My journey through jazz and co-production

Lately I’ve been thinking about how marginalised voices feature in so much of what makes me tick both professionally and privately. So few of us only have one side to our interests, skills and passions and in bringing together all the ‘hats’ we wear we can become better at co-production. 

We define co-production as people who draw on care and support working in equal partnership with professionals to create better services.  

I have two jobs. I’m Co-production Adviser at TLAP but also host a weekly radio show ‘The Big Easy’ on Jazz FM (opens new window) showcasing the music and musicians of New Orleans. I’ve DJed live and hosted big parties for 10 years spinning music from Louisiana and the Deep South. Not just jazz, but funk, RnB, gospel, soul and blues.

Seemingly different and unrelated, but I’ll take you through some ideas about how jazz and co-production have elements in common and how understanding one can help us get better at the other.  

It does sometimes feel like two jobs and two lives but over the years, I’ve seen parallels between the free-form, improvisational, unpredictable qualities of jazz and co-production which involves trying new ideas and off-roading into new territories.  

Many jazz musicians were and are pioneers, going on to form new approaches to sound, and many early co-production researchers like Elinor Ostrom were equally ground-breaking in their own fields. Elinor coined the term co-production with her work looking at the way the Chicago police relied on the community to keep crime rates low. Co-producers from that day on work to define the role of the community and the way that people getting involved, having a say and interacting in their local area can shape the community. 

Both jazz and co-production seem to struggle with an identity crisis. What is jazz? Who gets to define it? What are the different kinds of jazz?  The same questions can be asked of co-production. The Ladder of Co-Production shows the journey and different ways people can be involved in creating and running better services.  

The word ‘jazz’ in itself can be alienating and seem exclusive, I’ve always had a healthy scepticism – I blame Miles Davis, (and I paraphrase somewhat) who pointed out its wonderful but also repressive power over its players- mainly African American musicians who were boxed in and suffered creatively and financially as a result of being labelled ‘jazz’ musicians. People do similarly grapple with what we mean by co-production. The National Co-production Advisory Group definition is when people who use services have a role in designing, delivering services and deciding if they are working. This requires a sharing of power with professionals and what this looks like depends on the level of involvement, budgets, timescales and whether organisations are signed up to meaningful co-production with citizens.  

Jazz has wildly different approaches but the swinging, hard bop I like (and the main defining feature of most jazz) relies on ‘call and response’ - one musician plays a note/ phrase or idea and another musician picks this up and responds by repeating it but adding their own flavour and changing it. This interaction with others, taking ideas and running with them, applies to co-production - when you bring together a variety or diversity of voices sharing their very different experiences of a service and create the right conditions for a dialogue to take place you can often arrive at new, unexpected and fresh perspectives.  

The music I play features marginalised voices from New Orleans and the Deep South - pioneers who created jazz and rhythm n blues (which led to the birth of rock n roll) but never received the recognition they deserved- in the early days they were frequently ripped off or not properly credited by record labels. I’d argue that co-production work over the years is giving a platform to marginalised people (disabled people, unpaid family carers) and voice to people who don’t often engage.   

I talk to lots of artist friends who lament that the very skills they need to flourish are exactly the ones they lack - managing a small business (them), managing money, brokering new gigs, promoting and marketing themselves might not all come easy and all take time and focus away from creating. Many organisations are so busy co-producing they don’t have capacity to shout about the good work they’re doing and the learning that comes with it - something we supported Nottinghamshire County Council with, in partnership work this year

Similarly, it’s only when people from all walks of life, experiences and who hold varied skills all come together and combine skills do we get everything we need to co-produce well.  

Ultimately, both jazz and co-production are pioneering – new ground is broached. Co-production relies on culture change which means trying new things, going against the grain and daring to re-define the way people can shape their community and ultimately, their world.  

Jazz is constantly evolving, with new forms emerging. The younger musicians in London are an inspiration and just looking at the range of co-production happening across social care, research, healthcare and housing makes me think the co-production possibilities are still emerging. For some examples of what’s already being done visit the TLAP directory of innovations in community-centred support

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our Top Tips- Co-production for ideas on starting to co-produce something or trying new ways of co-producing. 

To put an extra wiggle in your walk, I’ve put together a playlist. (opens new window)





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