The Bell Awards are coming around again. One is encouraged by one’s EP to enter, being eligible and all that. One put an album out in the last twelve months that was quite well received by those who received it, and one could enter it in competition if one were so disposed.
I haven’t hesitated in the past to say what I thought of certain awards, and in particular, the ARIA Award for the Best Jazz Album of any given year. The Bells are a little different, primarily because they’re devoted only to jazz, but still the troubling questions of how one album or artist is compared with others in order to determine a ‘best’, and so forth, are liable to be asked. The festive dinner at which a big show is made for something very few people actually care about is no more attractive than it ever was. It seems to misrepresent what the scene is actually like. It’s a simulacrum of enthusiasm and mass appeal. It seems fake. One says, ‘yuck.’
A little while ago there was this website called Ozjazzforum. I mean it’s still there, but activity has dwindled to nothing in recent times so now it exists more as an historical document. This means, in the context of Australian jazz, that probably no-one ever will pay it any more attention than it’s already received. So it goes. OJF was the host to much loudmouthery in its day, and quite a bit of nonsense. Noms de plume were rife, and anonymity assured freedom of speech, so ratbags could talk crap till the sun went down, came back up again, and so on. All of which makes it sound as though I considered myself non-ratbag, just because I used my own name. But, you know, there’s the rub.
Here‘s me talking about awards in Australian improvised music. Specifically, the ARIA award, which still seems to me to be stunningly undistinguished. My complaints about the ARIA were pretty simple, and concerned the tokenism of its existence, the anonymity of the judges, the lack of any transparent terms of reference or judging process, and so on. Never did I actually take issue publicly with any of the decisions made, no matter what I thought privately, and no matter what jec said*, I was not at all bagging the people who had been fortunate enough to win.
The scene is such that small things happen and they seem really big. Can anyone recall the winners of the last five ARIA Awards for jazz albums? I can think of Sarah McKenzie and Elixir, but that’s it. I think they were the last two, but I could be wrong. I’m not going to check. Anything before that is cloudy. The Necks have won a few, and Paul Grabowsky too, and I know that Andrew Speight won one in the late 1990s because the second Browne – Haywood – Stevens album, Sudden in a Shaft of Sunlight, was up against his record and lost. That was in the days when the jazz award was conferred in the same ceremony as the big, important ones, and I sat through the whole thing! It was also the evening that Natalie Imbruglia was reported to have got together with Daniel Johns. (I saw them both there, though not together.)
An exchange concerning my having won the APRA Professional Development Award in 2011 is not absolutely without relevance. The mysterious ‘EST fan’, ‘Herbie’ and ‘Estbjorn’ (aka ‘Estjborn’) all combine, as it were, to have a go at me for trashing the ARIA Award and being able to enter, nay win, the APRA PDA. What’s to distinguish one award from another? Might we one day see a category somewhere devoted to ‘best award’? (Joke.)
Then there’s the invitation I received a couple of years ago to be a judge for the Bells. My name ‘[had come] up in a discussion for possible inclusion in our jury panel’ and so forth. I said no, quickly and decisively, and took the opportunity to mention that I thought the awards ‘entirely without merit’, although I did offer thanks for having been considered.
I held forth because I had a point of view. It probably didn’t matter in the slightest, and it has made absolutely no difference, but I felt at liberty to voice it. I do still wish more attention were paid to the variety of Australian improvised music, and not necessarily in the form of handing out prizes. Would that it were part of an ongoing conversation about what’s possible, that what has been achieved so far were valued and celebrated via its inclusion in the lives of a few dozen more people. Would that musicians such as have contributed at length to the improvised music of this country were known about and discussed as are the nation’s authors, painters, actors. Perhaps their music might even be part of some tertiary curriculum somewhere, worked into a wide-ranging investigation of the jazz diaspora.
I’ve always talked too much, but if nothing else I can say I consider it important to be honest. Own thee thy loude mouthe. If people laugh, give them a damn’ good reason. If I enter Life’s undertow in the Bells this year, it’ll be because victory brings with it a booty of $5000.00. I expect only to be laughed at, and I’ve earned that laughter. I need to wear it.
And while the possibility for laughter is in the air: I have given up drinking. I have been fighting alcohol for ages, and losing, and they say that if you tell people you’re planning to do something then 1: you may be a loudmouth, but 2: it’s that much more likely to happen. So I’m putting it out there. Get your screen shots now, folks, so that when this post disappears or is mysteriously abbreviated and it looks like I’m back on the turps, you can email them to me and shame me.
* This post is not under jec’s own name but it’s my suspicion he wrote it. If he didn’t, it ties in neatly enough with what he appears to think, so I hope my mistake can be forgiven.