Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clear Channel Cuts 1850 Jobs

Lost amid the media hoopla of the inauguration and associated celebrations, Clear Channel Communications, the radio and entertainment behemoth, announced they were laying off 1850 people representing 9% of its workforce. Originally it was announced that the majority of the layoffs were in the advertising departments, but now it is increasingly clear that local programmers were among the casualties in large numbers.

In Chicago, Rick O'Dell WNUA's Smooth Jazz personality for over 20 years, was given the axe:
In Tampa Bay, Clear Channel's highest ranking executive, Gabe Hobbs, was let go; despite a stellar career:
There is a full and complete list of radio people let go in Clear Channel's latest purge:

These economic times have crippled many major companies; (Circuit City, the consumer electronics giant, announced Friday that they are shutting their doors, for example). So it is not unexpected that major companies like Clear Channel would be struggling. However, Clear Channel actually is involved in more than radio. From their website, they are involved in TV, and most ominously concert promotion. It is estimated that they control 70% of the music venues of ALL music types in the US. This is from the Clear Channel website:


Completed acquisition of AMFM, Inc. Acquired SFX Entertainment, Inc., one of the world's largest diversified promoters, producers and presenters of live entertainment events. Acquired outdoor assets of Donrey Media, Taxi Tops and Ackerley Media increasing the outdoor division's business and products. Continued expansion in radio and outdoor, bringing the total number of worldwide radio stations owned or programmed to over 1,100 and total outdoor advertising displays to approximately 700,000.

In other words, for most mid level music performers, undoubtedly you have run into a Clear Channel venue. Bottom line, as an artist, if you don't play ball with Clear Channel, chances are many desirable cities will be locked out. Similarly if you own a venue and don't do business with CC, then the majority of mid-major acts will never play your venue.

On the radio side, these new Clear Channel cuts mean that more programming will be done on a national basis. If you thought it was tough getting good jazz programming on the air before, it has now become exponentially worse. Programming locally from a national base effectively eliminates any artist not fortunate enough to be on a major label (the majority of jazz artists).
Those jazz performers signed to a major label are not immune; Clear Channel doesn't promote real jazz, or even danceable jazz (Grover Washington, Marion Meadows, Gerald Albright, Ronnie Laws, Tom Browne, etc) at any of their radio stations. If you listen carefully, their "smooth Jazz" programming is heavily laced with soft rock/pop performers such as Phil Collins, Hall & Oates, Seal etc.
Exposure, or lack thereof, is what is killing jazz now. Radio and Record Company execs are laboring very hard to push other forms of music at the expense of jazz. In my opinion, this is not done purely for financial reasons. Jazz music historically has been at the forefront for real change in this country (John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Lee Morgan) and represented true freedom.

So, as people with a major interest in the future of Jazz music, Clear Channel's troubles should be watched carefully. A conglomerate this large, which controls so much of the music and entertainment market, has the capability to eliminate an entire genre of music, if we let them.

There are many things the music lover can do.
First: reject the move toward national programming by deleting Clear channel and other companies from your listening menu until their policies become more musician friendly (not likely).
Second: Make an effort to learn about the local jazz venues (or whatever music you like) in your local area, and SUPPORT them.
Third: Support those locally based stations that play music from local and national jazz and music acts. This is truly the only way to preserve the diversity of musical choice.

We as a people can dictate what music we receive and are exposed to. It does not have to be decided by Wall Street types who are only concerned with the bottom line no matter the product. If we stop listening to the canned national drivel, they will have to change.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Kids: The Future of Jazz

There is a question about the future of live music, especially jazz. In the face of so many new distractions vying for the public's attention, like multiple satellite TV channels, video computer games, and a numbing array of musical choices on TV and radio, it is easy to see how jazz could be shuttled to the background.
Indeed, it is increasingly hard to find jazz on the radio, TV or performed live. There are many reasons for this; not the least of which is the systematic consolidation of the radio broadcast industry, resulting in few of any true jazz music outlets. And the few"jazz" stations that are left program a variant called "smooth" jazz; a very bland distant cousin of the real thing. Put on top of that the record labels are complicit in relegating real jazz to the back burner, and it is clear there has been a concerted effort to diminish the true impact of real jazz.
So not surprisingly, the audience for real jazz is dwindling. Is it because the music is dying? No, of course not. The music is as vibrant as ever. It is just that the conglomerates that control access to the music rather push other, more intellectually bankrupt forms of music in the name of profit. A lot of these popular music forms don't even require true musicianship; just a turntable or guitar, and a catchy beat or two. Some pop "musicians" actually don't perform at all; they pantomine to pre-recorded tracks during their shows.

History teaches that in the past, some totalitarian governments sought to control their populations more easily by limiting access to higher art forms.

So...what can we, as jazz fans, do about this state of affairs? One direct way to affect the future of music is to pass on the knowledge we possess to our most valuable resource, our kids.
Well, how can that be accomplished? The standard answer is to develop yet another school or teaching program to introduce the music to schoolkids. Perhaps they will learn in school; more likely the kids will compartmentalize jazz as a part of education, not continuing entertainment. While there is merit in jazz education, the kids trained in this musical approach don't really learn the essence of the music. Besides, not every jazz fan is a music educator; and would not have access to the didactic music education approach for kids.

This evening, I had an opportunity to see perhaps the best way to affect the health and well-being of jazz. I had a chance to attend a jam session. Not just any jazz jam session, however. The jam session at the Ballet Tech Cincinnati on Montgomery Road, here in Cincinnati which occurred this Sunday, the third Sunday in January. Marvel Gentry, the Executive Director of Ballet Tech, along with lead musicians Willie Smart (drums), Eddie Brookshire (bass), Michael Goecke (trombone), and Ryan Wells (alto sax), hosted what Mr Smart describes as a "kinder, gentler jam session".
First, some explanations. In the past, jam sessions were opportunities for younger musicians to play with more seasoned veterans in a informal but intense stage experience. The youthful musicians would learn how to play from the seasoned vets; not just the notes, but how to PLAY. This was common in the 50's and 60's; not so much today. Today's jazz professionals in some cases, do not stop to reach back and help the young ones in an informal setting. The big "stars" are great in going to academic music clinics in the various towns and cities where they tour; but they by and large do not participate in the jam sessions with younger musicians. Typically, among the modern stars, it is no longer about the music; it is about "getting paid". No one begrudges a musician for getting fair compensation for a live musical performance; however as stewards of the music, there should be a natural enthusiasm in sharing the music with the younger kids.
That was what was so refreshing about tonight's jam session. First of all, there were kids there listening to and enjoying the music. Second, the musical leaders on stage were greatly encouraging and nurturing of the kids; exactly the way the early sessions were back in the 50's and 60's. It was refreshing, even inspiring, to see so many kids taking the stage and playing. Equally inspiring was the way the seasoned vets interacted with the kids. On the last selection, Maiden Voyage, there was a prime example of this experience. Eddie Brookshire, the bass player, noted that the youthful keybordist didn't feel comfortable with playing the song. This young man was exceedingly talented; he had not been exposed to this song in his past education. Mr Brookshire gently guided the young musician through the various chord progressions while on stage playing the song. The young man was so adept at learning that he performed a quite credible solo on the song! The same thing happened during the song when Mr Goecke, the trombonist, performed the same function for the young guitarist who also sat in. These kids could not have been older than 15 or 16; they had the opportunity to really learn how to play the music, from vets who excelled in sharing the knowledge and history of the music.
In the audience, there were a number of kids, non-musicians, who also enjoyed the music. I have always contended that the music is alive and vibrant; just under exposed. Tonight was further validation of this concept.
This jam session occurs every third Sunday evening from 6 to 9pm. It is perfect for kids to attend; kids are welcome. For further info, the website is:

We can conquer this so-called death of jazz one kid at a time. Take the time to expose the kids in your life to live jazz; kids are ALWAYS welcome at Thursday Jazz at The Redmoor. You can also expose kids to jazz CD's; trust me, they will listen if you start early enough.
Jazz music is fun, energetic, and alive. It doesn't need to be "smoothed out" or dumbed down to be palatable. It needs to be portrayed as fun music; because it is! We can show our kids how fun the music is, if we want the music to survive.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Reflections From an iPod...

The iPod is a wonderful invention. Being somewhat new to the technology, (and being woefully technology challenged), I have gone through a forced indoctrination on the various benefits of this new (to me) technical marvel.
Those of you who have had the opportunity to come to the Jazz Happy Hour at The Redmoor have heard the jazz playing in the background and between sets. This music is from my CD collection; I'm in the process of loading my CD's on to the iPod. I have loaded approximately 800CD's thus far...more to follow.
Loading these CD's, and listening to some of my favorites, has been particularly revealing to me. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to collect some pretty nice CD's. Unfortunately, time constraints and life's many challenges preclude the opportunity to sit and listen at leisure. This is really sad.
Listening to some of the CD's again causes a reflection to more happier times...remembering the first time I heard some of the albums that have affected me profoundly.
Everyone has undoubtedly heard Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue". Miles's solo on "So What" still is a fresh memory from the past.
Certain songs, even some obscure songs, can be memorable. Music in general can be uplifting; jazz music for me has been a trusted friend. A true source of strength and joy at down periods. In recent years, I had forgotten this...the iPod review of my collection has helped me become reacquainted with my past happiness...
I consider these jazz musicians "good friends". The vast majority of musicians I have not met; but I've listened to and shared their music. The recent passing of Freddie Hubbard feels remarkably like the loss of a friend, though I have never met him.
I remember being in high school and college looking for the latest Hubbard CTI release, and reliving all of his old Blue Note efforts. I remember when he left CTI, and went to Columbia Records; "Liquid Love", "High Energy" are two of the early records for that label. Still remember like it was yesterday...
Freddie Hubbard playing "Straight Life":
I felt a similar loss with the passing of Cannonball Adderly, Grover Washington Jr, Woody Shaw, Miles, Paul Desmond, Stanley Turrentine, Joe Henderson and Milt Jackson.
Coltrane, Lee Morgan, and Gene Ammons are musicians whose passings I don't recall personally, but through their music I have learned to become "good friends" with them.
Reviewing and replaying these CD's has also allowed me to reread the liner notes from the various CD's. When albums were the standard format, liner notes were as eagerly anticipated as the music itself. There were insights into the music and musicians that were treasured nuggets of information. Blue Note Records was especially good in that regard. Sad that the new CD format has seen less and less of the liner notes from all labels.
For those of you who know me, you know my favorite musician of all time is Lee Morgan. While I never met Lee, I have had the opportunity to meet two people who knew Morgan well.
The first person was Lee Morgan's sister. She gave a talk in my jazz history class while I was in college. I only met her briefly.
The second person is saxophonist Bennie Maupin. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Maupin when he agreed to play in a concert featuring "The Four Tenors" (Maupin, Billy Harper, Eddie Bayard and Bruce Menefield), that I promoted in January 2006.
Mr Maupin played extensively with Lee Morgan, and was on some of his best recordings.
Reviewing the CD's for my iPod has also allowed me to reread the original liner notes from CD's. One of those liner notes accompanied Lee Morgan's CD "Live at the Lighthouse". In the notes, Bennie Maupin wrote a particularly poignant note about Lee, which gave great insight into the musician and the man. In that note, Mr Maupin mentiones that the recording session of Lee Morgan's "Caramba" was one of his most cherished memories.
Caramba reminds me of a time when all was right in the world. I remember hearing Bennie Maupin's solo for the first time on that song; to this day I know every note. It was one of the defining songs of my past happiness, when times were so easier...
There are other songs and solos I have been affected by during the years: Lou Donaldson's solo on Jimmy Smith's "The Sermon", Coltrane on "Resolution", Gene Ammons on "My Way", Grover Washington on "Mr Magic", Wilton Felder on the Crusaders' "So Far Away", Lee Morgan on "Personality" among others.
The music has always taken me to a better place...over the past few years I had forgotten that. Sometimes when it seems like the world is closing in...the music can make it better for a while...that is what the iPod has reminded me of during this odyssey.
I guess the culmination of events, from Freddie Hubbard's passing to my self imposed review of my collection, has allowed me to reexamine a much happier time in my life...I will always be grateful to the music for that.
Reflections from an iPod...who knew that a modern invention could reawaken what was lost....I certainly did not.