Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ain't Misbehavin'

Michael Shults made a reasonable request in his thoughtful response to a recent Plastic Sax post that linked to Natalie Gallagher’s story about Eddie Moore.
Great article on Eddie and I have really liked Natalie's writing on jazz for the Pitch! What's with every single music critic's obligatory preamble about how nobody's actually listening/the crowds are sparse at jazz-oriented gigs, though? Can we put a moratorium on this angle for awhile? Lookin' at you too, Bill.
Shullts isn’t the only person who objects to this recurring story line.  The appeal merits a detailed response.

The official narrative constructed by the staffs of tourism bureaus and public officials- most of whom I've never encountered at a jazz performance- is that Kansas City’s populace is obsessed with jazz.  The fallacy is perpetuated by jazz educators (lookin’ at you too, Michael) and enthusiasts wearing rose-colored glasses.

Regularly attending attend rock, hip-hop, pop, classical and R&B shows provides “music critics” with the benefit of context.  Natalie and I mention the poor attendance and audience indifference at jazz gigs because it's shocking.  We generally don’t encounter empty rooms and disinterested listeners elsewhere.

Jazz isn’t being singled out.  My review of Kanye West's 2013 concert at the Sprint Center was a lead item at aggregators like the Huffington Post, Reddit and the Drudge Report because I observed that the arena was only a quarter full. 

It was a tantalizing story when less than 5,000 people purchased $44.50-$125 tickets to see Yeezy.  It's also a story when less than 200 people paid $10-$50 to attend a well-promoted concert by the leading jazz luminary Julian Lage at the 1,050-seat Folly Theater last weekend. 

I’ve attended several jazz gigs by Kansas City musicians in 2015 at which the audience numbered less than ten.  It breaks my heart.  And for the hundredth time- these observations aren’t a reflection of the quality of the music.

I have no intention of glossing over the discouraging reality that so few people in Kansas City currently share our passion for this music.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Michael said...

Thanks for this, Bill - on the road now right now with UWEC jazz bands, but will write more when i can get to a computer.

Anonymous said...

Audience size is something worth talking about. Pretending it doesn't matter won't help anything. If the music isn't connecting with people we should acknoledge that and, as culture-makers, adapt. And by adapt I dont mean more Radiohead tributes and hip hop fusion.

I think that people really want to believe that jazz hasn't become an academic music. But it has. We can argue about why (the Marsalis museum perspective, or the jock culture of college big band competitions, trotting out the race card, etc...) but the artists have ultimately let the music fade out of relevance.

Instead of dealing with this issue, most jazz musicians chose to double down on fanaticism and view themselves as enlightened martyrs.

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely puzzled by the comment, "most jazz musicians chose to double down on fanaticism and view themselves as enlightened martyrs." I have to wonder. How could you possibly know how most jazz musicians view themselves? Insulting artists who dedicate their lives to jazz hardly seems appropriate.

Anonymous said...

The very phrase "artists who dedicate their lives to jazz" prooves my point of gradiose self-delusion.