Monday, November 5, 2007

Does Kansas City Care About Charlie Parker?

The following is an abbreviated version of an essay I wrote for another site in June 2005. I attempted to decipher the meaning behind the sales tabulations of Charlie Parker's recordings. I no longer have have access to Soundscan, the music industry's primary sales reporting tool.

Local sales of Charlie Parker’s recordings tell a far different story than the happy version recited by Kansas City's cultural and political elite.

Soundscan lists 328 individual Parker titles. Of these, 79 have zero sales. Assuming that those 79 titles were never issued, that leaves 249 actual titles. The total sales for those releases since 1991 is 1,496,695. The average sales per title is 6,011. The average cumulative sales per year is 106,906.

While those numbers aren’t world-beaters, I find them entirely palatable. Jazz is a difficult music, and Parker was anything but smooth. The bebop revolution, led by Parker, remains controversial to this day. Along with the advent of rock’n’roll, the gauntlet laid down by bebop permanently displaced jazz music from the forefront of the American popular culture.

By comparison, today’s most acclaimed serious jazz saxophonist, Joe Lovano, averages sales of 15,000 units each of his Blue Note recordings. Keep in mind, too, that sales of Parker in Europe and Japan are likely at least a significant portion of what they are domestically. Of course, it’s all relative. We live in a world in which country-pop star Toby Keith sold 125,000 units last week.

It’s no surprise that the three best selling Parker titles are on Verve. First, Parker made his most commercial recordings for the label, including the controversial "with strings" sessions. Secondly, Verve enjoys major label distribution, which helps force product into retail. Jazz ‘Round Midnight, the top seller, was issued in 1991, and has sold 126,475 units, including 49 last week. Ken Burns Jazz, compiled in conjunction with the PBS series, was issued in 2000, has sold 90,039, including 107 units last week. Bird: Original Recordings, issued in 1988, has sold 104,753, including 26 last week. The title I recommend most highly, a budget-priced 5-CD set called Studio Chronicle: 1940-1948, has sold 3,010 units since its release in 2001, including 17 last week.

But what about sales in Kansas City? Jazz ‘Round Midnight has sold a total of 939 units in Kansas City, including 2 last week. Ken Burns Jazz has sold a total of 721 in here, including 1 last week. Bird: Original Recordings, has sold 851 in Kansas City, with no sales last week. The Studio Chronicle box has sold a woeful 10 units in Kansas City, including 1 last week.

Kansas City is Soundscan’s 29th largest market. Correspondingly, even dismissing favorable regional hometown bias, Parker should account for every 3 in a 100 Parker sales. Does it? Not even close. Kansas City represents significantly less than 1% of total sales in the United States.


(Image of Parker found via random image search. It's for sale here.)

No comments: