Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I cringe every time I hear the tired claim that "jazz is America's classical music." It sounds more like a publicist's slogan than an evidential artistic claim. Still, I couldn't help thinking about jazz as I attended two classical concerts last weekend.
The Harriman-Jewell Series gave away tickets to a "Discovery" concert featuring two musicians, both still in college, performing Beethoven, Prokofiev, Webern and Enescu. About 1,000 people- half of whom were under the age of fifty- took in the free concert. Both the quality of the performance and the size of the audience were impressive.
The jazz equivalent would feature a pair of promising students from the Berklee College of Music interpreting compositions by Ellington, Monk, Coleman and Zorn. Could a free concert of that nature fill the Folly Theater? And who would fund it?
The next day I caught the third of the Kansas City Symphony's three weekend performances. Their takes on Sibelius and Stravinsky were outstanding. It's too bad more weren't on hand to experience it. In spite of a massive media blitz that included billboards, print and radio advertising, a YouTube channel, Twitter messages and deeply discounted tickets (I paid $20 a ticket but should have held out for a buy-one-get-one-free promotion), the balcony where I sat was less than a third full. I couldn't see the entire floor of the Lyric Theater, but I spotted plenty of empty seats.
I don't envy the task of trying to sell a cumulative 4,000 or so tickets for each Symphony program. In spite of the excellence of the Kansas City Symphony (I'm a huge fan), demand for orchestral music in Kansas City seems severely limited. The symphony, however, can rely on the enormous sponsorship of many of Kansas City's moneyed elite. They're even financing a beautiful new venue.
What's it all mean for the jazz community?
There's clearly a young audience willing to take a flier on experimental music when the price is right. Additionally, there are hundreds of citizens who make significant financial contributions to the symphony. They don't, however, necessarily wish to attend the concerts. Is it possible that these same privileged people might have an affinity for jazz? And would the Kansas City Symphony benefit by beginning to incorporate jazz into its programming?
Jazz is, after all, "America's classical music."
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)