Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Royal Scam: Sam Yahel Opens for Steely Dan

"Where's 'Kid Charlemagne'?" a heckler shouted Thursday evening at Starlight Theater. "C'mon!"

I was pleased when I first learned that Steely Dan had tapped Sam Yahel's organ trio to serve as its opening act for a portion of its current tour. I was eager to see if fans of a jazz-influenced classic rock band would be receptive to a genuine jazz artist. Alas, the answer is a resounding no.

"Organ?" a guy near me grumbled. "It's like being at church."

Rarely have I been so discouraged. I'd long hoped that Steely Dan's aging audience would come to embrace jazz. I'd counted on that demographic- relatively affluent 40-to-60 year-olds with a taste for sophisticated pop music- to eventually acquire an active interest in jazz. The behavior of Thursday's audience indicated that my hope was little more than a naive pipe dream.

Yahel and his colleagues- Adam Small on bass and Joe Strasser on drums- displayed an interesting array of concepts during their 30-minute set. Their smart and funky approach was closer in spirit to the music associated with Larry Young than Jimmy Smith. It didn't matter. The constant chatter of at least two-thirds of the early arriving audience of over 5,000 occasionally drowned out the trio. Revelers took selfies, socialized and shouted greetings to friends sitting several rows away. To be fair, very few of the concertgoers had heard of Yahel, nor did they expect an opening act of any kind.

Unfortunately, the boorish behavior continued when Steely Dan opened its set with Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." Steely Dan's ongoing homage to jazz didn't end there. It played "Parker's Band", a 1974 tribute to Bird and Kansas City. Jazz-based solos were featured on most songs. During these segments, the majority of the audience- at least the majority in the back third where I was seated- were clearly disinterested in everything but singing along to the choruses of the band's biggest hits. If a 45-second solo by Walt Weiskopf on a track from the multi-platinum album Aja bored them, there's not much of a chance of them willingly attending a Joshua Redman concert. (Elgin Smith and Tim Finn reviewed Thursday's show.)

Asking a respected jazz act serve as an opener was an incredibly commendable move on Steely Dan's part. The noble experiment failed. My ongoing ambition of finding new ways to develop the audience for jazz took another hit. I suppose that any major dude could have told me.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

Yeah Americans just really aren't into instrumental music. Got to have a singer or we lose interest.

Thinking that a cool tenor solo by Walt is going inspire someone to check out Joshua Redman is the worse kind of false equivalent. People like artists not genres. As record sales have clearly show, you can love Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew and never care to check out any other jazz. Nor should you.

The music isn't for everybody. In fact, it's not for most people.

The Phonologotron said...

younger jazz buyers "have an especially strong affinity for informal settings." Indeed, "survey results point to dramatic differences in the music consumption patterns of older and younger jazz patrons."

and there's this one too

The JAI lists a few recommendations for jazz presenters at the end of its summary. It mentions "both live and digital experiences." It discusses reassessing the "utility" of "defining themselves around a specific form of music." It brings up "creative wa[y]s to address the cost barrier." It recommends finding "small, intimate spaces" where audiences can move around and socialize compared to "formal concert halls," and partnering with new organizations in the community to make this happen. It also mentions the need for new ways to market jazz and other informal ways to educate audiences about the music.

you did read this whole thing I assume. Sorry to cut and paste into your comment box there but, it kind of makes the point all on its lonesome.

Props to Steely Dan and all, but, sometimes I think we forget there are as many as 4 generations of musicians out there, all fighting for bandwidth. And like you said, I dont have the extra dough lying around to snag a $60 ticket.

Anonymous said...

Kenny Gorelick didn't turn anyone on to Kenny Garrett. Either did Bill Clinton.

Chuck Mangletoni didnt get anyone excited about Dizzy....although he was the "connection" for Art Blakey when he played in the Jazz Messengers.

Diana Krall has not gotten anyone excited about Dinah Washington.

These are pipedreams. If you want to build your own audience and play to a lot of listeners in the crowd then "study the masters"...on building a large following. How did they do it. "Study the local masters".

Social networking may not the answer. Personal interaction is.
Club owners make you think you have to have a large facebook fan base and a large email list. It certainly helps but nothing takes the place of a personal friendship with a fan. Learn your audience by name and address them on the breaks by name.

This is fan base building 101.

"Make a fan a friend". Mingle with your audience on the break....every break....get out of your comfort zone.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:49 on 8-28, can you elaborate on your admonition, "Nor should you."? That comment gets to the heart of the topic of why people do not broaden their experiences or expand their taste. I really do not understand it.

Anonymous said...

For some reason jazz fans and musicians think that if you're a fan, you're a fan of everything jazz. It's stupid. Other genre's don't seem to work this way.

If you were to ask me, "let's go see a rock show tonight?." I'd ask "Who's playing?" I wouldn't just go see some band neither of us had never heard of. Most bands suck and are too loud.

Why is it different in jazz? "Let's go see a jam session." "OK who's playing?" "I don't know" "Not interested." Most bands suck. Just being jazz doesn't exempt you from this.

I'm not a jazz fan, I'm a Coltrane, Davis, Potter, Garrett, etc fan. It doesn't mean I like the Jazz Messengers or Ornette Coleman or Steely Dan or Lester Young. You may think that I should but that's a different argument. I'm a fan of artists not genres. And actually to be more precise I'm just a fan of some of an artist's work. I tend to like 2 or 3 albums but not all.

I don't care how many awesome musicians she gets to play with her, I still hate Joni Mitchell. I once saw Joshua Redman, who I love, play with Jewel on SNL. Guess what? I still hate Jewel.

Whining about how "people just don't broaden their experiences or expand their taste" is worthless. Deal with the realities of the listening audience instead of pointlessly wishing they were different.

Cb said...

*The music isn't for everybody. In fact, it's not for most people.*

And, that, my friends, says it all... ;-)

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anon 8:18 on 8-29. I understand perfectly not caring for every jazz cat or every form of jazz. I'd be amazed if anybody dug everybody (or if everybody dug anybody - even Bill Evans.) I had thought you meant that no one should care about even checking out new things. P.S. Joni & Jewel don't do much for me either.

Anonymous said...

This has been a really interesting discussion, but I think the converstation has drifted away from one of Bill's observations that there was a LOT of boorish behavior on display at the Steely Dan show. It's fine if you don't like the Sam Yahel trio, but to ruin it for others by shouting and carrying on during the opening act is really low class. When I pay to go to a show, it's really annoying to have to sit by people who listen with their mouths!

Anonymous said...

What else can you expect from a pop culture crowd?

Saw Curtis Stigers (great jazz singer) open for Barry Manilow at Starlight and it was the same low class behavior.

If everybody would boycott all pop culture and prime time television it wouldn't run our lives.

Anonymous said...

But then how would Barry Manilow make a living?

Neil Elliott Dorval said...

This article is why so many musicians use the saying, "Opinions are like "A" Holes... Everybody has one". I saw Sam Yahel for the first time open for Steely Dan at The Greek. I became a fan instantaneously. He was awesome. very hip very cool.// The author's position as to fan interest, is more than subjective. What did he do... ask members of the audience what they thought? What was unfortunate, was that the public address announcer, was not clearly heard, when they announced Sam's name, so the people could not buy his tracks from iTunes, and reference his site. Also, Sam's needs a more significant Internet presence, and an updates site... but he probably had to pay a mint to OPEN... fans don;t consider this. Opening Acts most often PAY the headliner, or make a deal to reciprocate, and offset the favor or cost.// All audiences are eager to hear the Headliner, and give the opening act little attention... especially in Hollywood, the only PAY TO PLAY town in the world, and filled with apathetic music industry attitudes. The author of this article, is simply not a good journalist. Walt was awesome, and to me stood out in the quartet. !. // Sam Yahel is a great artist. Steely Dan founding members did a great services to their fans by presenting Sam. Good for Fagan and Becker.//