Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Midterm Elections Are Important For Jazz.

While there would not seem to be an interface between politics and jazz, rest assured there is one.
This is strictly a political post; if you are already galvanized to one extreme or another, this post will not make a difference to you. But to me, this election is too important to ignore.
There is an interface to the point of keeping people away from nightlife in general, and live jazz in particular because of "the economy". There is an interface to the point of most jazz musicians who do not have other jobs not having health insurance.
There is an interface because of the inability of the Arts in general, and jazz in particular, to receive funding.

There is so much misinformation being spread by nefarious interests, who essentially want to get paid at the expense of the middle class and poor.
The average CEO makes a record 262 times the salary of the average worker at the same company:

Yet, there is an emphasis on demonizing any assistance for the middle class.
"The unions are at fault". "The unemployed are lazy". Comments from various Republican and teaparty candidates.
What this has resulted in since the Election of Reagan is greatest shift of wealth from the middle class and poor to the rich ever.
You don't have to wonder what this means; the middle class has shrunk to the smallest size in history.
Why is this important? Who buys the autos, the refrigerators, the houses in suburbia, who goes to concerts, etc? The middle class. If the middle class has no disposable income, less products are purchased, and companies fail. It is no surprise that the big three auto makers almost went out of business because of lack of customers.

This country has a lot of problems; to address these problems cannot be done in a "soundbite", or off of news channels that are nothing more than propaganda outlets.
The question is what to do about the current mess we are in. You will hear about various so-called issues such as deficits, high taxes, health care, Ground Zero Mosque, and other means to generally scare the population about the current direction of the country.
I will attempt to address the misinformation that I see in the public discourse, with the hope of spurring you on to take the time to learn about the issues and VOTE.

This blog was spurred on by a yard sign I saw in my Congressional District:
Chabot for Congress, underlined by "jobs, jobs, jobs". What is disingenuous about that yard sign was that Steve Chabot was the Congressmen in my district during the George Bush Years, from 2500-2008. During that time the country LOST 8 MILLION JOBS!!
The 8 years before, during the Clinton administration, the country GAINED 22 MILLION JOBS!!! There was a record surplus when Clinton left office; there was a record deficit when Bush left. Now Chabot wants to be elected. No way.

To the issues; these are the issues confronting us now:

1) The Economy
2) Unemployment
3) Bush Tax Cuts
4) Health Care
5) The Stimulus
6) Budget Deficit

1) The Economy.
In order to fix the economy, there needs to be a fundamental understanding on how we got into this mess. The absolute worst thing to happen to the country was Ronald Reagan's "Trickle down" Economics. The theory being that if you give the wealthy enormous tax cuts, the "savings" that these wealthy individuals realized would subsequently trickle down to the middle class in the form of jobs, through investments. In other words, the rich were supposed to benevolently invest in businesses that would produce jobs here in America.
Well the wealthy did invest. In companies that outsourced jobs overseas; and companies that received tax breaks and incentives to shut American factories down.
It turns out that tax cuts for the wealthy has actually CAUSED the current unemployment rate:
The last paragraph of the article:

"Overall, data from the past 50 years strongly refutes any arguments that cutting taxes for the richest Americans will improve the economic standing of the lower and middle classes or the nation as a whole. To be sure, the economic indicators examined in this report are dependent on a variety of factors, not just tax policy. However, what this study does show is that any attempt to stimulate economic growth by cutting taxes for the rich will do nothing -- it hasn't worked over the past 50 years, so why would it work in the future? To put it simply and bluntly, Bush's top-bracket tax cut is an ineffective attempt at stimulus that will not cause any growth -- unless, of course, if you're talking about the size of the deficit."

This is why the Bush tax cuts, along with unfunded war spending, and Medicare giveaways, is the primary reason for the unemployment rate. The Republicans and tea party advocates, including Chabot and Rob Portman (George Bush's Budget Director running for Senate in Ohio) would like to return to this mode of economics.
That is the fundamental difference; and a difference that should spur you to vote in November 2010.
Trickle down has never worked. In fact, deregulation of the banks and oil companies have contributed to this demise as well. Wall Street Banks must be strongly regulated, and oil company subsidies must end. Alternative energy sources must be actively supported; we must end our dependence on petroleum products.
BP oil spills will be the tip of the iceberg if the republicans are elected.
Senator David Vitter wants to cap BP's liability for the Gulf oil spill:
If Republicans are in control, Vitter will be chairman of the Senate Energy Committee. Unregulated big oil.

So if you don't think this election is important enough to vote, stay home and lose your job and your house.

2) Unemployment- the unemployment rate is 9.6%; without the stimulus the employment rate would be over 15%. The policies of Bush are responsible for the high unemployment rate; the policies of President Obama are finally turning the economy around.

3) Bush Tax cuts. What are they? Some background:
In 2001, Bush and his Budget director Rob Portman, along with the Republican Congress, noticed that there was a budget surplus. Bush wanted to give a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. However according to Congressional rules, no tax cuts can be established as permanent if there was no demonstrable way to pay for them. In order to circumvent this rule, the tax cuts had to have a "sunset provision", an expiration date of no longer than 10 years. The tax cuts are set to expire in January 2011.
The Republicans want to permanently extend the tax cuts for the wealthy, adding 4 TRILLION dollars to the deficit over 30 years. How do they pay for it? They say they can make discretionary cuts in the budget of 20 Billion over the same period. They even use the smokescreen of "repealing healthcare" and "rolling back the stimulus".
The fact is that even if ALL government spending were ended, this would NOT pay for these tax cuts.
Improving the economy will allow more for discretionary spending. This will help the entertainment industry, and live music in particular, by providing an audience. Tax cuts won't do it; they will actually hurt the economy.

4) Health Care. Health Care Reform was passed this year, with a huge amount of bluster from the right wing. There was also a fair amount of disappointment from the left.
The right wing objects to having everybody covered for health care. They wrongly believe health care costs will escalate. The fact is, prior to this health care bill we did have universal health care in this country. It was called the Emergency Room. And we were ALL paying for this care through taxes, and increased insurance premiums.
The problem with this approach is that the Emergency Room is by far the most expensive way to deliver care; if everyone was covered, health care costs would drop. Preventative care, and proper care would decrease the health care dollars spent.
As it stands now, with the new health care bill, there are no pre-existing conditions, children must be covered, all citizens must be covered, and the insurance companies MUST spend 85% of premiums on health care. A good start. All of these programs will help the jazz musician, who does not have health insurance.
Progressive disappointment with this bill includes the absence of a public option, or government competition with the insurance companies. This will come over the next few years.
This bill should be celebrated, not vilified.

5) The Stimulus -The stimulus is a HUGE success. Don't believe the Republican hype:,8599,2013683,00.html
There was so much misinformation about the stimulus, this article documents the success of it.
There is a Republican car dealer, Scott Rigell, running for Congress in Virginia Beach, who says the stimulus is a massive failure. The problem is, that under the "Cash for Clunkers" program, a stimulus project, his car company received $500,000 THROUGH THE PROGRAM!!! The biggest hypocrite going.

6) Budget Deficit- The deficit was caused by the Republicans, including Bush, Reagan, and the Republican congress. They want to continue to employ deficit spending, through tax cuts for the wealthy.
Continuing the Bush/Portman/Republican economic policies will cause a reversal of the economic improvements currently happening. If the Republicans are allowed to retake congress, their policies will bankrupt our country.
A side effect of the Republicans taking congress is the fact that they have vowed to use their subpoena power to derail the administration. This is a needless sideshow that will not allow our country to, move forward.

Bottom line is this: This election is MORE important than 2008. If Chabot, Portman, Kasich and Rigell win, there is a chance that we could proceed into a true depression.
For Ohio in my district, it is imperative that Steve Driehaus win re-election; Lee Fisher must win the Senate seat, and Ted Strickland must be returned to the Governor's house. Why?
A simple answer can be found in the Republican John Boehner's (R,OH) "Pledge To America", a 46 page treatise not worth the paper it is written on. The Republicans are dependent on the idea that they control the National narrative through their media outlet. Consequently they do not feel compelled to offer any real solutions.
Even on Fox Network, Boehner cannot offer any real solutions:
So the republicans want you to vote for them, yet they offer nothing in terms of answers or solutions.
The next time you see a Republican, teaparty advocate, or conservative, ask them about solutions to the nation's problems. Guarantee there will be none.

If you agree with this blog, pass it to your friends. Let's get the vote out. If you don't agree, leave a comment, and let's get to some answers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is Jazz Relevant?

Is jazz relevant in 2010? Absurd question, or fair one? How does one define relevance? Is it recognition by the majority of the public, or only to the true fans and musicians?
Certainly, to folks like Melvin Grier, Greg Turner, Ron Gable, Bob and Nancy Conner, Keith and Daryl Melvin, and others who are true fans and supporters, the answer is obvious. Similarly, to musicians like Mike Wade, Jeremy Pelt, Randy Villars, Wade Baker, King Reeves, Jae Sinnett, Phil DeGreg, and a host of others, this is indeed a question with an obvious answer.
And yet...every day there is evidence that jazz has lost its relevance in the general population.
One only needs to pick up a newspaper and see how many feature articles, if any, are written about jazz music and musicians.
To wit: Dateline June 6, 2010 Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer Arts and Entertainment Section.
The articles about music were as follows:

1) Bootsy Collins Funk University;
2) Classical music article about a violin player.
3) Door County Music Festival

In the "Next 7 Days" highlighted section, the music listings were as follows:

Sunday: Brad Paisley, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra
Tuesday: LPK Acoustic Lunch Series; PNC Southern Sounds with Stagger Lee
Wednesday: Corey Smith at Bogarts; PNC Reggae Wednesday, The Ohms; Wednesdays on The
Green Clifton Cultural Arts Center SoCalyptics Steel Drum Band
Thursday: After Hours on The Square, Union Township: Naked Karate Girls; Madison Theater, Les Claypool
Friday: "Ellery", Carnagie Visual Arts Center; PNC MidPoint Indie Summer, Neon Indian, Wild Nothing, Minor Leagues, and For Algernon
Saturday: Harry Connick Jr, Riverbend; Landon Pigg, Southgate House.

This is fairly typical of the Enquirer. The vast majority of non-jazz acts are just local musicians; and yet these events are highlighted. It is very similar with the two weekly's, CityBeat and Metromix. CityBeat will occasionally highlight jazz artists at The Blue Wisp, however Metromix to my knowledge has never highlighted a jazz musician, local or national.

Why is that? Well, several factors. It goes back to perceived relevance.
I have always said, (and I believe this is a general consensus), that the only difference between the jazz musicians in Cincinnati and those in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles is the zip code. The musicians here are among the most talented in the world. Save for the classical music group here, the same cannot be said for other genres of music in Cincinnati.
The talent of the musicians certainly makes this music relevant.
The typical jazz musician in this town have finished a music school or college, (CCM, NKU or others), or have toured and played with the best musicians for years. The same cannot be said for the typical musician in this city from other genres. And yet, the other genres are routinely recognized; not jazz.
So, if its not a talent disparity, then what is the reason why jazz music in general and the local jazz musicians do not get the notoriety by the local press? Press releases and other notifications often are met with a general indifference.
(I suspect that if one of our local jazz musicians robbed a bank, then they would receive a huge amount of press, complete with the acknowledgment of the jazz musician's occupation!)

In fairness, I can't just single out Cincinnati. In Norfolk Virginia, there is no jazz to speak of on a continual basis, either live or in the press. This weekend, the Hampton "Jazz" Festival is occurring. The artists? Gladys Knight, Teena Marie, Maze, Dave Koz, Charlie Wilson (the singer), etc. etc. So there's no jazz in Virginia either.

So...what is the reason?
The press operates on the principle of perceived popularity. If the music group or venue is perceived to be popular, then that is the group or venue that will receive the notice. Conversely, if the press has the preconceived notion that the music venue or group is not popular, chances are there won't be a feature article about it.
The press cannot be faulted for this; it is their job to sell papers. You sell more papers featuring things that are perceived to be popular; or to peak interest. It doesn't matter if the John Coltrane Quartet were featured live at The Redmoor; if the perception is that there is not enough interest, or the concert is not RELEVANT, then chances are that the concert will receive no press.
On the other hand, Jimmy Buffett comes here every year; he's been doing the same show for years. Essentially redundant, old music. He routinely receives TV and newsprint coverage in abundance.

RELEVANCE. What makes jazz relevant? Well, it is America's only original art form,
originating in the African American community. While important, does this fact alone make it relevant for 2010?
Does a large audience make it relevant? Well, it's no secret that jazz in this city could be better supported; ironically I am constantly barraged with the common refrain: "you got to get the word out!" Perhaps; but part of getting the word out is having the people who attend telling other people about the music events. It would be great if I could notify all 3.5 million people in Hamilton County every week about the world class jazz we have in this town; perhaps soon it will be possible. Until then, however, the relevance of jazz begins and ends with each one of us.

Does jazz have a chance for a larger audience, and thus be "relevant" to the local community? Of course. It is a daunting task, but we have to prove relevance ourselves. We cannot depend on the local press to "get it". I will continue to send press releases/announcements, even if they are ignored. As a promoter, I must exhaust all avenues, even if those avenues are routinely met with no interest. But we all must play a part in making jazz relevant.

I firmly believe jazz is relevant today, in 2010. If you have taken the time to listen to what passes for music these days, you'll easily find that today's true jazz is one of the few genres that is actually real legitimate music. (Ironically, some of the older rock groups in interviews have bemoaned today's rock musicians as being devoid of talent. MTV creations versus real musicians so to speak.)

True jazz, not the "smooth" variety, is a vibrant living music; constantly changing and evolving. It can and will "regain" its "relevance" to the general population with exposure. So if you love this music, take the time to tell one person a week about it; encourage your friends to see live music again.
Ultimately, the fate of jazz, and it's relevance, will be determined by those of us who care.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Response To: Can Jazz Be Saved?

There have been many opinions over the past several months and years regarding the viability of today's Jazz. Just recently, in the Wall Street Journal (August 8, 2009 edition) the Journal's drama critic, Terry Teachout, asked that same question:
His conclusions were predictable; jazz needs to reach out to the youth, and it needs to be more accessible to the average listener.
All reasonable, but the $64,000 question is: How? Is it enough to have educational programs in schools, or making it more "palatable" to the general population by somehow "smoothing" it out, or making it more contemporary via rock or r&b beats?

The author makes a good point; in the days of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and even the hard bop era, there was more "feeling" the music rather "understanding" the music. Whether the audience understood the complexities of the music or not, they enjoyed the music because they "felt" it.

Case in point: This video clip is a cameo appearance of Duke Ellington in Jimmy Stewart's movie "Anatomy of a Murder:

OK, I know this is a movie. But the point is that in that era, there was a certain feeling that the music inspired. Fun.
I submit there is essentially no difference between the audiences of that era and now. The difference is in how the music is being marketed, and being performed.
There is a certain authenticity and feel to the music that the majority of today's artists, both straight ahead and contemporary, have lost. And even if the audience doesn't understand the complexities of the music, they respond to the difference.

How did today's music lose its relevance and "fun"? As I have stated in my previous blogs, there was a time-honored tradition of passing the music down from music generation to music generation, via the informal apprenticeship called the bandstand or stage. The musicians "learned" how to feel the music, not just play the music. There are literally hundreds of Jazz musicians who can play the notes, but don't feel the music; and thus have no individuality or originality. Audiences respond to that simple concept.
When the music lost the feeling, the music lost its audience.
To try to intellectualize Jazz is a noble and laudable concept; in the perceived world of "respect", the logical comparison was Classical music. In a sense, modern Classical music comparisons with Jazz makes political, and intellectual sense, but does not address the raison d'etre for the music from a historic standpoint: feeling.

In the 60's and 70's, in a certain sense, in response to the changing political and societal viewpoints of race relations in this country, respect was justifiably demanded and received for Jazz in this country. This respect was manifested by the positive comparisons with European-based elite music, Classical music. Jazz was subsequently taught in the major music schools in this country. Even today, it is a perceived badge of honor to graduate from Julliard, Berklee, or any number of institutions. The problem was and is to a certain extent, the respect for the older musicians who did not come out of the music schools was lacking by the younger established jazz musicians and public. Thus, the essential element of "feeling the music" has been lost on a whole generation of musicians. The audience has responded with their indifference.

Compounding the problem of the music's popularity, the current way of marketing the music is flawed. There was a time when the musicians would routinely tour the smaller towns and cities on a continual basis. The "Festival Concept", sponsorships, and free (no cover charge) jazz changed the dynamic for the music. The musicians routinely play in New York, Chicago, and in festivals, but rarely come to smaller venues. The economic realities are such that, buoyed by sponsorship dollars, the fees paid to artists do not accurately reflect the drawing power. Why? Well if the musicians were touring more for less money, there would be an opportunity to build an audience that would support local jazz stations. In turn, the local jazz stations would be able to play the music of these artists, so that the next time the artist tours, the demand, and therefore compensation would be better. This cannot happen in the current New York/Chicago/Europe/festival sponsorship cycle.

As a promoter, it is an extremely tough sell to convince an artist to play for less money in order for the system to work on a local level in smaller cities. Especially if there are festivals willing to pay higher fees not based on market forces, but sponsorship dollars. New York had a graphic example of this during the summer when the JVC Newport Jazz Festival was canceled. The audience by cover charges alone could not support the fees associated with the music.
It is clearly no accident that exasperated promoters of traditionally "Jazz" festivals have resorted to featuring Blues, Rock, Country, or any other musical genre other than Jazz. (Case in point, New Orleans Jazz and "Heritage" Festival).

OK, those are the problems as I see it. What are the solutions?
First of all, there has to be an acceptance that Jazz can be heard outside of a classroom. How do we do this? Those of us who love the music must take the time to expose everyone; kids and adults alike, to great Jazz music. Certainly not in an intellectually confrontational way (i.e school), but in a casual setting. There are many of today's Jazz fans who became fans by listening to their father's or mother's records that were playing in the house. No preaching about the intricacies or complexities of the music; just feeling the music. I always played Jazz in my car when my son was a passenger, (Lee Morgan, Miles, Trane) from early infancy. He is now a 15 year old Jazz fan.
When Jazz is played where people can hear it, there is a positive response. Invariably, when we have Jazz on the outdoor patio at The Cincinnati Grill, no matter who is playing, people who are walking by will invariably stop and listen. The variety of people stopping, if only for a moment, cuts across every age, and ethnic demographic. Surely the folks walking by are not all Jazz fans, but they respond to the music in their own way.
Secondly, the musicians themselves have to take an active role in preserving and nurturing the music. There has to be more to this than receiving the maximum sponsorship money per performance; in smaller cities the higher fees are not possible. The bottom line is that the musicians have to be more relevant than the latest CD. They have to appear live, at a price that is reasonable for all involved.
No one begrudges any musician for making as much as they can make, especially when compared with genres of lesser talented musicians making insane amounts of money. But there has to be a common ground; the music must be heard by a wider audience than it is now.
Third, the younger hot musicians from the established music schools need to take a page from the older musicians while they still can; they must be willing to learn how to "feel" the music, rather than just playing notes or reading charts. There must be a respect for the older musicians who have carried on the tradition outside of academia.

Bottom line: If Jazz is to continue to be a relevant musical form, it will take each one of us to make it so. Everyone, whether you are a musician or not, whether you are involved in the industry or not, can be an ambassador for the music. This will not be easy; but to chip away at the problem as outlined above will eventually lead to a solution, and new generations of Jazz fans.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Health Care Reform

I don't know if any of you are following the ongoing health care debate, but what is happening over the next several months has the potential to profoundly affect all of us for generations to come.
There is much debate as to what is the best approach to handle this country's health care crisis. There is a general consensus that what is going on now with private insurance has failed. But there is no clear consensus for a solution.
If you are generally healthy, you probably have no idea whether your insurance is good or not. If you have been unfortunate enough to use your health care insurance, you know down to the last dollar how good your coverage is.
In my opinion, the ONLY way to achieve true health care reform is to remove the for profit insurance companies from the picture permanently. The big insurance conglomerates and HMO's have done more to diminish the quality and availability of good health care than any single force. Just how did they do that? Quite simply by diverting insurance premiums to CEO salaries and stockholder profits.
This is a link to the 15 top health insurers profits and CEO salaries in 2007:
Payola for congressmen:

The simple fact is that as insurance premiums have risen three times wages, the reimbursement for providers, and hospitals have steadily declined. Furthermore the overall reimbursement for needed tests and health care approvals for patients have declined. I'm sure if you have dealt with health insurance recently, inevitably you have been denied a needed procedure, test or surgery. You may even have an unacceptably high deductible, rendering your insurance worthless.
Don't take my word for it. Here is former CIGNA insurance executive Wendell Potter's testimony before Congress about the shell games for-profit insurance companies are playing with your health care:

The current fear tactic being carried by opponents of true health care reform (Republicans, and Blue Dog Democrats) is that you will no longer have a choice in insurance; "Socialized Medicine"; you will lose your "great" coverage.
Now for facts:
1) There are over 45 million uninsured people in this country.
2) When the uninsured need health care, they usually wind up in the local emergency room; the cost of emergency care is fully three times standard care.
3) Your tax dollars already pay for those visits, believe it or not.
4) We have socialized medicine in this country already; it's called Medicare and it operates at 1/3 the cost of private insurance plans, despite having a decidedly unhealthier population.
This is due to low administrative costs.
5) There are many people in Congress who are profiting on keeping the system at status quo; in other words, they are getting paid to keep the for-profit insurance companies fat and happy.
6) Health care costs are the biggest reason for bankruptcy of families in this country.

The opponents of health care reform would have you believe that the US has the best health care in the world. But do we?
The truth is, while we have the most expensive health care system, we have far from the best system. In fact, among industrialized nations, we have the highest infant mortality rate, and the lowest ratings in terms of access, disease prevention, and equity. In other words, if you are wealthy, you can buy great health care. But if you make below $100,000 your health care is marginal at best:

So now what do we do about it?
The only true reform option is Universal Health Care. The For-profit insurance companies must be removed from health care. Health care needs to be provided for everyone.
Senator Bernie Sanders has an online petition for a Single payer (universal healthcare) option. If you truly care about your future healthcare (and life), you will support this petition:

Don't fall for the hype about a single payer option is costing too much. It costs too much not to have a single payer option. Write your Congressmen/Senators and the White House. We MUST have true health care reform. Anything less than a single payer program; taking the profit mongering insurance companies out of the mix is not reform.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The State of Jazz Today.

There has been a lot written about the health (or lack thereof) jazz in this country and around the world. This concern was heightened because of the news out of New York that The JVC New York Jazz Festival was canceled this year for the first time in 37 years. Coupled with the recent demise of the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE), the cause for concern among jazz fans was understandably heightened.

Yes, the health of jazz should be questioned. it really a bad thing that the major festival in New York was canceled?
It is clear the current approach for jazz marketing/ promotion has caused the demise of the music. Unfortunately artists, critics, and promoters became very comfortable with the state of affairs; they were very comfortable with the idea that the "big names" could go to one or two major festivals a year either here or in Europe and be paid handsomely. They no longer needed to take road trips through all the smaller cities here in this country. The problem is that once the musicians stopped visiting all the smaller towns, interest overall in the music waned.

Radio stations started to change with the lack of exposure to live jazz locally; and there was no inherent fan base to protest. The festivals had become the major way for the "name" artists to disseminate their music. The problem with all festivals (and as was stated previously), is that it gave the artists and audience a false sense of security. The artists were paid exorbitant fees, and the fans saw the artists at reduced prices or free because of sponsorships. Well lo and behold, the sponsors controlled the music.
NYC just found out about that when the major sponsors pulled out of the JVC festival in NY; the first time NY will be without a major festival in 37 years. The fans will not pay the actual ticket price needed to pay the artist's fees. So the music cannot be supported in its current form and structure. The ticket fees paid must be able to support the artist. If 200 people are willing to pay $50 per ticket for a certain artist, then a $10,000 fee is justified. Unfortunately, with the lack of radio airplay, and lack of local media interest (for example, the Los Angeles Times recently dropped any coverage of jazz music or jazz musicians), there is a huge educational curve for the public in regards to the jazz artists that marketing techniques cannot overcome. Finding 200 people in a small market to pay $50 for an artist, no matter how heralded, is not feasible with the current state of the music.

The jazz musicians will state that the market in Europe is strong, and indeed there appears to be larger groups of fans in Europe. But let's examine the reason for this. It is clear that the arts in general and jazz in particular benefit from governmental subsidies; much more so than can be depended on in the US. If there were no subsidies, then the opportunities found in Europe would be much less. Concurrently, the opportunities to hear the music would be less, and the music there would be in the same shape as here. The same economic factors playing out here in this country are operating all over Europe and the world.

I submit there are still great numbers of jazz fans, only an increasingly smaller number willing to pay for the privilege to listen. What is the solution? Exposure. If this music is exposed to the young people, they will listen and appreciate it. It is a misnomer to think that the music is too complicated for the young people to understand; there is essentially no difference between the youth of the early 30's and today. (or of the 50's for that matter). Kids will listen if they are exposed to it. Bottom line, we have to develop a new market for the music.

Kids that most of America wrote off in this last election cycle propelled Obama to victory. The same thing can and must happen in jazz. Now before you consider me naive and out of touch with "the real jazz world", it is quite clear the current approach is not working. No one is too big to fail; not General Motors, Chrysler, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, David Sanborn on anyone else. There must be a fundamental restructuring of how jazz is funded; the days of $40,000 artists and festival money is over. The artists might still be able to command those fees individually, but if they are really about the music surviving, they would realize how important it is to perform in smaller venues for lesser fees. This will insure the music begins to become popular again. There is no overnight fix for this. But unless we continue to reach out to the youth, and show them that this music is vibrant, not ancient, we will lose this battle for good. Then you will have the proverbial "greatest solo never heard".

There is also a movement among some to provide alternative forms of Jazz in order to boost the popularity. There is inherently nothing wrong with that approach, as long as the music maintains the essential elements of jazz. Improvisation is a must, and the energy levels and "soul" must be preserved. The contemporary efforts of artists such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Kirk Whalum, Gerald Albright, and others have maintained the essential elements of jazz. Unfortunately so-called "Smooth Jazz", depending on the artist, fails in this fundamental test of the music.
In my opinion, jazz music in all of its valid forms can and will be embraced by new fans around the world.

Bottom line: the "stars" and other representatives of the music must make their music more accessible to fans around the country. Yes, this will result in smaller performance fees initially, but as the audiences rebuild for jazz in general, all of jazz will benefit from the increasing exposure and popularity.
The $40,000 question is:
Will the current "stars" of the music be willing to contribute to the overall health of the music by touring in venues that fans can afford?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rush Limbaugh and Jazz?

Ordinarily, there could be no obvious connection between the Rush Limbaugh, and jazz, specifically in America. But there is. And it's not good.

First, some background. Prior to 1996, the radio airwaves were tightly controlled by the FCC. There were provisions that prevented monopolies from forming; to insure diversity on the airwaves.
All of this changed in 1996. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act was signed into law. This law deregulated the industry; specifically it removed the statutes that prohibited one company from owning more than 3 radio/tv stations in any market. The original intent of the law was supposedly to spur competition and provide more diversity. In reality, the opposite occurred.
The old regulations allowed for smaller (niche) radio operators to be in the marketplace. The new rules allowed broadcasting behemoths like Clear Channel, Viacom, Salem Communications, Radio One, and other large operators to dominate a market. Instead of spurring competition, the large companies consolidated their positions, becoming bigger and bigger. bottom line is that deregulation has caused the lack of diversity on the radio waves:
(Cut, copy and paste links)

So what does have to do with jazz? Have you listened to your local radio choices lately? There is much more syndicated programming; the Dayton Jazz station just changed formats. That means there are NO jazz stations anywhere in the Cincinnati/Tri-state. (No, the "Smooth music station at 1480am Cincinnati doesn't count). The reason there is a lack of diversity is because three or four conglomerates dominate every market. So there is no chance for jazz stations to survive, even if there were listener and advertiser support.

One of the behemoths is Clear Channel. Clear Channel is going through profound financial difficulties; the local sports talk radio station (1530 Homer)fired all but one of their on air personalities. Radio One went through a similar consolidation with their talk radio; now programming more syndicated shows at the expense of the local on-air personalities.

Well, what does Rush Limbaugh have to do with it? At a time when Clear Channel is going through a profound financial crisis, causing more jazz programming to go off the air, they signed Rush Limbaugh to an exorbitant contract with a $100 MILLION Bonus!!!
(Cut, Copy and paste link)

So, while Clear Channel withers on the vine, canning local on-air personalities, and virtually eliminating jazz from the musical landscape, they are letting Limbaugh get fat (literally) off the resources of the company. That is deregulation in a nutshell; choking the diversity out of the musical landscape.
I suspect there is a certain amount of irony. Clear Channel has not only spawned Rush Limbaugh; they have spawned other "commentators" like Bill Cunningham in Cincinnati, and Michael Savage nationally. Now it seems that the king "commentator" of all, Limbaugh, may be directly contributing to the instability of the company.
Poetic justice.

What about the internet? Prior to 2006, there were a multitude of internet stations; allowing niche markets to expand exponentially. this all changed in 2006 with the institution of increased royalty fees; spurred on by the big Radio Companies. This essentially shut down most of the smaller internet radio operators; decreasing the diversity of music.

In some markets, NPR, (public radio) is an option. Not in this market, save for WGUC digital channel 2.

What is the solution? It is imperative that we as musicians, promoters, and fans reach the next generation; to introduce and encourage jazz music among our young people! Take the time to introduce as many young people to jazz as possible. Use iPods, other mp3 players, and other novel ways of distributing the music. But make sure the kids get the music.
During the recent Presidential campaign, President Obama reached out to the youth through the internet. Now it is documented that only 27% of the country call themselves Republicans. Younger people have decided to follow the Democratic party in droves; this portends to change the electoral landscape for years to come.
We can do the same thing in jazz. By getting the kids involved early, we can literally change the musical landscape; rendering Clear Channel irrelevant.

And, by the way, make Clear Channel, Salem, and others who are responsible for the reprehensible state of our music, pay for their transgressions by boycotting their advertisers. (especially Limbaugh advertisers).

Now...go out and hear some live jazz!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What If? (What Would Jazz Sound Like Today?)

While visiting friends last evening, and watching more jazz videos (Cannonball Adderley, and Sonny Rollins; (007 James Bond in between!)), A question came up. Since Cannonball Adderley died at a relatively young age of 47, how would jazz be different if Cannonball had lived and kept creating music on his last path.
Extrapolating that to other jazz musicians who died tragically young, it would be fascinating to look at other seminal figures in jazz who left us far too soon.

First some background. Throughout the history of jazz, there were several clearly defined periods or styles of the music.There was New Orleans or Traditional style jazz, of which Kid Ory, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong were the pioneers. Prominent features of the music were the front line which typically consisted of trumpet, clarinet, and trombone; and the rhythm section consisting of a guitar or banjo, tuba, and drums. In later years, the string bass was employed. Key features of the music was the main instrument played the melody, and the other front line instruments improvised around the melody.

The music subsequently migrated to Chicago and New York. The Chicago style jazz featured the guitar and string bass more prominently, and featured a more "Up tempo" pace to the music.
The "Swing" era started around 1930. This was characterized by large orchestras playing very regimented arrangements. Count Basie, and Duke Ellington were prominent during this stretch. This style featured large horn sections, tight rhythm sections featuring bass, guitar, piano and drums, and individual soloists. Prominent musicians in this style included Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), Coleman Hawkins (Saxophone), Lester Young (Saxophone), Johnny Hodges (saxophone), Charlie Christian (Guitar), Buddy Rich (drums), and Jimmy Blanton (Bass). Blanton was the first bass player to take a solo; he was the bassist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

After World War II, a new, revolutionary music took hold. Be-Bop was characterized by intricate melodies and improvisation. There were changes in traditional timekeeping; the rhythm section as a whole were more involved with time. Instead of keeping time with the bass drum, the drummers of the day employed the hi-hat for that function. There was more "call and response" between the individual players as well. The underlying chord structure may be the same as any popular tune of the day, but the melody and subsequent improvisation made this style of music unique.
The instrumentation for these groups were typically two horns and three rhythm, piano, bass and drums. Popular be-bop musicians were Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell.
Hard Bop developed as the logical extension to this line of music; and was a counter-point to "West Coast" or "Cool Jazz". Hard Bop was characterized by mixing the exciting elements of be-bop, with gospel and soul music in producing a unique style. This was a distinct reaction to West Coast Jazz, which sought to constrain the music with European chamber music influences.
Prominent hard bop musicians were Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis (Modal jazz), Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey. Prominent West Coast Style musicians were Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond and Chet Baker.

In the late 70's and 80's there was the "Post Bop" era, "Free Jazz" (the roots of free jazz were with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Cecil Taylor in the 60's), electronic jazz, and contemporary or danceable/groove jazz.
Post bop jazz took elements from hard bop and free /avant garde jazz, and incorporated the styles into a new genre. The most prominent musician in this style was Woody Shaw, the outstanding trumpeter. (More on him later). Others include, but are not limited to, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, later Freddie Hubbard, later Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Harper, Bennie Maupin, Kenny Garrett, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bobby Hutcherson, and Keith Jarrett.
Prominent Electronic jazz musicians are Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Airto, Flora Purim, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorus, Alphonse Mouzon, Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham, and Pat Metheny. Contemporary jazz musicians were/are Grover Washington, Charles Earland, Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, Marion Meadows, Ken Navarro, Earl Klugh, David Sandborn, and George Benson among many others today.

Since the late 70's/early 80's new sweeping changes within jazz have not happened. It seems that innovation has been at a standstill since that period; the natural evolution hasn't occurred on a widespread basis. Could it be that some of the most innovative musicians in the history of jazz passed away at a too early age? Or maybe the most innovative musicians are struggling to find an audience due to economics, politics, lack of airplay, or some other unknown factor?
Could today's jazz be markedly different by having certain musicians living longer?

Cannonball Adderley
was on the high end of the age range, passing at age 47 from a stroke. However, in 1975, he was exploring the electronic jazz avant-garde, the soprano saxophone, and other directions. If he had lived perhaps 10 years longer, that vision and direction of his music may have had a chance to come to fruition.

There are five groundbreaking musicians in my opinion that, had they lived, would have changed the trajectory of jazz as we know it now. Some of the musicians are obvious, others not so.

The first musician on the list is Clifford Brown. Clifford Brown was one of the leading figures in be-bop; he and Max Roach led a groundbreaking quintet. Brown had a unique ability to understand musical harmony, melody and improvisation. He taught Lee Morgan early in his career when Lee was a teenager.
He died tragically in 1956 when the car he was riding in slipped off the rain soaked Pennsylvania Turnpike. Also killed in the crash was Richie Powell, his piano player and the brother of Bud Powell. Brown was only 26 years old.
Had Brown lived, he would have been one of the leaders of the post bop movement; he was already transitioning to hard bop from be-bop at the time of his death. It would have been truly fascinating to see Brown in the 60's and 70's; when modal jazz and post bop were coming to fruition. Perhaps he could have taken the music further...

The second musician is an obvious choice; John Coltrane. It could be argued that at the time of his death, he had taken the music to its logical ending place. However, when he died at of liver cancer in 1967, he was only 40 years old. It would have been interesting to have Coltrane's unique spin on some of the post bop efforts of the 70's and 80's; not to mention his own exploration into the avant-garde and free jazz.

The third musician on this list is Lee Morgan. At the time of his death at age 33, he was exploring the post bop harmonies, melodies and rhythms with his very forward-looking groups of that time.
Morgan died in February of 1972; had he lived another 20 years, and kept his last group together, we may very well be seeing a new era in jazz now.

The fourth musician on my list is Woody Shaw. Woody Shaw is the personification of the post bop and beyond movement. Shaw tragically died one month after suffering a horrific subway accident in 1989. He was only 44 years old.
Woody Shaw's music was incredibly complex. The ideas he was generating were groundbreaking; and to this day have rarely been duplicated. The musicians of today who are closest to producing new innovative music are Billy Harper and Bennie Maupin.

The fifth and last musician on my list is Scott LaFaro. Scott LaFaro was a bass player who pioneered making the bass a melodic instrument. He typically concentrated on the high end of the instrument; unheard of at the time but commonplace today. He would also improvise throughout the song; not just on his solos.
He was influenced heavily by bassist Leroy Vinegar; he played early on with pianist Hampton Hawes and Tenor player Stan Getz. He came to fame in 1959 with Bill Evans; he subsequently worked extensively with Ornette Coleman. His life was tragically cut short in 1961 at the age of 25 by an auto accident.
Had he lived, he would have influenced modern bass playing for years to come.

So...what do you think? Would music be different now if these musicians had lived into their 70's or 80's? Who knows...
Among today's players there has to be someone who is willing to take the music in a new RELEVANT direction. Not just playing rehashed hard bop or be-bop, but taking elements of all that has come before and creating something new. As long as it respects the underlying tenet of jazz; that is improvisation, then a new genre can be developed for the new millineum.
The non-musicians among us (myself included) can play a role by supporting the music in its current form; that is the only way the musicians will have the courage to try new approaches. The music must continue to grow and evolve.

If you have any other musicians who died too early and would have had a positive impact on the music of today, feel free to let me know. Also, if there are musicians of today who are truly playing innovative music as I described above, let me know that as well. The more we publicize the truly innovative musicians, the more the music will flourish!