Monday, March 7, 2011

A Jazz Checkup

This is going to hurt a little bit.

I ran a detailed analysis of the March music calendars for Kansas City's three most recognized jazz clubs. The results raise a few interesting questions. When is a jazz club no longer a jazz club? What's the difference between jazz and R&B? And what would I do without my calculator?

The Blue Room, Jardine's and The Phoenix have a combined 96 events in March. Of these, 46 are mainstream jazz, 6 are experimental jazz, 21 are R&B, 5 are international music and 18 are rock, folk or blues. That means that only 54% of the bookings are mainstream or experimental jazz. Some might argue that the Phoenix has evolved into a blues club. Fair enough. Remove the Phoenix from the equation and the combined jazz bookings at the Blue Room and Jardine's rises to a modest 61%.

Although the Gaslight Grill and the Majestic offer live jazz, I didn't include them in my calculations because they seem to emphasize the restaurant aspect of their businesses. A couple other rooms that feature live music couldn't be included because, well, you know.

I don't begrudge clubs for expanding their reach. With the possible exception of the Blue Room, which is at least partially publicly-funded, these establishments are businesses that need to turn a profit. Besides, I'm hardly a purist. I've lobbied for a weekly jazz-meets-hip hop night at the Blue Room. And I'm a big fan of a folk artist who regularly performs at Jardine's.

Just five years ago, any one of these non-jazz bookings would have raised eyebrows. Yet if this trend continues- and there's no reason to believe that it won't- jazz will eventually become a secondary consideration in these rooms.

The fate of live jazz in Kansas City, of course, doesn't hinge on a single venue. Also noteworthy are the occasional jazz bookings at rock emporiums like the Brick and the Record Bar, JCCC's noontime series, Tim Whitmer's monthly Spirituality and All That Jazz, the efforts of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and the excellent jazz series at both the Folly and the Gem.

Would you like a Band-Aid?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

Remember that the Blue Room is subsidized largely by the government, The City of Kansas City and other state and federally funded initiatives.

stopworrying said...

Stop worrying.

ericcartman said...

I wonder what the percentage of the jazz bookings were the same people playing the same tunes on the same night of the week?

Dont worry be happy (in bag) said...

With great tunes you always find greater insight into performing the music. Chord changes like All the Things You Are, Stella and Isotope to name three give you a liftime of struggle because of their depth. Dismissing repertoire because you have heard them one hundred or more times is characteristic of Pop music. You eventually get sick of songs where as Ellington, Monk, Beethoven and Bach allow greater insight to each performance.

Russell Thorpe said...

I dont know about that last statement Happy, I'm fairly certain I can listen to Cottontail or Blue Monk enough to make me want to puke. And the Prelude in C is pretty enough, but well, I had to analyze that shit in school and I'm fairly certain the move to diminished in measures 12 and 22 and then half-diminished (actually a French 6) in measure 23 is the most depth I'll get out of that one, no matter how many times I listen to it. Ludwig Van am I sure has plenty of opii that will surprise me, but I tend toward Bartok, Stravinsky, and Hindemith if I want my music straight-up.

Besides, I'm sure you can count on less than 5 fingers the number of times you've heard a drunk fan yell out "Giant Steps!" Now contrast that with every time you hear "Free Bird!" slurred out the smoky haze.

Anonymous said...

Cottontail is based on rhythm changes (I Got Rhythm) and Blue Monk is a blues. These are melodies based on pre-existent chord changes. What musicians call head tunes.

Cottontail and Blue Monk are not meaty tunes although there is plenty to explore with alterations.

The tunes the previous poster mentioned are meaty tunes and any musician will tell you that playing those tunes never get stale.

Unfortunately a lot of audiences and muscians for that matter don't want to listen for deeper meaning.

We have become a click track, pro tools, auto tune society.

Russell Thorpe said...

Captain Obvious doesn't get my hyperbole and sarcasm. Any other prophetic bits of anonymous wisdom?

By meaty do you mean only interesting to that fraction of a percentage of the population who actually know what function a French six chord serves before it moves to an Augmented Dominant with both # and b9 in it?

By all means, please put me in my place of I speak out of turn. I am yours to chastise from anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Having played those tunes hundreds of times. The harmonic analysis is the easy part. Executing a coherent improvised statement is another story.

It is always a thrill and a great challenge to play tunes like Stella, ATTYA, Joy Spring, Cherokee, Nardis etc.

These are musician test pieces. They never get old and they are always a challenge. Unfortunately, my lack of chops and facility have been exposed more times than I care to remember.

Russell Thorpe said...

You're correct. But ultimately they become a means to an end, "executing a coherent musical statement"

But you know what, a Talking Heads song or a CCR song, or hell, even a U2 arena-rock-power-anthem is also a coherent musical statement, regardless of whatever judgement you make as to its complexity.

Its all a matter of taste after a certain point. And trying to impress a bunch of other practicers with how hard you have practiced gets old really quick for me.

Anonymous said...

True, but in jazz the melody is a point of departure. The pop groups you mentioned that I enjoy too are not viruosos on their instruments. The melody on Days go By by the Talking Heads is a cool tune but it sounds relatively the same from concert to concert. Its more about the melody.

If you're trying to impress a bunch of practicers of your art than you're missing the boat.

Bobby Watson and Matt Otto are not trying to impress anybody. Either are Pat Metheny or Herbie Hancock.

In jazz you must first become a virtuoso on your instrument and then give structure and logic to the music in addition to learning the language. There are rules to the language. Before you break the rules you must master the rules.

If you break the rules before you master them then you're taking a short cut exposing your work ethic.

Similar to part writing and composition class.

Russell Thorpe said...

congratulations! you've judged me and found me lacking! it's obvious from your comments where your tastes lie so I will take mine own advice and not worry about what the Internets say anymore. have a wonderful time I'll be out back learning some pop songs for you to sneer at later

Happy In Bag said...

We're just getting started, Phonologotron! You can't quit now. And for the record, the person with the pun at 814 wasn't me.

Thanks for reading, everybody. I can't wait to shout "Giant Steps" at Rod Fleeman later tonight.

Unknown said...

Wow. No wonder jazz smells funny.

Michael said...

I'm not sure when being a "practicer" became so derogatory.

Pamela Espeland said...

I'll tiptoe around the animated conversation in the center of the room and mention that if you come to Minneapolis, you'll see that the Dakota Jazz Club is also "expanding its reach" far beyond jazz. As are Yoshi's SF and the Blue Note in NYC and most jazz festivals. Except for Open Poetry Night on Mondays, the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul stays true to its jazz heart and soul, but it's a rarity in more ways than one.

Russell Thorpe said...

@ Bill - you started it!

@ psuedoBIll - you actually started it, and i'm the fool for taking the bait.

@ Michael - Please don't misunderstand my intent; I practiced the Eb alto clarinet for 2 hours this morning!? Why? Because I am a glutton for what it does to my brain and fingers There is nothing wrong with practicing. Intense, consistent, thoughtful practice is how one further myelinates the neural architecture in their brain that governs the germaine task. The more intentional you are with your practice, the faster you grow and strengthen all those pathways in your brain and the more confident and competent you becomes. In practice you are always searching for those states nearest to Flow as you can attain. It is when one practices to the exclusion of everything else about being a musician that I start to see a problem with such behavior.

@ anonymous - would you rather pour the glass with water? or fill water into the glass?

I understand your argument and agree with the salient points. Somehow this conversation turned from Happy's observations about local venues and the definition of "jazz club" towards that most perennial internet meme, the definition of "jazz" I apologize if I initiated such a trajectory change. But I bet in your own playing and writing (and at this point I really wish I knew who I was talking to) you totally allow parallel fifths and direct octaves to happen, to use your part writing example. Why?

Because it makes sense to you, probably at some visceral level in combination with the intellectual dissonance generated by any meta-thinking you may engage in about your process and outcomes.

Fact is, the whole conflict as I see it is that because it was/is/willforeverbe an historically oral tradition, jazz represents a way of learning that we are afraid loosing to technology and cultural syncresis.

That's why people are making such declamations about the other camp in the much beloved Internets -JNI-Wars, which can be construed as a conservative/liberal argument, or a black/white thing or a hegemon/dissident sort or situation. But however you choose to view it, here's an observation.

Cultural memory is fickle and the preservationist argument seeks to further concretize the idea of what the significance Africa to NewOrleans to Chicago to KansasCity to NewYork to LA to Europe to Africa and back should be; and "you young men need to keep the flame of tradition alive, it is vital, else all of our heritage and struggle be for nought."

The nerds are like..."dude, i'm just a middle class guy from the midwest who benefits from having been born at this time and this place. I grew up listening to all this other music while headbanging or slamdancing, or doing the Hammer or marching at football games in the band, and then got into jazz late in life, was intimidated at first, but then was like, whoa, this is some deep shit, I'm gonna forever be playing catch up."

Anonymous said...

Very well said Phonolog. I wish I was smart enough to understand it all.

When you say play "catch up"....catch up to what? The notion that many "young lions" dealt with during the young lion movement in the late 80's and through the 90's was, If I'm not on Blue Note or Columbia by the the time I'm 22 I'll never amount to anything.

Playing jazz is a journey. You never arrive. It is a life long endeavor. Bobby Watson, Wynton, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland and all the top shelf players still think they are scratching the surface.

Even James Moody was practicing and learning till he was physically unable.

Its never too late. Success is not where you begin but where you finish.

Anonymous said...

All your knowledge makes you smell like cabbage.

ericcartman said...

So they're "test pieces" huh? I wonder who came up with that.

Well in any case, I think they ought to be announced to the audience:

"Ladies and gentlemen, now I'm going to play a tune from the standard repertoire so that you can more accurately compare my playing to that of other jazz musicians. For all you know, I may have written my own tunes specifically to play to my own strengths as a performer. Which would obviously make the music sound better than it probably should and therefore be cheating. I just want to assure all of you that my attempts to create original music has in no way hindered my continued study of the standard jazz cannon."

As an audience member I'd really appreciate the honesty.

Anonymous said...


Have you ever auditioned for High School All State Jazz or a college jazz program like UMKC, North Texas, Juilliard, Univ of Miami etc? These tunes are part of a generic body of work that are considered "test pieces" or "measuring stick" repertoire. In other words you can't fake your way through them without exposing yourself.

The way a player plays these tunes tells you alot about the player. Good, lame, lazy or otherwise.Its not just these tunes but there are many of them that would qualify.

Not all but alot of musicians write their own music because they don't have the depth, desire or work ethic to play otherwise. Listen to Yanni, John Tesch and George Winston.

I went to a jazz clinic by a prominent "New Age" jazz pianist who played pretty much his own compositions and when he was asked by a person at the workshop how he would approach Take The A Train, he didn't really even know the tune well enough to do it justice. Instead of demonstrating any historical or theoretical perspective he did his own thing complete with tertian harmony. At that point he exposed his depth or lack there of and lost a lot of credibility. The overall consensus among the participants was, "well, he plays his own music well but can't play anything else." He was not interested in zeroing in on his own weaknesses as a player. Thats fine thats his choice.

ericcartman said...

Oh boy.

I wonder what makes a tune so powerful that someone can't fake their way through it? That's a pretty awesome responsible we have as jazz musicians. We alone possess the hallowed "songs of undeniable truth" that will mercilessly expose a players shortcomings if they dare attempt them. AND they're the only songs with which a player can properly address their weaknesses. All else is futile.

I'm sorry that guy hurt your feelings by not knowing Take the A Train.

But don't worry, I did indeed make the all-state jazz band in high school and I have a degree in jazz from one of the institutions you listed.

benleifer said...

Bill I think you just found out your reason why no clubs want to work with jazz musicians.

Leo said...

Mr. Cartman,
I'd like to hear your music. Where can I purchase it or at least listen to it.

Michael said...

Thanks Ben. I love you man.

jazztrumpet5 said...

Thanks Michael. I love you, Ben. Wait, what?

Clint said...

Thanks Michael. I love you, Ben. Wait, what?

kylebrovlovsky said...

yeah cartman. you shut your fat face! you and I both know whose fingers were so pudgy he couldn't even play hot cross buns on the recorder in 2nd grade. leave these nice people alone already.

ericcartman said...

Awwww, if I gave away who I am it wouldn't be fun anymore.

A good blog forum is filled with individuals who pick and stick with an alias and therefore are free to say whatever j*** a** s*** they want without fear of burning bridges. The jazz community is far to small for us to generally engage in these divisive ideological arguments because we've all got to work together and support each other.

I'm pretty sure that whoever I was arguing with, they are most likely a musician that I respect and have or would like to play with.

Outright hostility isn't going to change anyone's mind but it makes for a fun comment thread.

fiddler said...

heh... and i thought dark side of the moon was deep.

the original post was about the trend of clubs not booking as many jazz acts, even if they're considered a jazz oriented club, and you guys take off and start talking mechanics of the music and practice habits.

if the general public, and thus the club owners, find jazz inaccessible, wherein lies the fault? within the discourse above, pot meets kettle.