corey is an improvisor and composer. He is the presenter of Freeness, a weekly show on improvised music on BBC Radio Three. He is on a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. The addition of Corey means we maintain a total of three trustees based at Birmingham. You'll be hearing later from our trustee Pedro Cravinho who is the Keeper of the Archives at Birmingham.
The trustee who formerly had responsibility for IT and social media, John Dale, stood down when he became involved in a new project earlier this year. I take this opportunity to thank John for, among other things developing our current website and for the vital part he played in setting our forward-looking course in IT.
We are very fortunate that one of John Dale's former work colleagues, John Rosie, who introduced the proceedings today, stepped in to take over the reins. This meant more than just a smooth transition. John hit the ground running, not least in relation to our website and to our social media strategy, of which more later.
Welcome to Val Wilmer
While speaking of new names, this is a good moment to mention our delight that Val Wilmer, a long-standing friend of the archive, agreed to become a patron during the course of the year. Val occupies a special place in jazz both as a writer and a photographer and is an important addition to our list of illustrious supporters.
I will now say something about our activities outside the walls of the archive. It's worth pointing out that an important part of our ethos is to be outward looking. We aim to be much more than just a collection of fine materials.
The year got off to a flying start. The archive played an important part at the Documenting Jazz conference held this year at Birmingham City University. Credit goes in particular to National Jazz Archive trustee Pedro Cravinho for his massive efforts in organising this major international event, and our trustee Dr Catherine Tackley, who gave a keynote address.
The conference attracted delegates from around the globe, including many key academics and enthusiasts. It was heartwarming, to give just one small example, to meet a South American delegate who had admired our collections from afar through our website and expressed great pleasure in having the opportunity to actually meet us in person. The archive aims to participate fully in next year's conference, due to take place in Edinburgh in June.
Fundraising concerts are of course normally an important feature of our activities. These also got off to a flying start. I will leave it to Mike Rose to tell you how the year unfolded when he speaks shortly.
We also had plans to have a marquee at the Love Supreme jazz festival in Sussex in the summer.
And then of course the Covid lockdown struck in March, and as the weeks went on any hopes we could go ahead with any of these plans quickly evaporated. It also proved necessary to stop all activity at the archive room in Loudon and in Birmingham.
However, even the horrible Covid cloud has a silver lining. It has provided more time to focus on improving many aspects of the archive. And it has propelled us into learning how to work remotely and how we can work better as a team using technology.
I don't want to steal thunder from any other contributors today, but I will highlight a few examples of what I mean.
The website - This has seen massive improvements in appearance and functionality following a joint effort led by John Rosie.
Social media - You may hate social media, or be daunted by it, or just not be interested in it. But it is clearly essential for any forward-thinking cultural organisation to engage with it, and lockdown has served to underline this. Again, under the direction of John, we now have a carefully developed and implemented social media plan, including an Ambassador Programme - John Rosie will elaborate on all of this shortly.
Cataloguing - Work has continued during the year to transform how we catalogue our holdings. The date when it will be possible to see all holdings down to item level through the website gradually moves closer.
Volunteering - Angela Davies, the National Jazz Archive volunteer organiser, will say a little more shortly on the fantastic work which our volunteers have continued to do despite lockdown, and in a number of cases by adapting to work remotely.
Boon of Zoom - And we've had lots of meetings on Zoom. Of course, personal face-to-face engagement is wonderful and one of the joys of life. But there are other considerations. At our last quarterly trustees meeting in November, we discussed whether, once it is safe to do so, we want to resume holding our meetings together in person. There was a striking unanimity to hold future meetings on Zoom.
However much we enjoy meeting in person, Zoom represents a huge saving in travel time and cost and hassle. By the same token, this AGM is a further demonstration of how things may have changed forever due to Covid. The attendance is far better than in any previous year. We are a national organisation, and the technology is proving fantastic in helping us reach out and engage far beyond our home in Loughton.
Re-opening the Archive
The archive did re-open its doors to the public and to volunteers in August 2020 [after being closed earlier in the year due to Covid-19 related restrictions]. I'm delighted that David Nathan is now back at his desk dealing with queries and greeting visitors - This is of course subject to strict Covid safety measures including limited numbers and an appointment system. David will talk further about this shortly.
I will now talk about collaborations. The National Jazz Archive is committed to working with any organisation or individuals who share our values and a passion for jazz - There is not enough time here to talk about all of our collaborations, but there are some that deserve special mention.
BCU (Birmingham City University) - Our partnership with Birmingham City University has gone from strength to strength this year. As you may know BCU is one of the leading centres for jazz study and research in Europe, and possibly the world. I will leave it to Pedro say more about our satellite archive at BCU in a moment.
The Jazz Centre UK - Another institution that should be mentioned is The Jazz Centre UK which is based in Southend-on-Sea. The archive was involved in what is now called The Jazz Centre from the outset. Some of our duplicate collections are still held there.
Earlier this year Digby Fairweather, who was of course the founder of the National jazz Archive, and remains one of our esteemed patrons, retired from his role as chair of trustees at The Jazz Centre. I'm delighted to say that the new chair of trustees came to Loughton in November with one of his fellow trustees. There was a cordial and constructive meeting with David Nathan, Mike Rose and me. We all remain keen to work closely together in the future.
Filmmaking - Another interesting area of collaboration is films, and it has been gratifying to see that the archive is a go to place for jazz filmmakers I will leave it to Dave Nathan to tell you more about this. [Ronnie's, Billie, plus the Adrian Cox documentary on Sidney Bechet].
I will now talk about the future of the archive.
There are many reasons to be positive. We come to the end of a dreadful year in reasonable financial shape. There are various exciting projects in the pipeline which it would be premature to discuss at the moment but will hopefully materialise. There is much scope for further enhancing our collections and extending our activities.
But we are far from complacent. I will go through some of the issues that continue to preoccupy us:
Space - There is simply not enough space to accommodate our expanding collections.
Funding - There is still no guaranteed sustainable source which secures the future funding of the collections. Some of the speakers that follow will elaborate and explain what we are doing to tackle this.
Lack of diversity - This applies across the board including membership of the board of the trustees and audiences. The trustees are acutely aware that the archive is still seriously un-representative when it comes to women, non-white people and younger people.
Loughton Library - Last but not least, many of you will know there have been long-standing plans to redevelop the Loughton Library site which is our home. There is a question on this, sent in before the AGM from our volunteer Matthew St Pierre, to which I can give a reasonably positive answer.
By way of background, the current building is relatively old and has high maintenance costs. The design doesn't make best use of the space available. Pre-Covid it was used by around 30 different groups, including Citizens Advice and the Town Council.
The local authority wheels grind slowly, but eventually, as had been promised, the archive was approached a couple of months ago by the housing team at ECC (Essex County Council) for our input into their plans for a new building. There was a meeting in November between two archive trustees and the planning team to discuss their proposals and to give feedback on the initial draft plan. These are the main points:
- A new future proof building is planned by ECC for the site. It is described as future proof because it aims to be low on maintenance costs with modern green credentials;
- The new building will occupy the same footprint as the current building;
- There will be provision on the ground floor for all current users of the building, including provision for exclusive use by the National Jazz archive;
- The design of the ground floor will maximise the space available, for example by dispensing with staircases, and will have lots of shared space;
- The upper floors will consist of residential housing with a separate entrance.
These are very early days and there is much detail to be filled in. One key consideration at this early stage is the amount of space that will be provided for use by the National Jazz Archive. This is still open to discussion. Needless to say, we are pushing for as much space as possible. There is no rigid timetable for the project. Designs have to be finalised. Planning permission and so on has to be obtained. The best guess is that work won't actually start until at least early 2022.
I did say that the news is reasonably positive. In fact, we can be hugely positive about two things. One is the absolute commitment by ECC to providing accommodation to the archive in the new building and to showcase the archive as an important community asset.
The other is that ECC has committed to seeking suitable temporary accommodation for the archive in the Loughton area pending the completion of the new building.
However, our excitement is tempered by concerns regarding the space allocation. And no one should be in doubt what a massive upheaval this is going to be. Nevertheless, on balance, the redevelopment remains a brilliant opportunity for the archive.
I would like to think that one positive to come out of Covid is greater appreciation of our cultural capital, and that this is reflected in recognition of the importance of the archive in the new scheme.
Before I wrap up, this is an important time at which to thank everyone who has contributed to the work of the archive. There are many individuals to thank. But I should start by thanking Essex County Council for their fantastic support over so many years.
The staff - In terms of staff, I start by thanking our research archivist David Nathan, whose part-time position is paid for by Essex County Council.
Thanks go to Angela Davies, our volunteer manager, to Helen Walker, our bookkeeper, and to Thomas Kuglin, our IT ‘Guru,’ who provides IT support to volunteers and has worked steadily over the year on upgrading our cataloguing systems.
I should also mention Joe Blyghton, our freelance archivist consultant, who has continued to do sterling work during the year advising on best practice on tackling our burgeoning collections.
Another important part of the National Jazz Archive family is Scott Nicol of Rabbit Records who turns record donations into vital funds for the archive. You will hear from Scott shortly.
Patrons - Thanks also go to the wonderful list of patrons who lend their name in support of the archive and who also in many cases have contributed to our fundraising concerts and other events.
Volunteers - I turn now to the volunteers who so generously and freely contribute their time and expertise. Volunteers really are the lifeblood of the organisation. We have a fantastic and growing team. You will hear more about the volunteers later from volunteer organiser Angela, and from Jenny, who is one of our volunteers.
Trustees - Much thanks is also due to our hard-working board of trustees. It is worth remembering that they too are all volunteers.
In conclusion, despite it being such a difficult year, the archive is still in robust health. We have adapted well to the challenges thrown up during the year. We are not complacent about the scale of future challenges.
Jazz has always proved resilient and life-affirming. Its first flowering was in the immediate aftermath of the so-called war to end all wars, not to mention the Spanish flu epidermic, and it has endured and evolved over 100 years of financial crises, wars and other hardships. The strap-line of the archive is “Working for the past, present and future of jazz”, and we will continue doing so through thick and thin. ENDS
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