THE NEO HOT CLUB MOVEMENT AND THE EXPANSION OF A YOUNG LISTENING AUDIENCE FOR JAZZ
June 27, 2018 by Phil Schaap (revised)
Beginning in 1932 and accelerating greatly during the Swing Era, Hot Clubs were centers for Jazz enthusiasts to hear recordings, discuss the contents, and often delve into primary research about them. It was always great fun! The number and success of the Hot Clubs was due to two key factors: the popularity of Jazz & that it was very difficult to copy a recording. In that period, the only way to hear a recording that was out-of-print was to find somebody who had a copy and get that person to play it for you. The Hot Clubs were clearing houses for “sharing audio files” by the technical standards of those times.
Today, at least in theory, one no longer has to track down a fellow Jazzie who maybe has a copy of that music one needed to hear. Easy availability would seem to be an impediment to a return of the Hot Club phenomenon. But why are there Book Clubs? Even before digital, you could get most books that you didn’t have but wished to read from a library. Yet there are thriving Book Clubs here in the 21st Century. That’s at least partly due to the fact people still wish to socialize and talked about mutual interests. So, a new dawn for the Swing Era’s Hot Clubs seems plausible and should be doable.
The return of the Hot Clubs - gatherings of Jazz enthusiasts to jointly listen to recordings and discuss them – has been triggered by the very device that made the Hot Clubs popular in the Swing Era: access to music that you would not otherwise have been able to hear. Yes, such access can be thought to have been overridden by the Internet, massive reissue sets, and that making copies has been easily done for well over a half-century. What about how the music sounds? The quality can be governed by format. Find the best source – often the original release. Such divine versions are rare! Cell phones and other computerized conveniences can’t provide high fidelity.
A Neo Hot Club Movement has launched. Its founding principle: use exquisite audio to play classic Jazz on the original 78RPM records. The Neo Hot Club Movement is led by young students of classic Jazz. The Neo Hot Cub Movement is populated by young people.
But young people can’t afford high end gear for top shelf playback. And they not only don’t have any 78s, almost all of them – even those with great interest in early Jazz – don’t even know what they are. Creating a place where music can be heard perfectly with access to classic Jazz on these 10” (sometimes 12) standard groove 78RPM ancient artifacts, that to young eyes and ears seem to have come from outer space, is developing and charming a new, younger audience to the sweets sounds.
What should be heard? The curatorial component is essential if the Neo Hot Club Movement is to match the Jazz interests of the original Hot Clubs. Without some guidance towards wondrous music that is very much in danger of going unheard, perhaps forever, the real purpose of the Neo Hot Club Movement – clusters of enthusiasts digging swinging, hot Jazz! – could easily be superseded by the social activity of joint listening regardless to category or even the presence of Jazz. Such “Listening Clubs” would be fine, several such groups do, in fact, exist. But the Neo Hot Club Movement was launched and continues with a purpose of hearing a specific type of music – swinging, hot Jazz! – in a comfortable social environment, one that might well include what use to be called “Hi-Fi”.
Here, then, is the distinction between a generic “Listening Club’ and a Hot Club. If this Neo Hot Club Movement expanded substantially, then there would remain a likelihood that it could default to comfortable social gatherings of people interested in hearing and discussing music together but satisfied with a potpourri selection of music or a fixed style, but one that is not Jazz. Even the additional attribute of a special sound system is generic – any kind of ‘listening group’ might have one. But there actually is a way for the listening preferences of the Neo Hot Clubs’ members to keep the music heard at their meetings within the boundaries of what was referred to by the first clubs’ participants as “Le Jazz Hot!” Neo Hot Clubs have, since the start of the movement, emphasized only playing standard groove, 78RPM, recordings …. analog, of course. The motto is “fall in with the pack and dig the shellac”. If the Neo Hot Clubs retain this procedure – only using the arcane 78RPM recordings that are, nevertheless, quite often the best sonic representations of the music – then the potential Achilles’ Heel of ‘keeping the galleries but changing the art on display’ should be kept in check.
As in the Swing Era, Neo Hot Clubs can succeed at a range of locations. There can be formal, open to the public, Hot Clubs. They could be in various sizes from small to large. Nightclubs, theatres, restaurants, bars, coffee houses, museums, schools, community centers, and similar places could sponsor Hot Clubs or simply provide a meeting spot. Undoubtedly, some venues would require some level of attendance with at least a percentage of those attending buying something. The starting place for the Neo Hot Club Movement has been small social gatherings among friends and their friends. With just four known exceptions, these Hot Clubs (a la Book Clubs) have held their meetings in private homes. Hopefully, members in an extant private home Hot Club will start their own.
Quality playback gear and superior 78RPM sources are not common. Pivotal in both public and private home Hot Clubs is the presence of quality equipment and people or some specific person with 78RPM records to be played. Venues might launch their Hot Club by putting the audio in place. Neo Hot Clubs based in private homes typically have a host with such gear. The format preference and a desire to use high end audio, however, should not be an impediment to having a Hot Club at all. Finding a Jazz specialist to lead is not essential. FUN is the necessity for the Neo Hot Club Movement to expand.
The real bottom line is that this type of music needs an audience. Without listeners it will disappear. The Neo Hot Club Movement, especially should it expand, is an avenue to provide listening and create listeners. It might, therefore, prove to be crucial in the music continuing. The Neo Hot Club Movement is blessed by a sizeable young membership; but is limited in that all but four of the clubs are private, a small group meeting in a member’s home - similar to many book clubs. Hot Clubs that are open to the general public and would allow the public to find out what a Hot Club is likely to be the only avenue by which the Neo Hot Club Movement can create a large enough listening audience for Jazz styles forged before 1950 to survive. That hope for expansion also envisions that some of the attendees to the open to the public Neo Hot Clubs will be inspired to launch their own Hot Clubs. The Neo Hot Club Movement wants you to “fall in with the pack and dig the shellac”.