Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Height of Folly

As a complete nitwit mentioned in his otherwise worthless review of the event, only about 350 people attended Eldar's concert Saturday at the Folly Theater. Empty seats outnumbered occupied chairs by a ratio of almost two to one.

And that sad number doesn't tell the whole story. Eldar, 22, might have been the youngest person in the building. Less than fifty audience members were under the age of thirty. And it's people without gray hair, in theory, who would have been most receptive to Eldar's sound. The pianist, bassist Armando Gola and drummer Ludwig Afonso are spiritual, if not musical, brethren of progressive acts like Radiohead and Tortoise.

Where were the young jazz fans? Do they even exist?

The "it's-the-bad-economy" explanation doesn't fly with me. Sure, things are tough all over but last week alone I attended two sold-out rock concerts in Kansas City, one at the Uptown Theater (1,800 capacity) and the other at Crossroads (3,000 capacity). Tickets for those general admission events were $30, the same as the most expensive ticket to Eldar's show at the gorgeous Folly Theater.

It doesn't help that neither Eldar nor the Folly employ social media and both have a tired web presence. Intentionally neglecting the tools with which today's most active music fans consume music is foolhardy.

Still, it's the music that matters, and the inaugural performance of the Folly's new jazz season offered many great moments. The next event, Edward Simon and Gretchen Parlato, also holds tremendous artistic promise. (Here's my August 17 survey of the Folly's current season.)

But if a hometown hero sells a mere 350 tickets, how will Venezuelan-born Simon and up-and-coming vocalist Parlato fare on Halloween? October 31 might be a very frightful evening for the Kansas City jazz scene.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Cb said...

Actually that was a very thoughtful review, wish he'd do more... ;)

My wife and I are going to see the Edward Simon concert with Gretchen Parlato. His group Afinidad has great musicians who are among my personal favorites: saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley, drummer Antonio Sanchez, guitarist Adam Rogers, and percussionist Pernell Saturnino.

I still don't buy into the gloom and doom "jazz is dead" thing. I just think that jazz has moved on to the next generational phase (age 55 and below perspective) of the music and many people in KC just don't seem to realize that this has been the case for a few years already.

We have the contemporary talent in KC indeed. And, like most everywhere, we have lots of repertory groups doing most of the steady work. It would seem that there are not enough new expectations of the music among presenters and clubs in terms of what contemporary performers are doing. I remain optimistic though, based upon what places like Jardine's are doing...

Hopefully, booking more artists like those performing with Edward Simon and the recent Steve Coleman event last Spring will bring us out of this type of time warp mentality the Eldar concert reviewer speaks to. Using the contemporary tools to market events is as much of a concern to "jazz" promotion and marketing in the 21st Century. There needs to be a massive paradigm shift in this regard that simply having a website, facebook and myspace won't realize. It's an attitude and mentality.

And, I really don't know if we should even be calling the music "jazz" anymore because it has become truly a world music inclusive of many forms. Jazz has gotten bigger and continues to grow up, but the collective view of it seems stuck in a loop that is perhaps 50-60 years old.

Just my opinion, of course...

Peace, Cb
P.S. - nice blog as usual

Anonymous said...

Are you friends with Eldar on facebook? He's pretty active on there...

Anonymous said...

As far as the younger crowd & Eldar are concerned.... The 'cool kids' don't like Eldar and don't endorse him. They say he is a show off. His attitude (and especially his bass players) is perceived as kinda douchy & snotty so there isn't much support from the local scene. It is generally admitted that he is extremely talented but the attitude ruins it for most I have spoken with.

Cb said...

Yes, Eldar is quite active online personally - not his agent or publicist alone like many major label artists.

I have interacted with Eldar personally and he is the furthest thing from being snotty or kinda douchy. This observation comes from objective interactions with him that happened both, before and after he signed with Sony Classical. He even became a "fan" of mine on facebook.

I can't help but wonder if some among that younger crowd you speak of isn't just acting out toward Eldar largely due to "hating". This young man has been a franchise since he was 11 or 12, it didn't go to his head then and I doubt it has now. Eldar has as close to "total command" of his instrument as I have seen in my life - all things considered. This fact brings a type of confidence that not many people have opportunity to enjoy. On matters like this, I just think that more folks have to start realizing that someone else's talent or success does not diminish others, it makes us all better.

I also just don't think that the Folly concerts (like too many jazz events in KC) are very well marketed-advertised in general. In this age, things have to be advanced months out so that even the average person can plan to attend ahead of time. Then you have to keep the ads going right up to the actual event. I personally could not go due to another commitment or I'd have been there. I am going to the Edward Simon date though...

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

I've never met a young "jazz fan" that likes Eldar. You're reading way too much into this. Eldar is also one of those child prodigy types that blue hairs like so much. Old people like that shit. Nobody gives a shit about Eldar.

punkyjunk said...

...awful lot of anon comments on this one. and you're painting a pretty broad stroke when you say "nobody gives a sh*t about Eldar." i'm sensing some animosity here.

Jeremy said...

The thing about Facebook is that it's really easy to promote your shows to people who are ALREADY fans; it's much more difficult to reach out to any potential NEW fans. That's why Facebook has to be just one part of an artist's web presence, along with MySpace, Twitter, iTunes, a regular webpage and a good mailing list.

I spent the last two months promoting a show that was the same night as Eldar's. I'm talking hours, every day, of emailing, passing out flyers, etc. In the process I made a list of all the other shows that were going on that night and made notes about how THEY were promoting. Eldar's show simply was not promoted as well as it could've been.

And for the record, I am a "young jazz fan" that would have loved to see Eldar's show, had I not had one of my own that night.

eric.cartman said...

The "young jazz fans" do exist and for the most part they occur to in two varieties: young jazz musicians and young people who are friends with jazz musicians. Throw in a hippie or two and that about includes them all.

If an artist, for whatever reason, is unpopular with a locality's young jazz musicians then they've already lost the majority of the young audience. It's obvious to me that some of the more famous jazz musicians have embraced this reality. Go to Donny McCaslin or Chris Potter's websites and note the lessons and other education materials they offer.

Anonymous said...

"The 'young jazz fans' do exist and for the most part they occur to in two varieties: young jazz musicians and young people who are friends with jazz musicians. Throw in a hippie or two and that about includes them all."

Um, Cartman, while I agree that the "young jazz fan" community might be small in numbers, I don't agree with the breakdown of who makes up the audience - it's a bit of a sweeping statement, and perhaps you're referring only to those young fans with whom you've had contact, albeit direct or indirect. Or perhaps you're just baiting those participating in this discussion.

Regardless, PS's feelings on the subject are pretty clear, and I often align myself with views expressed here. But he hasn't chipped in yet...and I'm curious to hear what he has to say...

eric.cartman said...

I'm not trying to bait anyone. Let me be clear about my definition of a "jazz fan." I consider someone a jazz fan if they're willing to seek out and purchase jazz music and listen to it on their own accord or buy a ticket to a performance in a theatre (not a bar). So anyone under 30 at an Eldar concert would certainly qualify as a jazz fan.

I don't mean young people who are willing to sit through a jazz performance at a bar drinking.

And of course I'm relating my personal experience at jazz performances. Being a young musician myself, I'm in a great position to recognize, for example,that just about everyone under thirty at that last Wayne Shorter concert at the Gem were jazz students. Same deal with the SF Collective concert or the Steve Coleman concert that someone mentioned earlier.I'm not saying any of this is negative. It's just my experience. When I go see jazz performances I see mostly other musicians in the audience.

Maybe the hippy comment was baiting.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I think you're onto something with the "hating", and that's sort of sad, but I also wouldn't limit it to younger people; in fact, I'd say it's more overt among a few of the veteran pianists in town. I'm thinking of one in particular. People talk about Eldar and his "prodigious talent" but that kind of verbiage sort of glosses over the real reason that he's such an amazingly advanced player--he's been working HARD at this since he was a little kid. It's definitely trendy for some folks to hate on Eldar, but I don't really get that at all. There are still those folks that over-value the idea of natural talent and are misguided enough to think that Eldar just woke up one morning with those piano chops, and they're jealous that they never woke up with the same gifts; what they underestimate is the blood, sweat and tears involved in attaining his skill on the instrument.

Haven't met him personally but in the interviews I've seen he seems to be well-grounded...I think there's a tendency to label all exceptional young players as "snobby" so as to make lesser-accomplished (read: not as dedicated) musicians feel better about themselves.

Happy In Bag said...

I don't know Eldar. I wouldn't know if he's a creep or if he's a great guy. And I don't care. No one ever accused Miles Davis of being exceptionally nice, but that doesn't effect my appreciation of his music.

Your unique insights are truly fascinating, Jeremy. Thanks for chiming in.

Unfortunately, Andrew, I happen to agree with Eric Cartman. Japanese tourists and exchange students excepted, the young people I see at most jazz shows in Kansas City are invariably Bobby Watson's UMKC students or the significant others of the musicians onstage. It really hurts me to say this, Andrew, but I think you might be the only non-professional musician under thirty I know who actively consumes jazz.

The exception, as I'm sure the always thoughtful Cb will be interested in hearing about, was last night's Black House Improvisors' Collective gig in a makeshift space. It was reflective, in Cb's words, of a fresh "attitude and mentality." In a complete reversal of the usual scene, I was one of the oldest people in the room. And the small but enthusiastic audience was actually listening! Look for details in the next Plastic Sax post.

Finally, if you're not reading KCJazzLark, you're missing out on thoughtful commentary. He posts his thoughts about this discussion here.

Oh, one last thing- I wish people would stop calling me a hippie.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I should place myself in the context of the discussion: Kansas City. Although I've only recently relocated 1300 miles east of KC - and am relishing in seeing a handful of youth at jazz performances - my mind is often still there, particularly as I continue to read this blog.

Any of my arguments or observations probably don't hold as much weight anymore since I'm no longer part of the scene in KC...but I am part of the gang who wishes things were better.

Miles Bonny said...

I think Eldar is talented in the way many many artists of all types around the world are talented. However taht doesnt mean I enjoy what they create. I respect Eldar but have yet to hear something he did that touched me in the way others i follow do... Mingus plays piano.. anyone? Of course Mingus isn't alive and i cant see him, that doesn't mean we all cant still place our standards and apprecaition in a place of timelessness. long live music and art that individuals want to enjoy live, regardless of "genre"