Monday, September 15, 2008

Grading the Gem's New Season

Plastic Sax graded the Folly Theater's forthcoming jazz concert series last month. I now turn my attention to the American Jazz Museum's Jammin' At the Gem 2008-2009 season.

My analysis is profoundly impacted by a bittersweet experience at the Gem last October. As I wrote at the time, Dee Dee Bridgewater's genre-bending performance was "like witnessing the inception of an extraordinary new art form." Yet the profoundly moving concert was poorly attended.

Kirk Whalum- September 20
As I've suggested many times in this forum, jazz must never stand still if it's to remain relevant. Whalum's music more closely resembles Ne-Yo than Charlie Parker; it will almost certainly fill the Gem.
Grade: B+

Tribute To Art Blakey- October 11
With all due respect to Joanne Brackeen, Essiet Essiet, Javon Jackson and Bobby Watson, this concert is most notable for the presence of Curtis Fuller. The ensemble's Blakey alumni have substantial careers. Yet it's the chance to catch 73-year-old Fuller, a cat who appears on the opening strains of 1957's Blue Train, that makes this date special.
Grade: B+

Blue Note 70th Anniversary Tour- February 20, 2009
I yawned when I first saw the listing for this event. Then I discovered who would be participating- Bill Charlap, Lewis Nash, Nicholas Payton, Peter Bernstein, Peter Washingtom, Ravi Coltrane and Steve Wilson. These relatively young guys are the premier musicians in today's classical jazz scene.
Grade: A-

New York Voices- March 21, 2009
Most vocalese makes Plastic Sax immediately reach for his Tom Waits albums. I'm sure this concert is the highlight of the Gem's season for many area concertgoers. It's not for me.
Grade: C

The Mingus Big Band- April 18, 2009
The brilliant jazz bassist and composer will have been dead for over thirty years come next April. So much depends on which version of the touring band comes to Kansas City. Much like Mingus, this concert is a real wild card.
Grade: B

Poncho Sanchez- May 9
The Latin jazz journeyman has appeared regularly in the Folly's series. His concerts are a guaranteed good time.
Grade: B

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

Hey Plastic Sax...enjoy reading your grading of the Gem series. I agree on almost every count.

But as the game goes that I always play with myself...the ole'..."what would I schedule, if I were doing it...?" other word's what would make my perfect season?

I'd love to hear your opinion on what would be an A rated season all the way across the board.

Look forward to reading your response!

(p.s....I'm always wondering if you can tell how many people read this blog. I love it, and wonder how many other people read it each day. Just curious...)


punkyjunk said...

i like it when folks pose this question. it's interesting to see how people envision a series coming together. as plasticsax pointed out in an earlier post, there's a lot of factors that go into building a series. just consider some of these things:

you have to consider artist fees, your total budget for the series - and how that budget comes together. is it partially funded by operational dollars & grants? you have to consider factors such as artists' fees, transportation, marketing/advertising costs, accommodations for artists, etc.

you have to find out who's touring. whey're they're touring. and when they're touring. are there other venues regionally where you can block-book the artist to help bring them here? are they willing to work with your organization?

what are other venues presenting locally during that time? try not to create too many conflicts with local audiences. work around what other presenters in the same genre are doing. work together. cross-promote. build audiences.

you have to consider how big your venue is. how many tickets at what price to you need to sell to be able to make it accessible, but to also be mindful of your own bottom line?

to make it accessible to the public, you've got to come up with a price scheme that will allow you to come close to breaking even if not turning a small profit, but you also don't want to take people's shirts.

for many, it's about presenting the art, and not necessarily turning a profit, particularly when you're not really in a position to even do so. when you've got a small amount of seats, a modest marketing budget and often times, a small, interested audience to draw from, you can encounter more obstacles. as plastic sax would say, "is kc really a jazz town?"

that's where your sponsors come in. many corporate sponsors & foundations pitch in thousands of dollars annually to help support these types of initiatives.

A lot of funding for these types of events come from grants, foundations and other areas of restricted funding. this offers additional challenges in how you can spend money when booking artists that are available, affordable and have some kind of a draw with local crowds.

so...what's your wish list? who does kansas city want to see?

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks, Zender, for reminding me and the Plastic Sax reader(s) of the logistics of booking a series like Jammin' At the Gem.

I haven't looked at my site meter in 2008, Anon. When I last checked back in December, Plastic Sax was only getting between 10 to 25 unique visitors a day.

If I wanted to be popular, I would write about the hijinks of pop stars.

You'll never see any advertising here. Plastic Sax exists because I believe Kansas City jazz is important and needs this sort of informal, opinionated and irreverent documentation.

I'll post a "wish list" soon.

Anonymous said...

Zender…greatly enjoyed your input…great to fire up some discussion here.

In my experiences in booking jazz, finding out who is touring is never an issue. You’re right, who IS touring? Hardly anyone at all. I rarely see a “non-commercial” jazz artist with any kind of tour lined up at all unless you’re speaking of someone who is very established (ex. Charles Lloyd, Ornette), or very current-moment (ex. Jason Moran, The Bad Plus).

I’ve picked up the phone on several occasions and called a jazz artist to come and play, and they’re there. Pay their airfare, hotel, and a small guarantee, and it’s on. In the jazz world, they’re just grateful to have a paying gig period…no tour schedule to be concerned with.

In the K.C. metropolitan, 4-state area, I can’t imagine ever having to consider what other venues are presenting locally. How can you block-book? Just like “what jazz musician is touring”…what venue is booking? Who is the Blue Room competing against?

(As aside, I’m dumbfounded as to why the Blue Room can’t pull national acts…just like today’s Plastic Sax post links mentions…look at their funding…ear-marks…yes they have salaries and utilities and rent…but $307,000 from the Fed this year alone!?! And who knows if there are more funding sources? But yet, we’re building a new parking lot over there…)

I believe all of your points apply to a mid-level pop act and higher (everything from a Maroon 5 to Metallica), but jazz artists? You’ll rarely sell-out, so venue size isn’t an issue. And a marketing budget is another interesting concept, especially in KC. I sometimes wonder if you advertised a jazz gig on every channel, every newspaper, and every billboard…would people show up? you said, ”is Kansas City a jazz town?”…

punkyjunk said...

*anon, good points. i wish i knew who i was talking to. rather than go into another long-winded piece, i'd be happy to chat with you outside of the blog if you're interested in learning more about some of the things you mentioned.

*like you, i'm just glad to see discussion here. someone out there cares...