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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Jez Nelson

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss. It is where the Shapers of Business meet the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. My very special guest today is Jez Nelson, Jazz Broadcaster, Co-founder and CEO of content agency and production company, Something Else, so we are definitely in the world of music and in the world of business. As a student on a weeks’ work experience with Tomorrow’s World, Jez walked from the studio into the next door set of Top of the Pops. This he says was a formative experience, “sitting in the gallery and watching that go out is still one of the most exciting moments of my life.” In the mid-80’s frustrated by the lack of jazz on the radio, Jez along with fellow Jaz FM presenter, Chris Phillips and DJ, Giles Peterson set up a jazz only pirate radio station; K Jazz in south west London which survived on its 25 watt transmitter for two years. Jez joined Jazz FM shortly after we won our London licence in 1989 and presented Something Else, a four hour nightly feast of contemporary and classic jazz, gifting him interviews with Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Wayne Shorter and jazz greats aplenty. He Co-founded his content agency and production company, also called Something Else in 1991 and the self-described audience business now works across all platforms providing quality content, services and strategy for a wide range of brands and broadcasters. We will be talking to Jez in a few minutes about all of this, about why for him the audience always comes first, about his aim to become the UK’s biggest podcast producer and about his return to Jazz FM in 2015 with a revived Something Else. We’ve also got brilliant music today from amongst others Kenny Burrell, Abdullah Ibrahim and Nina Simone. This is Jazz Shapers. Here’s Lesette Wilson with Caveman Boogie.

That was Lesette Wilson with Caveman Boogie and Jez Nelson and I were just talking about how it took us back a little bit to a certain period of time in our lives.

Jez Nelson
It definitely does. I haven’t heard that for years and years and years but very much a kind of sound that I love and associated with my kind of old clubbing days and definitely my pirate radio days as well.

Elliot Moss
It’s really good to have you on the programme, it’s always funny interviewing someone who normally is in the driving seat so I am sure I will get usurped quite quickly. Jez welcome here…

Jez Nelson
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
…in this capacity. Obviously you have a programme on the station and back in the day, Jez Nelson and Jazz FM parted company; at the very beginning?

Jez Nelson
Well yes I mean, first of all I guess the happy thing was that, that I was given a job on Jazz FM because I had been a pirate radio DJ and doing it for the love of it and who’d have thought at the age of, oh I don’t know, mid-20s I’ll never forget the message on my answerphone when I came home from Dave Lee who was one of the guys who set up Jazz FM and there was a message on my answerphone which in those days was like a tape, like a micro cassette, Sunday afternoon got home and there was a message from Dave who is a brilliant, crazy guy who was a piano player, wrote the theme tune to That Was The Week That Was, best mates with Peter Sellers, brilliant jazz guy and he left this “Jez man, Jez we want you to come and be on Jazz FM” and wow it completely changed my life so that was amazing, I got to be on, work on Jazz FM before it even launched. I helped kind of put the whole music together, working on the programming and then I was given the ultimate gift which was to present the night time show because you know, Chris Phillips, my great friend to this day he had a day time show and he had pressure on him, he had people watching him but as those of you who work in radio will know at night it’s great, you get away with it because…

Elliot Moss
You can do what you like?

Jez Nelson
…yeah because none of the bosses are listening. Particularly in those days it was probably harder to listen again, it was tapes and stuff so I was there at night, 10.00 until 2.00 in the morning, four hours of playing whatever I wanted to do and genuinely I am pretty sure that was the greatest job I ever had in my life. For a year and a half, coming to the radio station at, well actually I’d come in at midday, I was crazy, I’d get all the stuff together and then I would be on at 10.00 at night until 2.00 in the morning, four or five days a week having a ball and that was a glorious, glorious moment when Jazz FM in that era was run by people who absolutely loved the music and were kind of out there on a mission and we did incredible things. There were lots of things wrong with it which meant that ultimately in terms of a business proposition it kind of went a bit wonky and therefore it went through the first of several transitions, it is now in a happy place and part of a big radio group and well supported and all of that but you know, it’s been through loads of transitions Jaz FM and during that period because the business went a bit wonky, inevitably people started saying ‘oh Jez isn’t commercial you need to kind of change the programming’ so again, I got home in fact I’ll tell you the story. I had been out on my bike on Hampstead Heath and I got a phone call from Classic Chris Phillips, Chris called me and said “Jez are you getting all your tunes sorted out for tonight?” – “yeah” – “have you got all your music sorted out?” – “yeah” – “don’t bother you’ve been sacked” and that was it and I was off Jazz FM because I always say I was sacked by Jazz FM for playing jazz.

Elliot Moss
And that ladies and gentleman is the introduction, that’s Jez Nelson, Jez Nelson is absolutely in the house and you were sacked for playing jazz. What a disgrace. Now I am going to move on quickly, we are going to play some more music and we are going to come back and talk about the commercial world that you have entered into and how you have straddled those two worlds of playing what you want to do, creating content you want to make but also making a buck. Stay with me for much more from my brilliant Jazz Shaper, it’s Jez Nelson. Time for some more music right now, it’s Kenny Burrell with Midnight Blue.

Kenny Burrell, Midnight Blue. Jez Nelson is my Business Shaper, former – as you have been listening earlier I you heard – former Jazz FM presenter and now business person. I am going to call you a business person but you are a bit more than that aren’t you? Can I just go back, when you were describing that 10.00 to 2.00 slot to me, your eyes lit up properly, we don’t know each other well so you maybe do that all the time, but there was a sense I think of utter joy and passion and you absolutely remembering that moment. What is it for someone like you who loves music, who’s a presenter as well as running a business, what is it about the act of sharing music like that, that gives you such a big buzz?

Jez Nelson
Yes it’s a very good way of describing it because it is about sharing it, I don’t know, it’s a funny thing isn’t it because I love music so much and when I watch musicians playing I am so in awe of them and I think what an incredible joyful experience that must be to make music, particularly jazz music which is so often spontaneous and made in the moment, what a joy to make that music and to share it with people and to have people feedback and thinks wow that’s fantastic and I am not a musician and I wish I was, I wish I could play an instrument and I wish I could share in that experience so I guess the closest I can get to that is actually having a real passion for that music. I think having a kind of understanding for music, having good taste in music and then sharing that with an audience. I also like I guess if I am honest about it, I like the idea of sort of performing. You know, I guess when I was a kid I thought ‘oh would I be an actor or something’ but I really like that idea so for me the joy of broadcasting with music in general and that period particularly was the bringing together of you know, something I love which is broadcasting, performing and the music and it was such an incredible time because unlike today when there is so much media out there and you can find, at that time if you were in to that music you had to really hunt it out, and Jazz FM came on air before Kiss FM so there was an audience who were so, so needed an alternative to pop radio and we gave them that so it was incredibly interactive and I would sit in the studio for four hours a night and people would ring in all the time, they’d pop in, just you know, it was joyous. Who thought I would be doing it at that age really.

Elliot Moss
And the other side of the speaker as it were is someone like me who was in his late teens, 18/19 with a group of friends sitting in the suburbs of London saying thank you for saving us. I mean it was really like that because there just was no choice, I think Kiss at that point was pirate.

Jez Nelson
This was thing, I mean Kiss had gone for the licence that Jazz FM got. Jazz FM won it which was quite controversial but Kiss came off air in order to be able to apply for a licence to go legal so there was this vacuum into which Jazz FM slotted and although some of Jazz FM was you know, as it should have been, quite mainstream and quite jazz, people like myself and Chris and Giles Peterson, we were playing jazz but we were also playing funk and soul and hip hop so there was this massive you know, the moment when all of that was blowing up so frankly for a year, year and a half it was like we had you know, the territory to ourselves, it was wonderful.

Elliot Moss
And then you set up a business. I mean this was pretty forward looking for a presenter at that point and obviously there are all sorts of presenters on the radio. You are a very well educated presenter, you’ve got a Degree, you’ve done other things and I want to come on to talk about your first real job in selling drugs which we will explain properly in a moment don’t worry. But what gave you the sense that actually well I need to do something and it isn’t just going to be about Jez Nelson, it is going to have to be an entity behind it?

Jez Nelson
To some degree I have always been a bit of a kind of hustler, I’ve always liked from a very young age, I always liked working, always looking to try and find ways to sort of make money and be self-motivated and stuff and I guess what happened and it is relevant, we’ll come back to it, I did a job when I left University that I really – although it was quite useful to me – I really hated it. I had a taste of real life if you like working for other people and, and doing something you don’t like and also because I was a sort of DJ, I done the pirate radio stuff and also I’d been a club DJ so all through my time you know, in pirates and Jazz FM, with running clubs you know, cash in hand, on the door, making money, finding ways to do things and genuinely what happened and I’ve told this story quite a few times – when Jazz FM made… got rid of me, there were three of us, there was myself, Chris Phillips and Sinitta Elaine who worked at Jazz FM in sort of PR and communications who by the way has now been recently announced as the very first ever black Head of an Oxbridge College; she’s the Master of a College in Cambridge. We literally, the next day after we had been made redundant/sacked – she was made redundant, I was sacked. We took £500 each and we went to the Natwest on Edgware Road which was the nearest bank to Jazz FM and we put £500 each into an account and we said what we are going to do, we are going to start a business. Now we at that time were running clubs anyway so that was the kind of start of what we did. So we simultaneously started running clubs but also thinking we love radio, how can we do something in radio and the independent radio sector didn’t really exist so I guess it was just, so many people say this who run businesses, it was a necessity. I needed to do something, I needed to earn money and also to be honest with you I really didn’t want to work for anybody else. That was a massive driving factor for me. Having done one job which I really didn’t like and then having been at Jazz FM which I did love but thinking you know what I feel like I could kind of do this myself, I don’t particularly want to be answerable to anybody else.

Elliot Moss
More from my guest Jez Nelson in a couple of minutes but first let’s hear a taster from the latest News Sessions podcast which can be found on all of the major podcast platforms. Mishcon de Reya’s Hayley Geffin explores the world of blockchain and how it affects you and your business.

You can hear all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed hear this very programme again with Jez by asking Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes, or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform, you can revel in the full archive awaits. So many brilliant Shapers over the last 7 years plus and there will be more in 2020 but more of that later in the year. But back to today, it is Jez Nelson, Broadcaster, Co-founder and CEO of content agency and production company, Something Else. That was then, we are now how many years on are we?

Jez Nelson
The business is 28 years old now.

Elliot Moss
And you mentioned the word necessity and you also talked about not being answerable and that things as you said, they were quite classic reasons why people say they are going to do it. Now you are responsible for working with some really big businesses, some really big brands, you’ve got some A-listers who you are essentially managing talent wise in terms of an output, you are doing all sorts of things. Could you have envisaged then that this is what it would become?

Jez Nelson
No not at all. Not only because you know, I don’t know if anyone can really imagine the sort of future and a place where they are doing some you know, things they are so happy with and so proud of but also because in a sense the business that we now run just didn’t exist, not only was there no independent radio sector which is kind of where we really made our initial moves if you like, there was obviously no, there was no internet unbelievably and you know, there weren’t any podcasts and actually when we really started the business there was a point in our business where we might have become promotors, we were like well we were doing lots of live promotion and doing radio, which way do we go? Ultimately we followed I think which was our greater passion but no I mean I, I had no idea other than, we started the business really very young and we were definitely making it up as we went along, still are, but for a long while we were really making it up as we went along.

Elliot Moss
What I love about the ranges and for people that don’t know you know, you’ve got the David Tennant does a podcast, you’ve got the Kermode and Mayo’s film review, some stuff of Swarovski which is one of your social media projects, it’s the range. I mean the range is great but it feels like you’ve nailed the quality point. There is obviously an aesthetic and a house style as it were that Jez and the team have, how has that, where have you go that from? You mentioned in terms of music that you need taste. Is it just taste Jez or where else has this come from?

Jez Nelson
I mean anyone who runs a business will always say that the real trick is just employing you know, people who are better than you and share your values and I think really that’s come from the fact that it has been a real battle genuinely anyone will tell you who is in the sort of independent production sector which is where we have been for a long time, it’s much wider than that now because you know we work for broadcasters and we work for brands now and it is kind of split between the two really but for a long time we were in that sort of sector and we were competing with in-house production and we still are so we have to fight against the BBC for their in-house producers to win work and we had to be better. We always had to be better because there was a massive for a long time, a massive bias against you know, there was a big resistance to working with external organisations. It has changed a lot, it is a lot better than it was but essentially the quality always had to be better. So that was, that was kind of really driven into everybody who worked with us, it is like quality, quality, quality and I think that still stands. That combine with passion you know, I am incredibly passionate about music and broadcasting and I still am and those are the people we employ whether they are passionate about gardening, or film, or fashion, or food or music. We want people who walk in and you know are kind of… they’d do it for free and probably are doing it for free whether or not they worked for you.

Elliot Moss
In terms of the performing part and you talked about that at the beginning, firstly I don’t know how much of it you do apart from the Jazz FM piece and secondly, do you miss it or is that enough of a fix?

Jez Nelson
I think it’s probably enough now. The amazing thing that I have been able to do in my career is in the early days of Something Else, the business for the first sort of 10 years or so, well I’ve never been off radio since I was sort of 16 or 17, never and throughout that period as well, the early days I was on television quite a lot because I was on Tomorrow’s World and I was on a children’s programme called It Will Never Work, I did quite a bunch of tele and so I had this amazing period where I was sort of, which is really the business took a long while to get going properly and partly that was because I was buggering about sort of flying round the world filming for Tomorrow’s World and that was an amazing experience so I kind of had a period of… and I was on radio 4 a lot doing science programmes and I had come back to Jazz FM, I was doing my second time at Jazz FM I was doing my weekly show so a big period of my life when I was broadcasting a lot and that would also be I would be doing like live events and corporate events and all that sort of stuff so I had a massive sort of fix of it if you like. So now, doing my show every week is great and I run a monthly jazz night with Chris Phillips which we host called Jazzing Around where we put on live music and we do various festivals and stuff so I still get a kind of fix of hosting stuff in one way or another.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the experience that you bring to bear either behind the screen or behind the mike because you’ve presented, is that invaluable? Do you think that’s part of the, the difference that Something Else produces in terms of its product?

Jez Nelson
I think so. I mean I think you know, it gives us a certain amount of sort of credibility you know to have someone at the head of the business who is sort of also a practitioner and understands, I mean you know, some of the people we work with are way more experienced and a hell of a lot better at it than I am but at least I’ve got the understanding of how it works and how it feels and that kind of thing and I think also just having an editorial head, my bit that I’ve kind of missed out is after I did the job that I hated, I went back to college and did a journalism course, did a Post-Grad in radio journalism and I think that was, I think having journalist skills really, really helps and the most powerful thing about that was learning how to write and writing is one of the things that I think is one of the things I am best at and has enabled me, I’ve employed that in all different parts of the business really. So yeah, I think it helps to have someone, it’s not essential but it’s kind of nice when you’ve got someone who’s got a bit of credibility and a bit of experience in broadcasting.

Elliot Moss
And the podcast phenomena, I mean here we are in a radio studio, this programme has been going 8 years, it’s been a podcast for a while but podcasts themselves in terms of popularity have exploded. That’s good for you?

Jez Nelson
It’s amazing, I mean genuinely it feels like an incredible moment and it feels like that thing you know, if you wait around long enough you know, it will come round and you know overnight success and all that has taken 30 years but you know, it feels… I mean I have just spent the last week actually really immersed in this, I’ve been sort of writing a business plan around podcasting and actually when you look at the, the trends globally, in terms of podcasting, in terms of you know, the amount of people who are listening, how that’s growing, the amount of time they are spending, the amount of money that’s being spent, it really is a very special moment the likes of which you know, audio hasn’t seen since you know, the birth probably of commercial radio and so it is enormously exciting and of course we feel that we are absolutely perfectly positioned to be involved with that because we have got the great kind of heritage and the skills but we’ve also you know been reasonably kind of quick in getting into the market and producing a bunch of good content. So you know what, I can’t tell you how exciting it is but forget the kind of business side of it for a moment, we have spent our careers trying to sell ideas to other people and being at the mercy of people buying them and all of a sudden what podcasting has done for me and for the people I work with it means that we can have a good idea and if we really believe in it, we just make it happen and that is so liberating, I mean creatively it is so liberating.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Jez Nelson, plus we will be playing a track from Nina Simone, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

That was Nina Simone with the absolutely brilliant, Sinnerman. Jez Nelson is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes before we carry on Nina Simone’s story apparently ladies and gentleman, here’s Jez Nelson.

Jez Nelson
Well I mean again that time, my first run round at Jazz FM, 1990/1991 I got to meet so many of my hero’s I couldn’t believe it and sat down face-to-face with them, as you mentioned earlier on, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Sun Ra all these people and I got invited, asked to go and interview Nina Simone and drove down to see her in a health farm in Kent and yeah so sort of went into a room and waited and she came out of the bathroom and actually I was with Sinitta who had really introduced me to Nina Simone really and Nina came out and she sat in her dressing gown and nothing else in front of me while I interviewed her and it was a kind of strange experience and halfway through the, I won’t maybe go into quite the details of it but halfway through the interview the phone rang and she picked up the phone and she ‘……’ and she shouted down the phone at her manager like and then put the phone down and carried on. Anyway she was a character.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about how the money is impacted you or not? Again we live in this strange time…

Jez Nelson
What money?

Elliot Moss
…well yeah. We live in this strange time where there is this combination of celebrity, there has been a worshipping of mammon and of wealth and so on and now we are obviously seeing a backlash in all sorts of ways politically around the world. For you though, has it been an important driver or has it been more about, I just need to make some?

Jez Nelson
I think if I had been really massively driven by money I would have done something completely different. Having said that, I have had what I consider to be an amazing life and funded a fantastic lifestyle by working in and around things that I absolutely love so I, you know, made some money and I am well paid and I can do what I want to do and it has enabled me to bring up my family and all that stuff. Who knows in the future what we might do with the business but, but I can’t, I definitely can’t complain and I constantly, I referred to it before but I had a job that I hated for 18 months of my life and I never go through a week without looking back at that time and reminding myself how lucky I am to be getting up every morning and going to work doing something that I love and being well paid.

Elliot Moss
Are the accolades important to you Jez? Gold Award Winner at the Audio Production Awards 2018 for outstanding contributions to radio, you are a Fellow of the Radio Academy, you’ve had tons of stuff over the years, the pat on the back. Does that matter to someone like you?

Jez Nelson
I mean it’s nice, it’s not the driving factor. To be honest with you, it is really nice to be kind of recognised by your peers. The nicest thing of all is when you produce something whatever it is, whether it is something that I presented or nowadays much more likely something else that our business has made or maybe you know, I still hands on exec produce things mainly in television now. When you make something like that and that is recognised, actually the best thing is when you get a text from someone you really respect, whether it’s a colleague or a friend saying ‘I really like that’ that’s the nicest thing of all.

Elliot Moss
Just one more question before I ask you about your song choice, the future of Something Else, you alluded to the fact that who knows where you are going to be but with the changes in mind that have happened over the last few years, with this explosion in the level of interest in podcasts and in audio – what are you planning for in terms of the growth of the business?

Jez Nelson
Okay so the business is quite diverse but it kind of is centred around the idea that we make great quality content for brands and for broadcasters and we always put the audience first so it is quite diverse because we work across you know, video, digital and audio so I think the business future is about continuing to do all of those things and the world of brands is sort of moving closer to the world of broadcasting and obviously there is a massive change in the media landscape so I think keeping abreast of that, keeping up with that and making sure we get to the audience through whichever means and continue to deliver great quality content. Specifically around podcasting, I think there’s you know, there’s so much head room in the market and you know, both in terms of audience but also in terms of the way that advertisers relate to that audience. I mean we are really at the beginning and so we are incredibly ambitious about what we do there and we’ve got some really exciting sort of partnerships and productions coming down the line. So it is a massive area for us obviously. We are already seeing sort of great success with some of the things we do and I think you know, we, there will be a hell of a lot of development there for us over the next 12 months.

Elliot Moss
Good luck with it.

Jez Nelson
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
I hope it goes really well. Lovely to have spent some time with you.

Jez Nelson
It’s been a pleasure.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go, from this Jazz FM studio, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Jez Nelson
So I have chosen maybe inevitably Something Else which is the title track of an album called Something Else from Cannonball Adderley which also features Miles Davis.

Elliot Moss
Such a good brand guy aren’t you?

Jez Nelson
It is just one of those bits of luck and again, Chris Phillips is involved in this. When I first was on Jazz FM my show was just Jez Nelson on Jazz FM, then Chris and I got paired up to do the night time show and back in the day we were due to go on air at 10.00 o’clock on a Monday night and we didn’t have a name for the programme, I mean that’s how things were in those days and we went into the Jazz FM library and we thought we’ve got to choose a name for the show and you know blue notes, let’s look through all the blue notes and Something Else just popped out at us so I think probably like with an hour to go, we were like ‘that’s a great name’ and so that became the name of the programme and it is still the name of my programme with Jazz FM and it’s the name of my company and people think it was what an incredibly clever name because it comes up in conversation all the time you know, we should do something else, oh that’s you and it is a great name but it was so lucky we came up with it.

Elliot Moss
That was Cannonball Adderley with Something else, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Jez Nelson. He talked about bringing together his love of broadcasting and music, he talked about being fundamentally a hustler and he also said really importantly, he didn’t want to work for anybody else. Absolutely fantastic stuff. Make sure you don’t miss his programme, it goes out at 10.00 o’clock on a Sunday night and of course it is called Something Else here on Jazz FM. That’s it from Jazz Shapers and me, have a great weekend.
We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Jez Nelson is the Founder, CEO and CCO of content agency and production company, Somethin’ Else. Frustrated by the lack of jazz on the radio, Jez along with fellow Jazz FM presenter Chris Philips and DJ Gilles Peterson set up a jazz-only pirate radio station, K Jazz in the mid-80s, which survived for two years. After studying for a post-grad degree in radio journalism in the late 80s, Jez joined Jazz FM shortly after they won the London licence in 1989, and went on to launch Somethin’ Else in 1991 with £500 and a cashbox.

In his career, he has interviewed many jazz stars including Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Wayne Shorter and Sun Ram, and has been a TV presenter for the BBC and a radio host for Kiss FM, BBC Radio 3 and 4 and of course Jazz FM, where he has recently returned to host a weekly contemporary jazz show. He is also the creator and host of the monthly ‘Jazz In The Round’ concert-event that takes place at The Cockpit Theatre in London.

Interview highlights

I love music so much.

When I watch musicians playing, I am so in awe and I think what an incredible joyful experience it must be to make music.

I wish I could play an instrument and be able to share that experience.

I have always been a hustler.

I needed to do something, I needed to earn money and I really didn’t want to work for anybody else.

We followed our passion.

Anyone who runs a business will always say that the real trick is employing people who are better than you and share your values.

We have spent our careers trying to sell ideas and being at the mercy of people.

We can have a good idea and if we really believe in it, we just make it happen.

I have had what I consider to be an amazing life and have funded a fantastic lifestyle by working in and around things that I absolutely love.

It is really nice to be recognised by your peers.

We always put the audience first.

I am incredibly passionate about music and broadcasting.

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