Monday, September 29, 2008
Who Are You?
The majority of jazz fans here in Kansas City can be grouped into one of two categories. There's the aging white audience for whom Glenn Miller is still the king. These people can actually recall a time when jazz was popular music.
Then there are the primarily black fans in their 40s, 50s and 60s who came of age to Ramsey Lewis' The In Crowd and Grover Washington, Jr.'s Mr. Magic.
The first group's communal vigilance has been the bedrock of the local jazz scene. Area jazz clubs are vanishing as their numbers dwindle.
The second crowd's conception of jazz is far less rigid. Norman Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Najee and Mary J. Blige all have equal merit in this more liberal world view. While I applaud this perspective, it's not going to sell many tickets to a Cecil Taylor concert.
To be certain, there are at least a couple hundred misfits like me, relatively young jazz fans who support the music in spite of the indifference of our peers. Kansas City is also home to an astonishing number of jazz educators and students.
If the economy continues its downturn, the federal funds and the charitable grants that have propped up area jazz series and institutions might disappear. Toss in a rapidly aging fan base, and you have to wonder what's to become of jazz in this town.
Who's going to pay money to see the Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey ghost bands? What will happen to the careers of musicians like Alaadeen, Will Matthews, Loren Pickford and Tommy Ruskin?
I know there's no shortage of local musicians willing to step up. But will there be an audience to support them?
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)