Sunday, September 30, 2012
The Cost of Free Jazz
I was initially pleased when I learned that admission fees would be waived for the 2013 edition of the Jazz Winterlude festival, but I'm beginning to have second thoughts about the matter. It's no secret that the audience for jazz is declining. Could the plethora of free concerts featuring top-tier talent be part of the problem?
Jazz Winterlude's new policy will almost certainly ensure larger audiences for the annual event at Johnson County Community College. The exciting young guitarist Julian Lage and the Kansas City-based veteran vocalist Deborah Brown are two artists who stand to benefit from the additional exposure. But at what cost?
It's safe to say that the only exposure many people receive to jazz performances comes during well-promoted free events such as Jazz Winterlude, Jazz in the Woods and the Prairie Village Jazz Festival. Do these otherwise excellent festivals devalue the music? Or does their accessibility translate into larger audiences for jazz performances with an admission charge?
Five hundred people were willing to pay $50 apiece to hear Gary Burton and Chick Corea at the Gem Theater last night. And 1,000 people shell out $40 or $50 to see each of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's concerts. A $7 cover charge doesn't deter a few hundred people from attending Tim Whitmer's monthly concerts at Unity on the Plaza. That's the good news.
The bad news is that Folly Theater (1,050 seats) was at half capacity for a spectacular outing by Pat Metheny and his all-star band three weeks ago. I'm told that Bobby Broom recently played to a disturbingly small house at the Blue Room. The audience for last weekend's concert by Delfeayo Marsalis and Sean Jones wasn't close to capacity. And cover or no cover, an unhealthy portion of gigs by locally-based jazz artists are woefully attended.
Or maybe it's just a jazz thing. Over 14,000 aficionados of country music filled the Sprint Center last night for a concert headlined by Eric Church. His fans paid nothing to see Church at Santa-Cali-Gon Days, Country in the Woods and the KC Live stage in the Power & Light district in recent years. Yet Church is capable of attracting scores of fans willing to invest a minimum of $37.50 in a ticket to see him again.
I'll continue to ponder this conundrum as I enjoy tonight's free concert by '80s pop star Sheila E.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)