A senate response from Adam Simmons re Covid

Adam Simmons, Musician, Composer, Educator, Director – The Usefulness of Art – Please note this article is the full response from Adam and reflects his viewpoints re the current state of play in the Australian jazz sector. It may not reflect everyone’s view and Jazz Australia welcomes any comments or other articles on this topic for publication.

Senate Select Committee on COVID-19

Dear Senators Gallagher and Paterson,

I welcome the opportunity to present this submission for this Senate Inquiry.

This submission focuses on the Australian jazz sector, which is part of the larger arts sector, but without its own formal advocacy voice. Please refer to the submission by National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), which outlines the broader context in which the jazz sector exists, and which this submission fully endorses.

I will provide in this submission, an overview of how the jazz sector has been impacted by the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rightly been referred to as an unprecedented event, certainly in our lifetime. Live music performance – including all jazz related events – stopped overnight, totally decimating the livelihoods of artists and all the ancillary and allied industries also, including but not limited to tourism, hospitality and entertainment.

A holistic approach was required to support this creative economy in such extreme circumstances – this has not been the case. Instead the Australian jazz sector and the communities involved are in an even more fragile state, with feelings of disenfranchisement and despair.

This submission provides:

  • An outline of the Australian jazz sector’s recent activity pre-COVID-19 to convey the significance of challenges posed by current crisis, and by the Government’s subsequent response;
  • COVID-19 hits – Initial impact and a national survey conducted to inform this submission to gather data from the jazz sector, including about:
    • the impact of COVID-19 and Government response;
    • engagement of jazz sector with JobSeeker/JobKeeper and its effectiveness;
    • qualitative responses about Government response and outlook for future;
  • Case study – the personal impact on my 2020 activities as an artist and curator/producer;
  • Recommendations for increasing understanding, engagement and support of the jazz sector to avoid its collapse in order for it to be part of Australia’s cultural and economic recovery in the years ahead.

The Usefulness of Art (TUoA) is an arts consultancy business, which seeks to share learnings of a practicing artist/artsworker for the benefit of building a more informed, professional and sustainable artistic community. TUoA offers services in mentoring, grant-writing, career advice and engages in advocacy activities. TUoA extends and draws upon my experience from over 30 years of professional performance practice across most styles of music, performing internationally on saxophones, flutes, clarinets and shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). Primarily based in jazz, I have self-released over 20 CDs and contributed to over 100, including with major artists such as Gotye, You Am I, Australian Art Orchestra, Kutcha Edwards and others. I have also been artistic director for events including Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues and Festival of Slow Music (Ballarat).

I am working via TUoA in a pro bono role outlined by Victoria’s Jazz Industry Strategic Action[1] to develop a model for a jazz industry platform. TUoA’s advocacy activity during this time includes:

  • sharing information from leading arts organisations and sector bodies via TUoA network;
  • encouraging contact with local members;
  • providing links for the Government’s JobSeeker/JobKeeper programs and other funding opportunities at federal, state and local levels;
  • sharing free grant-writing advice via TUoA workshop, Music Victoria webinar and VMDO’s Experts in Residence program.

Australian Jazz Sector – Pre-COVID-19

Jazz in Australia has a long history with internationally influential artists such as Wilma Reading, Graeme Bell, Don Burrows, James Morrison, Paul Grabowsky and The Necks. The music and national scene continue to develop, with a range of challenges and opportunities being identified through documents such as:

  • SWOT Analysis of Jazz (2018)[1];
  • Victoria’s Jazz Industry Strategic Action Plan (2019)[2];
  • The Current Circumstances of Jazz in Australia (2020)[3].

In addition, I prepared a submission for Victoria’s Creative State 2020+ statewide consultation last year.[4] This presented the case for jazz education and artists being important scaffolding across the contemporary music spectrum and offered a range of key recommendations for Victoria’s Ministry for Creative Industries to consider.

From this personal perspective, also informed through my local and international activities as a performer and artistic director, as well as by these documents, there are some particular things of national significance:

  • Sector consultation undertaken and shared by Port Fairy Jazz Festival to produce Victoria’s Jazz Industry Strategic Action Plan, which yielded positive results in audience development for the 2020 festival;
  • Discussions beginning to address lack of national advocacy voice or organisation
  • Increasing awareness and presence of Australian Jazz internationally, especially with support in recent years from Sounds Australia and also Australia Music Centre from last year;
  • Increasing international activity and industry interest outside of normal jazz scene, due in part to younger jazz artists becoming more widely accessible through collaborations with more
    Sam Anning winner, National Jazz Awards 2015

    mainstream artists – examples: Donny McCaslin (David Bowie), Kamasi Washington (Kendrick Lam).

  • Re-emergence of festival cluster Nov 2018 – VIC/NSW/WA/SA – possibility to create more sustainable connected touring circuit.

The positive nature of these observations is tempered by the funding environment for the arts over recent years. Sustained cuts to Federal arts funding[5] have created a highly competitive environment with limited funds.

Optimistically, 2020 was to be a year of some Australian jazz highlights

  • Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 30th Anniversary Festival (after a year hiatus)
  • Jazzahead – second year of Australian Music Centre’s European engagement activities
  • Stonnington Jazz to be presented by a new artistic team
  • ABC Jazz launched a raft of new initiatives supporting Australian jazz

But, unfortunately COVID-19 hit, resulting in the whole sector activity being cancelled, postponed or on hold, along with the rest of the wider community.

Since at least mid-March all of the live music sector has simply stopped, jazz included. And it quickly became evident this was on a global scale.


Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote just after things stopped in March after consulting with a range of stakeholders in the jazz community, published by Artshub, 25 March:

“Two weeks later, COVID-19 caused the shutdown of all artistic activity, international travel and now, all non-essential activity. All of my performances have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, with massive loss of income and opportunity for myself and others, and I am suffering debilitating panic attacks and clinically depressed. And I am not alone.

“Multiply this across the entire jazz and art music sector and there will be scores of similar stories. All aspects are affected: festivals, clubs, presenting organisations, venues, labels, studios, media and of course the artists at the core of this industry who create, produce, present and teach. We are all in this together across all sectors of society, though with varying levels of support to cushion the blow.”[1]

In the time between this article and the time of this submission, a whole raft of initiatives have been implemented by the Government to deal with COVID-19, as well as discussions and announcements relating specifically to the arts sector. For full details I respectfully refer the reader to NAVA’s submission to this Inquiry, which is a comprehensive account of the major interactions between the Government and the arts sector, whether directly or via the various announcements.

The main Government initiatives directly impacting those in the heavily affected jazz sector, include JobSeeker, JobKeeper, the $27million stimulus for the arts and the Australia Council’s repurposing of funds to create the Resilience Fund.

The Government has had to operate under extreme pressures and timelines while dealing with an unknown and invisible threat. And ultimately the potential health disaster has been diminished to an enviably controllable level. This must be acknowledged.

But in the beginning especially, the Government response seemed highly reactionary even while the deadly and overwhelming international impact of COVID-19 was plainly seen played out via the media on a daily basis. Beginning the week of March 16, I had several gigs booked that week and was still being asked to do future gigs, but by March 18, all of those gigs had been cancelled as well as those of all my colleagues. This was prior to the Government’s decision to impose a shutdown the next week. The lack of clarity and direction from the Government at that time was hugely distressing on a personal level as well as for colleagues trying to navigate the uncertainty of work and financial security, at the same as very real health concerns given the high risk nature of our work and/or personal risk factors such as age or existing medical conditions.

This uncertainty extended into the highly anticipated response to the assistance request from the leading arts sector bodies, who met with Minister Paul Fletcher on March 19. There was indication of a response, but news of its release kept being delayed by a day. Jobseeker had been announced on March 13, but there was already confusion about eligibility in addition to the overloading of services causing chaos. The subsequent launch of JobKeeper was not the catch-all safety net that had been hoped for, given the exclusions that directly affected many in the arts sector/gig economy, not to mention the amendments that ultimately excluded universities also, which is actually a common source of employment for artists and artsworkers.

The $27 million package was welcomed, but of little benefit to the bulk of the arts sector, especially considering this money was spread nationally – contrast that with NSW $50 million support package for the arts announced this week. And in light of the $60 billion shortfall in expected JobKeeper expenditure, it leaves the whole arts sector scratching its head to know what to do given the extensive acknowledgement it was the first to close down and will be last to return.

To get some concrete indication of the effectiveness of the Government’s financial measures in response to COVID-19, I have conducted a survey this week inviting those involved with the Australian jazz sector. With a total of 238 respondents from around Australia, representing a cross-section of artists, teachers, presenters, venues, festivals, media, retail, recording, ticketing, audience and more, here are some of the observations based on all completed responses:

  • COVID-19 Impact – for every 10 people:
    • 10 were impacted in some way
    • 9 reported a negative impact on music-related activities
    • 9 reported a negative impact on income
    • 7 reported a negative impact on mental health
    • 5 reported a negative impact on physical health
    • 1 reported positive impact on mental health
    • 1 reported positive impact on physical
  • JobKeeper/JobSeeker – for every 10 people:
    • 3 applied for JobKeeper
    • 2 applied for JobSeeker
    • 1 did not apply – but half of these are getting JobKeeper from another job
    • 4 said they were not eligible
    • For those applying for Jobseeker/JobKeeper the success rate was 90%
    • 1 in 3 is getting less income than normal, 1 is getting the same and 1 is getting more

In terms of approval of the actions taken by our leaders in response to COVID-19, the response to dealing with the health crisis by the Government was positively received by up to 77% with only 23% disapproving. But approval for the economic response is less than half, with only 25% expressing a degree of satisfaction. And similarly, for the leadership shown by the Government as well as their overall COVID-19 response. On the flipside, those expressing dissatisfaction for the leadership was 53%. But worse only 16% stated they were satisfied with the overall response to COVID-19 with a massive 72% expressing dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the crisis.

In contrast, State leadership received a solid 68% satisfaction and only 18% unsatisfied to some degree.

There is a high degree of disconnection of Government to the jazz sector. When asked whether there was enough support for Australian jazz, 92.8% said no, while only 1.2% said yes. The strongest public support was seen as coming from local council (though still very low at only 9.5%). This could easily relate to the fact that cultural funding at a local council has increased while Federal funding levels have been decreasing.[1]

In terms of what the arts sector is feeling about what the “other side of the bridge” looks like, there is very little optimism to be found, especially in terms of the national sector, closely followed by their local scene and international engagement. A majority of the comments relate to the uncertainty of what the roadmap actually looks like to get to any resemblance to something familiar.

Australia has avoided the horror scenarios witnessed abroad and the Government’s management of the health crisis has largely received approval. But for all of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric of needing to avoid the equally deadly fallout of an economic crisis, it appears from this data that at least one segment of the Australian arts sector is in serious danger of not just financial instability and loss, but also having to deal with serious degradation of physical and mental health wellbeing. If jazz is indicative of the wider music and arts sectors, we definitely require more pillows to “cushion the blow”.

Case Study

After at least two years of planning, self-funded trips to China and Europe to make connections, this year was to be a full year of international travel for the first time with my own ensemble, Origami, with a new European agent taking us on to look at touring in new markets in 2021-22. This is the first part of 2020:

  • April – China
  • April – Jazzahead industry showcase – Monart Agency to announce Origami on their roster
  • May – Europe tour – Finland, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech, Serbia, Hungary
  • May – TUoA presents emerging artist Flora Carbo at SENA Performer’s International Laureate Festival as part of Amersfoort Jazz Festival
  • May – Italy – CD launch, 5 concerts and 2-day masterclass with classical pianist Alessandra Garosi
  • July – Turkey/India

And then I was also planning to launch a new 3-day festival with 100+ musicians, including 5 international/Australian collaborations, leveraging international funding to cover their travel costs. The idea was to film all performances, co-share the recordings with the artists, and I had secured a European TV distribution partner to get the content into USA, UK and Western Europe. This was to be premiered in August 2020.

All of this started unravelling in January/February as COVID-19 took hold in Wuhan. And by mid-March it had rapidly become clear all of these plans were finished. Some events are planning to postpone but as the crisis develops worldwide, it is becoming much harder to contemplate how any of it will be possible any time soon.

For the tour funding received I was leveraging at least that or more again from the presenting partners. And similarly, for the festival I was developing – the funding would have been leveraging equal or more income from other sources, helping create content for international promotion and monetization. I was looking forward to spreading literally tens of thousands of dollars into my community of musicians, venues, technical staff, industry professionals and more.

Instead I am at home earning a few hundred dollars a week doing some teaching, grant-writing workshops and an occasional iso-video/audio recording, dealing with mental wellbeing issues of an existential crisis of identity, which has me seeing a counsellor regularly and coping with a slight but constant physical feeling of anxiety whenever I have time to think about what I “should” be doing in my creative practice. And the irony is that partly because I am receiving JobKeeper, but more because I am just not spending any money on paying for recording or CD manufacture or covering touring costs or buying instruments or eating at restaurants or paying for petrol or drinks or chocolate bars or… my bank balance has hardly moved. Which makes me wonder whether I would be better not being a performing musician, having all of the normal incoming and outgoing flow of capital which ends up about even, but instead pivot into something more financially rewarding and low stress…

But that is not me. It is not why I started playing music. It is not why I studied music. It is not why I perform, teach, compose or even sell music. I do these things because I know that:

  • one, art, including music, is fundamental to how we connect, understand ourselves and others, and foster wellbeing;
  • two, I’ve come to understand how artists play a crucial role in an economic sense by helping the flow of capital through the creative economy.

In these ways I now know that we are indeed very useful, if not absolutely necessary. But at this time when my sense of identity is stripped away because I can’t do what I do, I cannot help but wonder if it is time to put down the tools.

And I know I am not the only one thinking like that.


Let us engage in discussion – The data above suggests a disconnect between the Government and the jazz sector. But it goes both ways – the jazz sector needs to also engage with the Government, but as highlighted in the VJISAP, “the jazz industry is run predominantly by dedicated volunteers who are in short supply.” [1] This is endemic across the board. Support for the sector to ensure all participants are properly remunerated for their services would begin to address issues of sustainability and contribute to the capacity to engage more productively.

Please listen – Listen to those who have come already and refer to NAVA’s outline of what is required[2] – already on March 19th, the major peak bodies clearly outlined a relatively modest request for assistance, in light of the unprecedented support for the Australian economy to date, but despite the fact that art informs our everyday lives, the arts sector is still waiting to be seen.

Involve us – Art should be integral to the recovery plan. People have increased their online engagement with music and art to survive lockdown, and are craving live experiences as soon as possible. Involve artists at all levels to imbue creative thinking at the beginning of a process. Two key areas of great synergy for arts to combine with are:

  • Tourism – e.g. Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues was at one time funded not as a music event but as a major event in the same category as the Australian Open;
  • Wellbeing – e.g. Launceston General Hospital’s, Music on the Move progam, embedding music into health environments.[3]

The Australia Council has only recently published a document regarding domestic tourism and art.[4]

Think different – There needs to be a different way to value those who help glue communities together. Above I have deliberately used the phrase “creative economy” as it “includes the ‘community’ when conceptualising the flow of value through the creative endeavour.”[5] I have co-written one piece about a different approach, or another radical but current suggestion is to implement a Universal Basic Income[6], which should be considered.

Community – And to finish where I should have started, I will suggest we need to think much more holistically, a concept of being in the world that we could learn more about from our First Peoples, where health is the social, emotional, and cultural wellbeing of the whole community.

Jazz for me is an embodiment of this collaborative process that connects all participants, that lives and breathes, inspiring conversation that invites all to participate to express their unique voices, equally and respectfully in creative endeavour.

As noted in the submission upload process, I consent to making this document publicly available. I look forward to reviewing submissions from across the Australian community. I would welcome the opportunity to speak to this submission in person, as well as introducing you to artists, artworkers and organisations impacted by this crisis. I thank you and each committee member for your important work at this critical time.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for any further information.

Sincerely yours,

Adam Simmons

Musician, Composer, Educator, Director

The Usefulness of Art

Adam thanks the over 200 anonomous contributors that informed this paper

[1] Commissioned by Port Fairy Jazz Festival with Moyne Shire Council –https://www.portfairyjazz.com.au/strategic-plan.html

[2] The Music Trust, http://musicinaustralia.org.au/index.php?title=SWOT_Analysis_of_Jazz

[3] Commissioned by Port Fairy Jazz Festival with Moyne Shire Council –https://www.portfairyjazz.com.au/strategic-plan.html

[4] The Music Trust, http://www.musicinaustralia.org.au/index.php?title=The_current_circumstances_of_jazz_in_Australia#SWOT_Analysis_of_Jazz

[5] TUoA, https://www.tuoa.com.au/blog/submission-to-victorian-governments-creative-state-2020

[6] The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/federal-arts-funding-in-australia-is-falling-and-local-governments-are-picking-up-the-slack-124160

[7] Artshub, https://www.artshub.com.au/news-article/opinions-and-analysis/covid-19/adam-simmons/coronavirus-australian-jazz-on-the-edge-260060

[8] The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/federal-arts-funding-in-australia-is-falling-and-local-governments-are-picking-up-the-slack-124160

[9] Commissioned by Port Fairy Jazz Festival with Moyne Shire Council –https://www.portfairyjazz.com.au/strategic-plan.html

[10] NAVA, https://visualarts.net.au/news-opinion/2020/creative-industry-stimulus-whats-missing-and-whats-urgently-needed/

[11] Tasmanian Department of Health, http://health.tas.gov.au/hospital/lgh/art/news/successful_launch_of_201920_music_on_the_move

[12] Australia Council, https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/research/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Domestic-Arts-Tourism-research-report-PDF.pdf

[13] TUoA, https://www.tuoa.com.au/blog/fit-for-purpose-funding-the-creative-economy-beyond-venues-and-stars

[14] The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/coronavirus-universal-basic-income-ubi-poverty-economy-business-migrants-a9408846.html