Sunday, January 15, 2012
Kansas City Hustle
I wrote a piece for The Kansas City Star that examines Nicholas Payton's Black American Music proposal. The challenging subject makes a lot of people uncomfortable. And while the argument isn't new, it's more relevant than ever. Allow me to set aside the political and sociological aspects of Payton's concept in order to demonstrate one reason this topic matters.
Approximately 400 people attended Nnenna Freelon's excellent concert Saturday at The Folly Theater. (Here's my review.) With this issue in mind, I made an informal tally. Including the four musicians on stage, less than fifty people of color took in the concert. Where was everybody? Don't blame ticket prices- student rush tickets were $10 and cheap seats were $18.
To a large extent, the barrier was antipathy to the j-word. The jazz label may have drawn three-quarters of the existing audience, but it repelled even more potential ticket-buyers. Only people immersed solely in hip hop, indie rock, heavy metal or country music wouldn't have enjoyed the show. Music lovers of all stripes who appreciate Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, Luther Vandross, Frank Sinatra or Mary J. Blige would have loved Freelon's performance.
Had the concert been marketed as an evening of Black American Music rather than as an installment of the "Folly Jazz Presents" series, all 1,078 seats might have been sold to satisfied customers. The change in labels wouldn't help everyone. Free jazz, for instance, is always going to have limited appeal. But the new categorization would almost certainly exponentially expand Nnenna Freelon's audience.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)