Musings In Cb: My Answer to the All About Jazz Open Question …

  • Can Jazz Become Culturally Relevant Again? If So, How?

Jazz is already culturally relevant in our times and will always remain so into the future.

The music itself has continued to progress, but other aspects in other areas of the music business sometimes hinder the progress of the economic culture that supports the music and the art itself.

Most jazz venues today “book” and “present” as if we were still living in the 1940s USA. Most people who go out to jazz venues today, were not even alive then, nor even were most of the presenters themselves.

Jazz has a rich history of over one hundred years – many branches or styles too. But, the music is no longer simply Bebop or the Blues, and has not been that since the work of progressives like John Coltrane, Andrew Hill and Eric Dolphy during the 1960s.

Not too unlike the manner in which classical music is presented publicly in contemporary society, jazz music will also find a balance within this context.

The effect of Jazz Education has to also be factored in context of a “living wage” scale. You can hire students to perform for a “sandwich” in perpetuity in our age because there is a seemingly endless supply of them enrolled in jazz studies programs everywhere.

That is not a bad thing, it is great, but the jazz market is flooded with competent emerging players with a different motivation than an established artist with a family to support, who can (and willingly do), take the stage for considerably less than union scale.

I submit that the reality we live in today is a solid paradigm where most jazz scenes have enough qualified artists as to present different artists in each venue everyday for at least 6-months of a year at a time. Doing this would address several contemporary issues:

  • (1) Dispel the illusion that when you learn how to play and graduate, that you will automatically get a gig because you are good and deserve it;
  • (2) Give artists enough time to actually brand themselves with their fan base between concerts by promoting and marketing their artistry over a suitable length campaign (a vital function that benefitted the relatively few with major label and major studio contracts back in the day);
  • (3) Require artists to participate in the contemporary scene building aspects of audience development in their own community, and precipitate their reaching people outside of the group of folks they went to jazz camp or school with, or the professionals they studied with;
  • (4) Presenting all of the qualified artists on a scene would also result in more venues becoming “live music” opportunities because you would not have the prevailing current scenario of – “if I miss so-and-so tonight, I can always see them at the club down the street tomorrow”, as is the case in most of the smaller markets today.
  • (5) Gives artists ownership and makes them stakeholders in their own scene and art.

“Creating Superstars” is not necessarily going to save jazz. We did that during my lifetime, as I recall, during the 1980s with the “Young Lions”.

How has that worked out? It has us where we are today, is how it has worked out. Recognizing the music itself as the “superstar” is the solution.

We have so many untapped resources at our disposal today, that those who came before us in the last century could not have even imagined this current paradigm that many artists seem to inherently take for granted in our times. The Internet. Own your own music because you don’t need a record label to reach people. Access to technical information in every formal institution of higher learning. Access to technical information for free online.

Give me a break … we have it great.

In Kansas City, they used to have “cutting contests” back in the day. Most people reading this already know what that scenario means. It’s a fierce competition to out perform other musicians, for the reward of some form of “peer recognition” or “bragging” right of passage.

When live music was one of the only forms of leisure activity in our society, the result of consumers going to music venues to amuse themselves became a primary industry in that regard. However, when you fast forward to our times of today, the real competition musicians should engage isn’t one to determine who has learned to play “Cherokee” faster than Charlie Parker did 70 years ago, but should be to see whose music is more interesting than someone’s game station, or Internet connection , or home entertainment system.

We live in the best time ever in history to be jazz artists and jazz industry people.

We are purveyors of a noble, honest and honorable art form that enhances the human spirit and condition. Modern Jazz.

We simply have to use our minds, while we are off of the bandstand, and be clever enough to figure out how to use all of the determining power we finally have at our disposal.

Jazz is not in trouble. We simply need to get off of our collective behinds and live more in the present, than in the past – when it comes to business.

Peace, Cb

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Image: New Year’s Eve Party promo poster created to market the Blue Room event on December 31st.