Kansas Smittys

Jazz in a time of lockdown

“Always look ahead, but never look back.” – Miles Davis

Back in March our normal lives changed. Gigs and festivals were cancelled, music venues and schools closed and we were all urged to stay home to save lives. Musicians and artists making their living from live music and teaching found their income sources suddenly swept away, and with no date on the horizon for when the doors would reopen, emergency funds became the new option for survival.

Building a sustainable career in music can be hard at the best of times – as highlighted in a Musicians’ Union survey as long ago as 2012 (1) – and so musicians are particularly vulnerable in a time of global uncertainty. With limited government support available, thankfully music industry bodies and charities have set up support funds and programmes to help self-employed artists and music-loving audiences have supported their online fundraising efforts.

Many artists have responded to the challenges of this pandemic by drawing on their adaptability, channelling their creativity differently, and continuing to connect with their communities and fans – bringing an unexpected ray of light in difficult times.

We take a look at how some of the artists we’ve supported and worked with have adapted in an exciting and positive way.

Clarinetist Giacomo Smith is the band-leader of Kansas Smitty’s House Band, co-founder of Smitty’s bar in Dalston and has been a long-time workshop leader on our music education programme. He has been broadcasting ‘Live at 5’ at 5pm GMT every day on YouTube ‘bringing you all the things you loved about Smitty’s live to your living room’ with guests ranging from our very own patron Reuben James to Ezra Collective drummer Femi Koleoso and jazz pianist and food writer Jay Rayner. Plus they are using Patreon to ask viewers to become members and support keeping Live at 5 on the air, offering exclusive content downloads and podcasts as an incentive.

Become a Live at 5 Patreon member here: https://www.patreon.com/kansassmittys/posts

Our career development mentees Nina Fine and Lou Paley of Women in Jazz teamed up with the London Guildhall School of music for their first ever virtual masterclass about building your brand. Meanwhile Nina has been performing new songs on her instagram live feed for the first time, which you can check out here.

If you want to support Women in Jazz then you can do so by contributing to their Artist Support Fund here.

We’re all missing that wonderful buzz and connection that enjoying live music together brings. Until we have that chance again, please keep supporting the musicians you love, so that when all of this is over, they will still be there to perform and help develop and inspire other young people to be the musicians of the future.

Do you want to create inspiring opportunities for young people who face barriers to music? Become an Abram Wilson Foundation Trailblazer by making a small monthly donation to our cause. In return, you’ll receive invites and exclusive offers for special gigs and events, become part of an incredible community and be acknowledged on our website.

1 – ‘The Working Musician’ report, Musicians Union, 2012 found: Two thirds of musicians (65%) undertake four years or more of formal education and training with 40% holding a degree in music. Yet earnings for musicians are low and income levels compare unfavourably to other professionals who’ve invested similar amounts of time and money into education and training. Over half (56%) of the musicians surveyed earn less than £20k and 60% of musicians report working for free in the past 12 months. There is no such thing as a typical musician. The blend of roles, patterns of paid and creative work, employment status and working hours vary across musicians and across different periods in their careers. Developing a portfolio career, made up of a number of different jobs, is a necessary characteristic of many musicians’ careers; this invariably involves developing non-music skills such as business, marketing, teaching and community engagement. Musicians encounter a tax and benefit regime that is confusing, complex and is not well designed to cater for their unique working patterns.