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London Jazz Festival Kicks Off Its 19th Year

John Cumming, creator of London Jazz Festival, talks about the challenges of presenting jazz on a large scale

John Cumming, director of London Jazz Festival

For all its inherent freedom, jazz still tends to fall victim to idiomatic perceptions of mainstream audiences. Jazz, for many people – mostly those young enough to have grown up with computer – is an acoustic quartet playing hard bop, the muzak they hear in an elevator, or just something Louis Armstrong did.

But those views of the music are not simply the fault of pop tastes, as the failures of exposure often stem from the very ways in which jazz is presented to modern listeners. As the idioms of sound become wrapped up in the idioms of performance, jazz can quickly become an elitist, highbrow institution of the concert hall – something its founders probably never imagined – or, alternately, a secret society based in small nightclubs, where anyone who isn’t savvy to the changes need not enter. For an outsider, or an indifferent passerby, either world can be difficult to approach.

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