Winter JazzFest Goes to School...

As I wrote of my 2015 Winter JazzFest recap, I was anxious to see how the event absorbed the growing crowds going forward.

2016 saw it succeed with straight A's.

The venue addition of the New School, with its giant auditoriums, added not only an ease of entry & exit from every venue, it added a new dimension to the entire affair -- a concert presentation grafted smoothly onto the more intimate club settings scattered all across New York's Greenwich Village.

Upscale or funky, these sets represented more of a Festival feel, in addition to the intimate madness of the crowded clubs.

The greatest boon to the pass holders, however, was the great siphoning off of bodies from outside each club. The New School's auditoriums hold 800 - many thousands each, so while all those folks comfortably listen to their sets, many other fans no longer have to wait in queues in the rain & cold outside almost every club. There's an artist you want to see at this place & time? Fine. You can now see them without girding for a mass of humanity no matter the venue.

All told, this was a strategic & brilliant move that must be commended. If the Winter JazzFest was to continue to grow, the form had to expand to match the content.

That it has done, beautifully.

Now, on to 2017's Winter JazzFest!

Jazz Week Summit / San Jose JazzFest

A thinking person's way to spend an August week -- great music, a beautiful countryside around a lovely city, good friends, great people having fun & swapping ideas & information on the jazz arts.

2016's JazzWeek Summit brought the Summit's largest turnout of radio pros, promoters, writers, producers & artists to date, with a keynote by Don Was, offering the chance for intense discussion of the short-term and long-term prospects for jazz, as a product and as a major force within our culture.  

This intense session spilled right into the joy of San Jose Summer JazzFest, which took over most of downtown for the weekend, so dashing to catch a given artist melted away to wandering from stage to stage to drink in the next artist's take on America's art form.

If you're involved professionally in jazz in any aspect, you'd be well served to attend the next JazzWeek Summit.

Likewise, if you're anywhere near the Bay Area in summer, plan to catch San Jose's Summer JazzFest.

WOW! SOME WEEK #1 - Jazz Connect

[There were three main jazz events occurring simultaneously during the last week in New York City. Everyone who participated in any of them has a completely different take on what transpired, as they had a very different, unique slice of what happened around town. This segment below, and the two that will follow over the next couple of days, is my slice of it all...]

 

The Jazz Connect logo

The Jazz Connect logo

JAZZ CONNECT

Sadly there are precious few chances for musicians & others in the greater jazz industry to hang, gather, socialize, discuss, network, gab, catch up with old friends, make new ones & generally just spend time in the pleasure of each other's company. The business has simply changed too much. The community is now fractured, and too much of it goes in separate directions too much of the time.

Various conferences over the years have provided that meeting place, but their sponsors ultimately have either gone under or pulled the plug on their gathering.

One north star has been the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference, which brings all manner of artists together with the bookers for the nation’s arts events. While not remotely a jazz event, there is enough jazz involved in APAP that a decent chunk of the jazz community is directly involved either by showcasing their wares, supporting the showcases of friends and colleagues or, by just milling about, networking with the greater crowd.

APAP has become such a vital part of the winter music scene that other events have piggybacked off APAP's drawing power in the 2nd week of January to create more strictly jazz events in that same time frame -- namely, Jazz Connect and the Winter Jazzfest.

Jazz Connect, presented by Lee Mergner of JazzTimes and Peter Gordon of the Jazz Forward Coalition, brings together jazz artists, labels, radio programmers, journalists, promoters, managers & publicists at New York’s St. Peter’s Church complex for two full days to discuss issues in the art form that year. But mostly, it’s the finest chance the jazz community has for simply being together.

In past years, I’ve marched straight to the panels & workshops to soak in all the information I felt I needed & could use. This year, I found myself eschewing most of the panels & meetings. This year was for people, for connecting, for networking, and for generally speaking with as many people as I could.

I was happy to create or foster business relationships with many industry folks this year. With a new album in the works that’s nearing completion, it's now time to lay the foundation for its introduction to the marketplace when it's finished.

Towards that end, scores of conversations were held, creating a groundwork for further meetings in the coming months. When discussing my plans with various stakeholders, I was thrilled to receive strong support across the board. This was incredibly encouraging and excites me to finish this project quickly, and to an even higher standard.

It’s also gotten me reignited, thinking about the following two projects as well...

On another front, I got to speak with many younger artists, and found myself taking on more of a mentor’s role with some of them than is usual for me. This was surprising, as I’ve never viewed myself as much of a teacher; but I realized there were bits of knowledge I had for which individuals whom I met were hungry, so it was easy and pleasing to share.

It also was fun to play Matchmaker. There were a slew of moments where I was that linchpin person between two other people, whom only I knew. I took great delight in introducing them when they clearly should know each other -- whether it was a brief chance meeting, due to sheer proximity, or designed, as in I wanted this person to know someone else & sought to make it happen. Often afterwards, I’d just step away, leaving them happily exploring this new friendship. This tickled me no end...

This was also a year of spontaneous connections -- as speaking to one person often led me to a second, who in turn pointed me to a third, who had exactly what I needed to hear or know. This process happened a number of times this week. That was exciting.

Lastly, this event each year allows me to refresh & deepen a great many friendships I’ve made with the incredibly talented & hard-working programmers from some of our best jazz radio stations, whom I’ve met through attending the annual JazzWeek Summit, and who have accepted me into their family. This is always one of the best “gets” from this event. This year, it also allowed us to gather to remember one of the best of this group, Tom “The Jazzman” Mallison, who was killed this year in a car crash and is sorely missed.

So, this part-reunion, part-business meeting, part-teaching session, part-therapy session, part-party took up the day hours for two full days until 6pm, wherein the focus shifted each night to another of the week’s events. While APAP is the showcase, and Winter Jazzfest the music lover’s marathon, Jazz Connect is the meeting place. And, as such, it is highly valuable to the community and we're grateful for it.

Kudos to Mergner & Gordon for yet another jazz community public service well done! Our thanks to you, both...

Winter JazzFest 2016

Last year's New York City Winter JazzFest was a squall of jazz... passing through quickly, contained within a tight radius, and barely leaving a trace afterwards. Music exploded out of venues across the West Village in New York, in a multi-venue weekend that pulled huge crowds. Young & old braved numbing temperatures to catch the next hot band & run to the next hot venue. Names & nobodies alike played their stellar hour on bandstands in clubs, churches, meeting halls, law school auditoriums, wherever suitable space for players & audience could be found, and were thrilled by the opportunity to play before such large, happy crowds.

And everywhere was The Line. It didn't matter what day you went, what time you went, what venue you arrived at, what artist you wanted to see, what success that artist has or has not attained. The Line was everywhere -- down the block from each club, around the corner from the churches & other venues.

I have not seen this type of outpouring for Jazz in decades -- as a melting pot, a crucible for fan interest in having a great time & for hearing great music. Young couples; older fans; groups of young people; middle aged fans. Male. Female. Jazz. And magic. In the air.

Is this a new resurgence in the love of jazz? Have millennials discovered jazz in its various guises, the very core of American music? Is it merely an Event that draws the curious & the thrill seeker? Or is it just a few hundred young adults following The Scene on a Friday or Saturday night in tourist-trappy Greenwich Village, certain to leave it behind when the next fad appears?

This is my Grail to discover this year. I've seen the JazzFest grow dramatically over the last two years. I'd love to know which of these threads holds strongest.

I'm also looking forward to this coming weekend to discover musical ideas & visions heretofore unknown to me. Between the older players & the newest arrival on the jazz scene, there is each year a true sense of lineage, of generations in flux, of batons passed.

Last year I was thrilled to discover young trumpeter Theo Coker, who is on this year's bill as well. Not only does he play exceptionally well, he led a band of long-time friends in what only could be described as "a romp." Rarely have I experienced musicians having such pure fun, and creating such infectious joy with their music.

Classical gypsy guitarist Stephane Wremble proved a happy rediscovery for me, and a chance to introduce his wizardry & hummingbird hands to a good friend of mine from radio.

I'm looking forward to this weekend to see how the Winter JazzFest will evolve this year. I strongly urge you to head to the Festival's site to order passes for the entire affair, to join The Line & to discover some truly thrilling music.

The Music Center Craters...

Pomplemoose

Pomplemoose

The Road is no longer a viable school for learning music. We all know this. It's sad to see, however, that it is also becoming ever less viable a place for a musician to live or earn a living. This has been well documented in jazz, as we'd expect. But when it is increasingly true in the musical center, in the rock or pop worlds, that portends dire futures for us all.

Like many other folks, I've been enchanted in the last year or two by the Pomplemoose duo, Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn -- a latter-day Captain & Tennille -- who've created catchy, unfettered pop music for car ads and other sponsors. & garnered untold hits on their YouTube page. They were a proudly defiant studio band, and had no interest in appearing live. They spent long hours putting high-quality videos together, and the fan response was evidence that their idea worked.

A year or so ago, they decided that they'd grown enough as artists & as a band to test their commercial musical wings. It was time to appear live. Et Voilà! These industrious folks put together a 28-day / 23-city tour.

pomplemoose's fans weren't the issue... from portland's show

pomplemoose's fans weren't the issue... from portland's show

Owing to the fact that they clear-headedly saw themselves as business people who made music as the family business rather than, say, open a storefront, they documented every dollar (quickly) going out & each one (not as quickly) coming in. 

These talented folks are clearly in that vast middle category of artists somewhere between kid rockers dreaming on their couches & an established label-supported pop band. This tour was a clever, well-planned DIY tour in the purest sense. By most music & career metrics it was a success. However, they've also recently posted a full accounting of the tour's financials online.

While they brought in more than $135,000, their expenses were such that their tour still lost more than $11,000! That's with many full houses & strong fan base.

Here's Conte's article honestly recounting the tour's full profit / loss...

https://medium.com/@jackconte/pomplamoose-2014-tour-profits-67435851ba37

While most indie artists, especially most jazz artists, would not be traveling with a group as large as they, the cost of plying your trade nationwide still is staggering.

And when the successful, business-savvy kids of the pop world not only fail to find the fabled jewels of The Road, but also fail to break even, I fear for how jazz, America's music, can withstand the economic pressures & hold fast at the center of the musical planet.

--E. J. Decker

giglio 3: Try the aural pastries...

La Lanterna di Vittorio (129 MacDougal St.) has been a decades-long favorite of mine -- a warm, romantic cafe, an oasis in the city with great coffee & deadly deserts. That guitarist Peter Mazza helped them set up a jazz room, called The Bar Next Door, when they acquired the small space in the basement next door doubled the reason to go there.

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I've happily caught a number of other artists there over time; the small space creates an artist / audience intimacy found nowhere else in town. Literally, 15 to 20 people make it SRO. It's as close to a house concert you will find in a commercial space.

On Saturday, January 9, I had the pleasure of catching a friend's guitar trio: Guitarist Joe Giglio, bassist Michael Gold and drummer Eric Peters. I expected the usual NY club playing fare: highly competent, not-too adventurous work by players allied for the evening's gig, with little-to-some chemistry.

What I was not prepared for was the extraordinary openness & communication among these excellent musicians. Normally, players know the tune well enough, and do something interesting with it. This night, however, was reserved for bigger game.

The three men spun amazingly complex threads out of old Songbook tunes. Most players create alterations to these tunes, use them as starting points, etc. For these three, the tune was merely the ignition switch, as they'd start with a creatively altered version of the chorus from Giglio, then they'd take off from there, creating an entirely new universe; each man most often holding his eyes closed, listening intently to each nuance produced by his mates, prodding the others to new & different heights; throughout, beatific smiles shone on all three faces. More than once, it actually shocked me when the core song would reappear, as I'd been so rapt in where we had gone that I'd forgotten where we'd started.

This was improvised music as I've always imagined it, and don't get to experience very often. Each player's component piece expertly interlocked with the others' logic. The aural communication & trust among them created explorations that were every bit as delicious & satisfying as the rich chocolate mud cake and red wine from the cafe next door.

This was a thrill.

-- E. J. Decker

Suit streaming: find a fad & fill it...

I just read Alex Ross' excellent New Yorker piece, "The Classical Cloud: The pleasures and frustrations of listening online." You should, too.

While Ross writes specifically about the classical music world here, what he speaks to is universal -- that all genres of music, in fact, that all forms of art are sensual at their core and must ultimately be experienced through, and by, the senses. Consider his article an SOS that, thanks to music streaming sites, this visceral connection is sinking fast.

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What we've lost in the Digital Age is that exact tactile, sensual connection to the majesty of our cultural world. We rarely, if ever, stop to view a painting, taking in its multidimensional scope and size or its craftsmanship and artistic eye. We rarely sit in the dark with a room of strangers, smelling the heady aroma of popcorn & sharing in a group reaction of fear or laughter to an over-sized image & sound. We've also been cut off from the joys of holding an album cover, viewing its artwork, reading its secrets, histories & participants, all in great detail… we're even losing its miniaturized version in CDs.

Everyone who has lived a certain number of decades will surely tell you that much of what they have seen and experienced in life is cyclical. This is the very essence of a fad. Dress hems go up, dress hems go down, dress hems go all the way down. Rinse. Repeat.

One core feature of fads is that they trumpet the obsolescence of whatever they are replacing. It's not enough to widen the field to house all views and tastes somehow, the new must replace the former utterly; and to accomplish that the former must be wiped away under heaps of scorn & condescension. A new fad's first tactic is to attach a derisive, discernible "'ICK' factor" to whatever came before it -- declaring that to enjoy the previous so dates you that all manner of social contacts stand prepared to shun you in your hopelessness.

And so it goes, until the day the fad becomes mainstream itself, at which time it is replaced by a newer fad -- sometimes by a third thing, but often, given enough intervening time, by a return to the very thing it had tossed aside in the first place.

The Dot Com Crash taught us that faulty, unworkable web enterprises cannot sustain themselves unless their potential value for the public far outstrips their potential for profit.

In other words, an exciting cash generator for its creators will only stand if the public receives enough value from it that it can happily choose to ignore the billions of dollars squeezed out of the venture by its handful of creators & early capital suppliers.

This is what separates viable businesses from commercial fads.

Spotify is just such a fad. But one fraught with dangers for our times.

It is a fad full of fury, corporate funding, backing & partnerships; full of loathing for what it seeks to replace: digital downloads & CDs, which in turn had replaced cassette tapes, which in turn had replaced vinyl 33 1/3rpm LPs, which in turn had replaced shellac 78rpm discs, which in turn had replaced shellac cylinders. 

However, from its outset, Spotify & its subscription peers have ignored one important element -- they're wholly dependent on what corporate types call "content," for which they rely on unsuspecting and often pliable young musicians -- those most desperate for a foothold in the marketplace so that they welcome any attention, even at the cost of no longer being able to make a living. This, all while the site generators reap millions in revenue, while sharing not cents on the dollar, but thousandths of a cent on the dollar. Millions of subscription-paid spins on these sites create revenue checks in the tens or hundreds of dollars in a payment period for the average artist, while large corporate labels (who have strong lawyers & bargaining positions) have created sweetheart deals where revenues are siphoned to their small stable of mega-artists at the sake of independent artists & lesser profile label artists (who have no lawyers or bargaining position).

It's no great secret that the digital world has destroyed the musical marketplace utterly. Expectations within the music-enjoying public have been fully reformatted -- music fans no longer eke out some small sum of money with which they run to the music shop to buy the latest from their favorites. And the number of fans who've taken that same small sum to online discounters like Amazon, etc., has likewise cratered as well, as folks turn their backs on CDs & downloads & turn to the radio-esque feel of paid streaming. Pride in ownership of your favorite music has been replaced by an oncoming stream of "whatever they want to hand me is cool."

By the major corporate labels blindly fighting the oncoming paradigm shift of the last two decades as if they could reverse the tides, digital pirates gained a foothold in the marketplace of ideas, showing the general public that music is nothing more today than a computer file, and as we all know, you cannot hold a computer file -- so obviously none of it is real, so none of it has value, so it all must be free. And with the accompanying sensual, tactual experience eventually cut away & demeaned, all music becomes the land of Meta data -- virtual sonic wallpaper.

Without the proper reasoned rebuttal, the pirates' position became the public position. And the public position soon became the public expectation.

Faced with this new expectation, the incentive to produce music for anything more than yourself and a few friends disappears. Across all genres of music, artists are considering leaving music altogether. It no longer pays. Oh, people are spending all right. But no one is buying. Not buying music, certainly. Today, they're buying web sites & algorithms. They'll buy Spotify's site & its new player toy. But not musicians who make what they listen to.

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At what point does the small-but-perceptible movement back to vinyl grow into a new generation's revolt against the previous one's attitudes and decide to return to quality over convenience? 

We know that all things are cyclical, so how long will it be until the fad swings towards function & worth & value over form & ease & cheap?

What we do know is if we do not return to buying our music directly & outright from artists we enjoy soon, the financial incentive to make music disappears; soon after that, the music streaming sites crater without new content and its founders walk away, counting their piles of cash. Music fans are left with nothing. No site telling them what to listen to & no musicians making music for them. A barren Mad Max landscape -- with no soundtrack.

Support those artists you enjoy. Attend their live performances, and buy their recorded work. There is astounding talent surrounding us all, wherever we are.

It's up to all of us to decide to support musicians… or to support corporate web site entrepreneurs/suits.

Which can we groove to more?

Your thoughts? Leave a comment...

 

 

 

 

Making the Sausage...

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I'm always a sucker for Behind-The-Scenes materials, whether about a political campaign, a classic film or TV show or radio program or, certainly, for "how they got that sound" stories about classic record tracks.

Hal Leonard prints all manner of books for making music, but I'm glad to see them publish books on How Music Was Made.

I'm looking forward to reading this one. Always looking for production ideas to use in other contexts...

America's Bieber Period...

What's left of the U.S. Arts program...

What's left of the U.S. Arts program...

In Arts Funding, it seems we've fallen behind the guy in Uzbekistan who boils folks in oil.

In fact, despite their ongoing obsessions with ethnic cleansing each other, even the Balkan countries as a group award greater financial and official support to the arts than does the U.S. Furthermore, we've slid off  the "civilized country" list of arts supporters altogether, outpaced by genociders & oil boilers alike... and European allies whom we taunt as being inferior to us.

By now, we've all seen the harrowing charts & figures that show how badly wealth has shifted in our country—the gut-wrenching facts that the richest 1% now own fully 40% of the nation's wealth, the the certainly-well-off-next-19% have grabbed the next 53% of wealth and that the bottom 80% of us are left to fight over that final, whopping 7% of the nation's assets.

And that's where arts funding comes in. Laying aside the battle of overall Income Inequality for a moment, it's critical to focus on just how the 100% decides to divvy up that last 7% for the 80%—with full understanding that the 20% (i.e., the .001% & their aspirational cronies) have the self-interest, power and means to dictate exactly how that 7% is apportioned.

And, as usual, the first victim of what the powerful need is art.

If, indeed, "research shows that art studies close the gap between high- and low-income students and not only improve numerical skills but promote creativity and social development," well, the rich simply can't allow that. It's no great leap that art itself poses a severe threat to those who wish a pliant citizenry; one that will accede to the beneficence of their betters.

It's difficult to assert that you know what's best for someone if he or she is out-thinking and out-conceptualizing you at every turn. This is exactly what art and art education offers the population—the ability to think and conceptualize for ourselves; weighing facts and concepts, coming to our own conclusions. Worse for the powerful, art allows us to process the statements of others who hold varying perspectives on what we've all seen and heard, and perhaps not fully understood. In short, art is the loose canon that simply cannot be allowed in a hierarchical state.

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Hence, Leave It To Bieber. Once the rich through their corporations control the means of communication, their ideas of art become accepted dogma. Justin Bieber, Dancing With The Stars, video games, pop novels, year-round summer movie blockbusters and the AOL-anization of Internet content become culture. The Art of Distraction becomes paramount as consumption replaces consideration. Reducing access to art becomes the prime directive. Non-pliant voices are to be crowded out, choked, with no resources feeding them.

Thus, when those unfortunate charts about silly things like Haves and Have Nots bounce around the Internet, few will see them; and those who do won't understand what they're seeing or have any idea about how to change things. And the pliant will be depended upon to disparage the few who do see, and harass them into the shadows.

This way, opposition is boiled in oil; financial cleansing is fully achieved. With no art to rear its ugly head.

As this is the ultimate local issue, the school district—and the local, county and state legislative body—is where this battle will be waged. It's up to those who need and believe in arts programs and arts education in their schools and towns to stand and embrace the battle to restore these precious programs, as the first important step in helping build the national groundswell for the battle to replenish a proper federal investment in the arts.

Perhaps, then, we can leapfrog the oil boilers and the ethnic cleansers...

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

The Musical Working Poor...

Should musicians just hang it up?

Should musicians just hang it up?

Much has been written on the joys & heartbreak of Internet Streaming Players. But this post just caught my eye:

Cracker's "Low" was played over a million times on Pandora, and the band was only paid $42.25.

Actually, that was this successful band's cash take on Pandora, Spotify & YouTube, combined.

Combined.

$42. And 25¢.

Even thousands of spins generated artist checks of under a dollar.

Internet streaming sites are today's version of the 1950s/1960s free Green Stamps, which, if you're old enough, you'll remember were the great customer come-ons used by scores of supermarkets. You collected enough stamps when buying groceries & you could claim wonderful prizes. They didn't tell you that each book took hundreds of stamps and it took scores of books to redeem for anything of real value. The betrayal lay in finding that even the cheapest, non-worthwhile item took dozens of books to get. That's much like Pandora et al. today. You give them the use of thousands and millions of spins of your record, and they give you... nothing. Or nearly so.

Someone asked me why I hadn't placed A Job of Work (Tales of the Great Recession) on any streaming sites. There's your answer. It doesn't pay. If there were accurate, verifiable data linking stream spins with increased income from an enlarged fan base, it certainly would be worthwhile & I'd be right on it. But no one has that data. Because there is no link.

Of course, Pandora's venture capitalist is getting paid. Handsomely. As are all the site's attorneys. And the recent college grad with the original algorithm for the song player is certainly getting paid, and is looking for millions when it's time to sell it off & walk away. Musicians, however, are left yearning for that elusive $100 bill.

Years ago, record labels died when suits took over. Their greed eventually created the customer backlash that crippled the industry and sent it spinning into irrelevance.

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DIY music making emerged, and around these music makers there grew independent crafts people who performed the various recording / technical / marketing / manufacturing / promotions functions that record label staff formerly provided. These are talented, committed, hard-working people who charge fees for providing an array of needed services to the independent artist. Today, these fees reflect the bulk of the cost of making any album.

Still, these sometimes hefty fees offer real value returned through the excellent work of these artisans. You have a tangible hard copy CD in your hand; you see the fair & competent handling of your sales by fulfillment firms; you see the number of radio station plays the album gets; you see the reviews you've garnered & the interviews arranged. The value received from these efforts on the artist's behalf is clear for all to see.

Are living rooms our only hope?

This new streaming model uses a different approach to music in order to succeed. They flip the process upside down, and service the consumer, rather than the artist, offering consumers unlimited access to music for that subscription fee. To supply this beast, they draw upon the efforts of thousands of hungry musicians. They promise artists a huge new fan pool, and yes—those 1,000,000 listens Cracker received for their tune, "Low," is not shabby.

However, while Pandora and Spotify happily and willingly pay full fare to their programmers & designers; to H-P for their desktops & servers; the web hosts for access to the Web; their promotions people for the never-ending ads & publicity campaigns; and their cadre of attorneys for writing up air-tight Terms of Service and Privacy Policy documents, they explain away their paltry payments to artists with the "exposure" argument. Musicians provide a service to these Streamers, as much as H-P or the attorneys; they supply the Streamer's raw materials. There is no stream and no stream player without the artists. They should be paid accordingly. We safely assume tomatoes occupy a rather large portion of the expenditures in Prego's or Ragu's bookkeeping.

But Spotify and the rest have yet to show how those millions of plays have ever translated into the promised additional income from increased bookings, CD sales, live show attendance or merchandise sales that would offset their paltry music outlay. That's because that data simply does not exist in any meaningful form.

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This is merely pure-profit unpaid Internet radio. It's not free to the consumer who continues to pay a healthy fee for what they could get for free elsewhere on traditional radio. Plus, the consumer / fan is robbed of any future music from their new favorite musicians as these artists went broke on Pandora & Spotify and no longer make music.

Musicians and all artists must be valued.

To that end, I would sincerely hope you enjoy the clips from A Job of Work or While the City Sleeps... provided on their respective Music pages here; enough so that you might like to actually own a CD of either album, or a download of these albums or one of more of their tracks.

We, all of us who play music, need your backing because, frankly, fan support of recorded music and live shows is the only way music will exist today and into tomorrow.

Have thoughts on Internet streams and their payments? Leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

Can We Even Afford Jazz?

In her blog post "Is Jazz Only for the Financially Elite?" singer/pianist Champian Fulton asks a very important & needed question: Do you think the current cost of attending a Jazz performance is driving away future Jazz fans? Limiting our audience?

Of course, the quick answer is Yes. But the Why and the What Now may prove harder for us to grasp.

In the Facebook comments to her piece, many folks took a simple "well, lower the prices" or a surface try this or try that approach, along with dismaying combinations of stories of steep cover prices, high-ticket food & continued low pay for musicians despite the soaring costs of attending a club or a restaurant with music today.

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I feel it's a bit more complex than that. There are a number of realities we must admit & address before we can begin to change them.

There are many difficult factors at play here. The solution to all of them requires cooperation & organizing—arrows not usually found in abundance in the jazz quiver.

1) Space. Commercial rents in NYC & elsewhere are now inflated to near bursting levels. So the club (and every retail space) is under immense pressure just to make its nut each month. This is the #1 reason for ex-clubs & ex-everything else. Musicians—and artists of all types, really—need to organize and begin building coalitions w/ non-artist types in their towns & cities to install or tighten retail rent controls. Non-bank, non-fast food joint & non-national chain businesses need to know they can survive, so they can plan their business' strategy for the next couple of years. As NYC and many cities are now structured, that will take a concerted, pitched effort from new coalitions of small business groups, the local artistic community and the general citizenry which wants and needs what individual entrepreneurs and artists provide. This will most often require law & zoning changes, and face strong, well-financed opposition from various real estate & corporate factions who are perfectly happy at the moment and see no need for change.

2) Covers. In the 1990s, NYC had few cover charge joints—mostly owners paid artists (poorly) & made it back from sales, which made it easy for customers to drop in, with no pressure, to enjoy the music & to order from the menu in a relaxed way, which built repeat trade. Plus, remember folks had money money then. Prices for menu items were lower, as well, as commercial rents were lower (see #1 above). Cover gigs were the "better joints" to play in and meant a career step up for newer artists, meaning you could now draw well enough to chance playing a gig on spec—gambling that your crowd would follow you, since the door was your pay.

Then, somewhere over the years, greedy or rent-panicked owners saw they didn't need to pay artists directly anymore & most started charging covers. Eventually some saw the cover as a revenue stream for themselves, as so many artists were banging them for gigs—et voila! A % of a now often hefty cover charge went to the house, along with not paying the band upfront, on top of charging higher prices for their food/beverage offerings. Add in charging separate cover charges per set, and it's a perfect storm keeping average customers away.

Solution: Artists need to take more control of the scenario; they need to band together and contemplate new ways to demand fair compensation for their efforts—including considering denying their services, if necessary, to create a fairer wage for the music—and a more tolerable price for the consumer.

But, as we all know of course, this is next to impossible to pull off. Which is ironic, as many places that musicians complain about the most for treating musicians so poorly would scarcely be able to survive w/o the music. They know exactly why & how they stay in business, and are not about to change unless they are directly forced to do so. Again, the core principle holds in music retail as it does in every industry that if a business cannot sustain itself w/o abusing its employees or contractors, pure economics say the business should go under. Also, if profits in any concern are being made by a collaboration of effort, the profit needs to be shared much closer to evenly.

3) The economy. Folks simply don't have money today. Polite avoidance is the standard citizen response to today's prices—where the once $12 entree now bounces off of $22, and the $6 glass of wine now runs $11. One trip out to impress the date, with no return, becomes the norm. No business can survive that way. Catering to those precious few who do have the funds and/or folks who are on that one-time binge meal is a fool's errand. We're in an era that needs an easier on-ramp, not a harder one.

A visionary needs to find a successful vehicle where passion and emotional satisfaction replace mere profit numbers and overwhelm the fear of the one-time event customer. That visionary will set the model which others in this copycat world can emulate, feeling safer as someone else has already succeeded—so why not them?

Another comment suggested correctly the need to shift the audience's view from the staid & expensive major venues to the exciting goings on at the smaller, more far-flung places around town—where these types of visionaries tend to emerge—which tend to be much less expensive, but almost totally unknown. That, of course, creates the need for a How. The fan needs to know somehow that a further trek on their part will, in fact, result in a more satisfying experience. But how to get the word out far and wide enough to be effective?l

That again brings up the "getting organized" model in order to survive. We constantly need to remember the general spot on the economic cycle society is in—not quite solid bottom, but too damned close to it—which confronts us with square, unfortunate realities. Many of us individually may be adventurous, but the average civilian fan which this music dearly needs may not be in a position to gamble his/her focus, time & money, hence the default trip to the overpriced jazz palaces once or twice a year. That's it.

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I'm struck by the similarities with the late '70s/early '80s. One near casualty then, Off-Off Broadway, was dying & almost extinct. I remember seeing one performance piece in a Lower East Side arts space back then, with the sound of gun shots reverberating outside. Much of the city arts scene felt like standing on the set of Platoon. Eventually, the scene's denizens had had enough, pooled their collective traits and created the Off-Off Broadway Alliance (OOBA), which combined all of the creativity & mktg muscle from all the OOB theaters & their individual artisans into one eventually hugely successful effort. That's how the far W. 42nd St. & the East Village areas were transformed from unconnected glops of struggling artists with cheap, scuzzy, dangerous performing spaces to cleaned up, comfortable strips of Exciting Theater You Couldn't Get Anywhere Else. Those scary forays into dubious parts of town for god-only-knows-WHAT-kind of artistic experience were parlayed into Must-See, Stable, Challenging Venues of Excitement, which then became Fan Destination points & mktg. successes. 

The cash-strapped fan slowly took their one, safe then-$50 Bdwy tkt & spent it instead on 5 $10 shows, where they knew they'd be challenged in the way they hungered for. The audience suddenly had options; and performances had audiences. It didn't happen overnight, and there were failures, but their successes strike me as having much to teach us today.

OK, so we know that no one has money now; we pull teeth to get a few folks out to attend; talented artists can't get gigs, while desperate/paranoid space bookers view anyone with scores of reliable aunts/uncles/cousins in tow as a great artist worthy of multiple bookings; and college programs keep pumping out increasing numbers of chops-heavy, soul-weak players & singers like a torn artery. But, the only way things move forward, the only way change brings jazz-starved audiences back into the arena IMHO is—à la OOBA—by pooling practical thought & effort to create a new marketing paradigm. Entice the anxious civilian out of his/her lair and into the emotionally satisfying & challenging womb of live art.

As George Carlin once said, on another topic, "Ya gotta WANNNNA!" It's up to us to make them "wanna" come hear us again. There's a lot of great music being made. This is beyond simple tweaks to what is or wishing that "someone" would do "something" soon. We need to figure out the attraction marketing we need, and how best to address making jazz venues musician- AND audience-friendly again. And figuring that one out, I sense, will most likely take all hands on deck.