Sophie Wales catches up with Marianne Windham, bass player, teacher and jazz promoter based in Guilford. She is also the Chair of Guildford Jazz, and a co-founder and resident bass player at Fleet Jazz Club.
In this new series, we’ll be checking-in with promoters throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.
How did you begin your career as a jazz promoter and what do you love the most about your job?
I had a previous life, formerly as a software engineer, then eventually as director of software consultancy, which I left 10 years ago. I’d started playing the double bass 4 years earlier, after going slightly-by-accident to a jazz weekend workshop, and a few years later I quit work so I could spend more time learning how to play and studying jazz.
I got into promoting rather by accident too – I’d just given up my job, and was told that the landlord of a local pub was keen to put on some live jazz, so I popped in to have a chat with him. He was very enthusiastic, and he’d recently had a room refurbished that he was very proud to show me.
I guess it triggered something in me – there was no-one else doing this locally as far as I knew and I thought it would be great fun to try it out, and to learn some new things in the process. It was a bit of a leap in the dark to be honest! Anyway it just grew gradually from there. I really love bringing people together and trying to give everyone a great evening.
Who have you been listening to recently?
I’m listening to Joe Henderson while I’m writing this, in preparation for a live streaming gig with Nic Meier and Greg Heath on Thursday. Keith Jarrett has been on my playlist a lot this week too, and Mingus. And I’m never far away from recordings of Ray Brown…
How has the promotions industry changed for you this year?
Like everyone else in the performing arts world, we hit a brick wall when live performances were cancelled in March – particularly frustrating as it was just days before our inaugural Jazz Festival. After a couple of months of rearranging things, we went online, initially with a Zoom event with Art Themen for our members, then a couple of live streamed gigs at the Boileroom music venue in Guildford (those recordings are online here).
In August we held a couple of outdoor events, first a “’Jazz in the Garden’ gig in collaboration with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford , then our annual afternoon event on a local village green raising money for a local disabled children’s charity, Challengers (with an amazing audience of over 300 people).
Since then we’ve been back to twice-monthly live indoor gigs in a couple of new venues – running these events has involved a lot more work than normal but it’s been a complete joy to be able to make them happen.
Moving forward, what advice do you have for fellow promoters adjusting to the new normal?
I know a number of clubs have been trying to find ways to adapt for their own circumstances. We’ve been thrilled at our audience’s enthusiasm, and I’ve been determined to try and keep going as much as we can, putting on gigs in venues that able to accommodate us in a safe environment when we’re allowed to have an audience, and looking for ways to move it online when we can’t.
We’ve had enormous support from local venues and companies, as well as from the audience and musicians. It’s been good to talk to other clubs too, and it would be great to keep that conversation with other clubs going.
What’s your favourite venue in the South and why?
Gosh, that’s a hard question! I really enjoy visiting other jazz clubs as an audience member and getting to know other promoters. The Watermill is probably the nearest venue to us and I’m a big fan of Kathryn’s programming there. I also like to go and see our friends at Jazz in Reading when I can.
As a musician it’s been wonderful to visit some of the other venues in the South and South-West like the Concorde Club, Bridport, Chichester, Marlow, Ashcroft…. I’m looking forward to visiting again when we’re all able to reopen!
What’s your favourite gig that you’ve promoted?
Our first fund-raiser for Challengers in 2014 with Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams was maybe the moment when I felt the club was not only really established in itself, but had the possibilities of a wider reach into the community. It also very much involved my saxophonist friend Cheryl who we have since sadly lost but remains very much part of us in spirit.
Any livestream concert recommendations?
Nic Meier’s weekly online concerts are great and it’s been nice to dip into the Ronnie’s livestream gigs. I guess we’ll be listening to more livestreaming concerts again now but I’m also looking forward to getting back to more practising too.
As a promoter, what would you like audiences to embrace?
I’m gradually trying to widen the envelope of what people listen to, but as a promoter I think it’s my job to try and make sure everyone who comes to our events has a great time and I enjoy programming with all that in mind. I really enjoy going to other clubs and seeing how they run their gigs and to listen to other artists too.
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