Monday, January 20, 2014


In a blog post explicating his picks for the 8th Annual Jazz Critics Poll: 2013, the locally-based jazz critic Chris Robinson suggested that "with something like 700 albums receiving votes, I can say with some confidence that there are way too many albums being recorded.  There’s a lot of quality, but the small jazz market, I feel, may be dangerously flooded with music that nobody will ever hear – quality or not."

While my heart insists that Robinson is wrong, the numbers indicate otherwise.  A detailed examination of new data leads to a difficult question: How can Kansas City-based jazz artists vie for international attention amid the ongoing marginalization of the music?

Robinson points out that his ballot contained the sole vote cast for Alaturka's Yalniz (#309) in the poll of over 100 jazz critics.  Only a handful of additional albums with Kansas City connections received any form of acknowledgement.  A listing: Frank Wess' Magic 101 (#22), Pat Metheny's Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20 (#30), Lester Young's Boston 1950 (#140) and Harold O'Neal's Man On the Street (#453.)

The lack of consensus is startling.  Less than half the participants included the highest-ranked album- Wayne Shorter's Without a Net- in their top ten.  Prominent releases of local interest including Pat Metheny's The Orchestrion Project, Eldar Djangarov's Breakthrough, the Next Collective's Cover Art (featuring Logan Richardson) and Bobby Watson's Check Cashing Day weren't recognized at all.  That leaves little hope for self-released titles by the likes of Mark Lowrey, Paul Shinn and Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle.

Besides, it's safe to say that only a few dozen of the albums receiving votes sold over 1,000 units.  The Music Timeline published by Google last week makes the situation seem even more hopeless.  The overwhelming majority of jazz that's heard by Google Play users was recorded in the 1950s.  Not even the inclusion of pop-based artists like Michael BublĂ©, Kenny G and Norah Jones in the jazz category prevents the genre from flatlining after 1965.  The The Village Voice's 41st Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll- a historically jazz-friendly forum- verified the trend.  The highest-ranked jazz album for 2013 comes in at #76.

Given that environment, it seems unlikely that Kansas City can reassert itself as a vital cradle of jazz in the new millennium.  But why not?  There's a lot of great music being made in Kansas City.  As Robinson notes of Alaturka's latest release, "(h)ad the album been on ECM or a similarly large (label) with promotion and distribution muscle, I bet it would have cleaned up."

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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