Marsden Jazz Festival
Jazz In The Yorkshire Pennines

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A Message from Barney Stevenson, Artistic Director of MJF

A Message from Barney Stevenson, Artistic Director of MJF

Following the final of the Euro’s, Barney Stevenson, artistic director of Marsden Jazz Festival began to think about the commonalities between football and jazz, as well as the importance of standing up for every member of our community. Here is a message from him:


Like Gareth Southgate, I’m also a white, balding, bearded male born in the early seventies. I’m the artistic director of a rural jazz festival in West Yorkshire, and Southgate is the highly admired manager of the England men’s football team.

At first glance, Southgate and I don’t have much in common apart from our demographic similarity. What can I learn from Southgate? It turns out—quite a lot.

Southgate’s leadership focuses on the bigger picture – it’s about much more than just the game. He explained his views in his ‘Dear England’ letter, written last month before the start of the Euros: ‘It’s the players’ duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate’.

International football is an elite sport that draws people from all walks of life, and all backgrounds—the visible diversity and inclusion in the England squad is writ large and is influential and inspiring. It isn’t all plain sailing – as prominent public figures, the black players in the England team are also the targets for online racial abuse, frequently stoked by dog-whistle journalism in the press and a noticeable lack of disapproval by our politicians. Southgate knows that his players are the front line of the work:

It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that. It might not feel like it at times, but it’s true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone. I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking. bq.

Can I, a white male artistic director of Marsden Jazz Festival, a nationally renowned festival held in the rural South Pennines in West Yorkshire, learn from Southgate?

Jazz is a black art form, a music of black origin. Marsden is a largely white rural community. The context in which Marsden Jazz Festival exists is an opportunity to work at the front line, to invite dialogue and introspection amongst the communities we bring together. Like Southgate, I can ensure that my stewardship of Marsden Jazz Festival encourages a broader and deeper conversation about diversity and inclusion.

It’s about more than jazz.

Marsden Jazz Festival will always celebrate and showcase the highest quality and cutting edge music. But in doing so, we also have an incredible opportunity to influence the space around the music, bringing together the communities we represent, helping people understand each other, and nurturing allyship.

Southgate puts it so well:

‘The reality is that the result [of the tournament] is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that. It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever. I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer. No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible’.

I aspire to be like Gareth Southgate, to use the opportunity I have as artistic director of Marsden Jazz Festival to make a difference in people’s consciousness about diversity and inclusion.

And that is a massive motivation for me.

© 2021 Barney Stevenson, Artistic Director