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.