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.)


Unknown said...

Are you aware that Will Matthews plays guitar in the Basie Band?

Marshall McDonald
Lead Alto
Count Basie Orch

Happy In Bag said...

Yes, Marshall. And that's part of my point.

I'm very concerned about the audiences of tomorrow.

You're keeping timeless music alive, of course, but the people who remember Basie as a cultural force are inevitably dying off.

Will future generations "get it"?

It's an honor to have you check in, BTW.

Unknown said...

Alright, I can dig that. I've often thought that Basie needed to update and record with Ledisi, or somebody else to bring in a young audience.

But basically man, it doesn't matter, there is not much of an sudience for jazz or smooth jazz at this point, record sales are below 1 point, and smooth jazz stations are even dying off, and no one wants to go hear re-hashed jazz music, as Miles said years ago, watching people play a melody and then play solos is some boring sh**.

So what's the answer? There is none, Jazz is not the popular music and hasn't been for some time, people don't dance and party to it, so it will be regulated to concert halls, and historical type works.

My big point is that Will, myself, and others, cannot get enough work to make a living off of our name, but the Count Basie band, Duke Ellington etc, can bring us tours and record dates. I live in the NYC area, and cats like Vincent Herring, Antonio Hart, Mark Gross, etc etc, don't have an overwhelming amount of work, or large record sales if they even have a record deal at all anymore, so we all have to go with the established name that brings work.

There is not enough sales or money, to back jazz, or bring any of us work, and money is the bottom line.
Will or myself will not be able to establish enough rep to demand long tours and gigs and the such. Even the established cats around the NYC area are fighting for those. So that's why we are proud and happy to play in the Basie band because it's one of the last few jazz gigs with reputation that has work to give us.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic because it is so relevant to the state of the music today.

People who are mine, Will's and Marshall's ages were not even alive during the "golden age" of jazz that institutions like Basie, Ellington, etc. perpetuate. Granted, we are closer to that era than the generation after us. But, still, not many musicians living and actively performing today were of age to have played with those leaders in their own time.

I personally do not believe that the economics of jazz have ever been very prolific. RIAA sales stats even support that the music was never the most popular music in a commercially viable context.

I believe that we need to simply market the music better during our time. Embrace the industry of our music, rather than look for someone else to fund us or do our business work for us, etc. And, simply market the music for what it is, rather than for what it was 50-60 years ago.

There is a lot of great music being made TODAY too. I don't think it has anything to do with the "style" of jazz one plays. The Basie Band keeps that legacy alive, but they are simultaneously a premiere modern group of some of today's finest musical artists (regardless of genre).

I have good attendance and reception when I perform concerts. I don't change my art to be popular, I just present my work. When given a chance to hear the music, people choose to. We have to be innovative in our quest to reach our listeners, is all. Audiences have to be developed, and developed, and developed...

Chris Burnett
Alto Saxophonist and Composer
Kansas City USA