Not Only the Bright Spot: Telescoping Views ...

Not Only the Bright Spots

Telescoping Views from Boosters in the Jazz Records Business, Broadcasting, Clubs, Licensing Agencies and Not-for-Profits

by Howard Mandel
copyright © 2003 Howard Mandel

The jazz community has visionaries and bean counters, optimists and pessimists, idealists and realists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs -- and almost every one of them says that jazz is suffering hard times.

Most will add: When has it not? (Oh, 60 years ago?) The best minds of the jazz world, whether they're CEOs or lobbyists, producers, presenters or promoters, club owners, philanthropists, educators, or governmentally-connected culture curators, concede they have more questions than answers. But when they stare at the gloom, they seek bright spots and opportunities. And in 2002, they identified the bright spots as new stars with pop crossover potential, the opportunities as most available to do-it-yourself types.

The Dark Picture First

"There's a long slide in the market share for jazz recordings. There's a crisis in jazz radio. In part due to economic and overall problems post 9/11, some travel has been curtailed, including travel to jazz fests." So said John Edward Hasse, Duke Ellington biographer, jazz historian, and curator of American music for the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.

"There is ever more competition for the public's discretionary income and time from other musics and cultural pursuits, on-line activities, videos, computers, etc. While by some measures, jazz is in excellent health, by other measures it's in trouble. Certainly it is undervalued vis à vis a number of European-rooted art forms. I think concerted, large-scale efforts need to be made on behalf of jazz, to raise visibility, awareness and appreciation of the music."

Hasse didn't just pinpoint the problems, but addressed them in 2002 by enlisting the U.S. government and taxpayer's money in the establishment of April as an annual Jazz Appreciation Month. He conceived JAM along the lines of Black History Month, involving seven different cabinet departments and federal agencies, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, as well as 21 "partnering associates" such as the Grammies Foundation, ASCAP, BMI, Chamber Music America, The American Library Association, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE).

Nineteen state jazz associations scheduled JAM programs, as did the Smithsonian Institution (displaying Louis Armstrong's cornet), and American missions in Eastern Europe, former Soviet Republics, Japan and East Asia. Hasse was delighted by the results: "I think we achieved a great deal more awareness of and through the program than anyone would have predicted, and quite a bit of substantial participation for the very first year," he said with justifiable pride. However, this federally underwritten activity can't be proven to have affected private enterprise jazz. Nor can educational programs such as those that flourish under the auspices of IAJE, or such non-profit initiatives at the Doris Duke Foundation's jazz composer/bandleader/performer fellowships, administered by Chamber Music America.

And dire news from the commercial sector is rampant. Last August, the annual "Consumer's Profile" commissioned by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) again reported that jazz recordings garner a disappointing percentage of total recordings sales.

"For the year 2001, the last for which we have complete data, we're reporting a 3.4 per cent market share for jazz," Barry Robinson, attorney, said from RIAA's Washington, D.C. offices. The rock genre dominates, with 24 percent of the pie. These numbers represent the reported preferences of more than 3000 music fans to a telephone survey compiled by Peter D. Hart, Research Associates, which claims reliability of the data is +/- 1.8 percent, and rates a 95 percent "confidence level."

RIAA is not universally admired -- this year the lobbying organization has been instrumental in directing royalties for radio broadcasts or recordings going to record companies (previously, ASCAP and BMI collected airplay royalties for composers and copyright holders only) and for suing on-line file sharing services like Napster out of business. Its figures aren't suspect, but they are questionable. The fact bears repeating that RIAA's consumer profile data on genre-buying preferences is based on 3153 telephone surveys conducted monthly throughout 2001, weighted by age and gender for extrapolation to U.S. population numbers.

"The figures can't be compared to year-end data we have on recordings actually shipped," Robinson explained, "which would also include artists selling their own CDs off the stage at gigs, and every form of purchase except used CD store sales. But RIAA's shipment data is not broken down by genre.

"According to Soundscan," he continued, "31,000 titles were released in 2001. Ask Soundscan if they break it down by genre. I'm afraid we don't have the wherewithal, tools or methodologies that would elicit some of this data we really could use.

"If we had it we could use it, say, to look for migration points, strengthening the supply to appease an appetite for jazz music that wasn't fully exploited. We could study the demographics of people interested in acid jazz, for instance, and in trying to promote artists who are more mainstream, figure out what we could do to bolster their popularity to the acid jazz fan . . .

"This kind of surveying requires cost-benefit analysis, to see whether it's viable to do to sell the resulting number of records. Similarly: How much is feasible to invest in point of sale promotions, knowledgeable staff, things like that to sell jazz records? Retailers think about this sort of issue, and not just for jazz. Classical and other genres have the same problems.

"My suspicion is that the greatest health of jazz is at the grassroots, that there is more local interest as well as national consciousness than we're aware of. The not-for-profits, the jazz fests, the small venues, the public radio and TV broadcasts, the educational programs, the music publishers. Where could you go to get a handle on the entertainment dollars spent at live venues, Ticketmaster? Maybe NPR can provide data on this wellspring of American culture."

A Dearth of Data?

The lack of quantifiable data hampers the jazz world's efforts to solve its problems, Robinson suggested, and others (such at principals in the Jazz Alliance International, as detailed below) have also contended. But sometimes analysis has led jazz into a dead end.

For instance, National Public Radio, which RIAA's Robinson would ask for word on jazz's grass roots, has looked and -- at least for now -- turned away. In spring 2002 NPR determined to shift its resources from network-funded jazz and classical performance programs -- including Billy Taylor's Jazz from the Kennedy Center, the Peabody Award-winning Jazz Profiles hosted by Nancy Wilson, and the "Jazz Riff" modules -- to more talk, news and information shows. Local NPR member stations still independently call their own shots, but won't have so many goodies coming from the network. And content of the ambitious NPRJazz.org website, originally funded in 1999 by a five year, $2.2 million grant from the Doris Duke Foundation, has been trimmed.

Despite this shift in a major vehicle of jazz dissemination, longtime radio independent producer Steve Rathe, of the Peabody Award-winning concert series Jazz From Lincoln Center, kept smiling. "Jazz@Lincoln Center is building a very advanced media facility at its new home," Rathe reported; this structure, in a Columbus Circle building also housing AOL/TimeWarner's headquarters, had advanced so far that its progress was relatively undeterred by New York City budget reallocations resulting from 9/11 attacks. "J@LC has substantial plans to make performances available under its own auspices. NPR is exploring new ways of getting new material out to the audiences. Also, I'm convinced there will come a time when good sense will supersede avarice in new media; there will be a renaissance of fulfillment of the digital promise.

"I believe there's going to be more jazz on the airwaves. We're moving from a condition of radio-spectrum scarcity to plenitude," he insisted. A skilled survivor in the marginal world of not-for-profit radio, Rathe's series of Lincoln Center concerts -- usually featuring Wynton Marsalis with one or more ensembles, and voiced by newsman Ed Bradley -- was picked up for distribution by the 135-member satellite broadcast WFMT Jazz Radio Network. His optimism was based in part by the emergence of a new kid on the block: comprehensive 24-7 niche jazz radio programming accessible in your car fade-free, nationwide, from channels one subscribes to à la cable TV.

In this new satellite radio model, you'll pick your jazz programming preference, instead of hoping the station you can get happens to pay dues to NPR or WFMT. So far the Federal Communications Commission has licensed two such services: Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio.

"Our music channels are totally commercial-free, while some of theirs have commercials. Sometimes they stream programs from terrestrial radio stations, but that doesn't happen here," explained drummer and disk jockey Kenny Washington, a consultant and host of two of Sirius jazz channels -- "'Pure Jazz,' which goes from roughly '45 to now, from Bird and Diz to now, and also 'Swing Street,' hits and rarities of big and small bands of the late '20s through the late '40s."

"Within the jazz department, we have several offshoot channels." Washington mentioned Latin "Jazz en Clavé," contemporary "Planet Jazz," smooth "Jazz Café," and canonical "Standard Time." With a New York recording and gigging career as well as weekly airtime at Newark's NPR outlet WBGO-FM, Washington considered Sirius's prospects bright. "Wall Street analysts have said by end of this year we'll have between 100 -- 150,000 subscribers, and four million by 2005." These certainly seem like rosy predictions; to date Sirius is lagging behind XM's ratings, and XM is not yet living large. Indeed, persistent rumors of Sirius's imminent bankruptcy and XM's fiscal troubles circulated all year long.

Furthermore, the forecast Washington cited includes not just jazz aficionados, but also those contracting for non-jazz niches from rock to symphonic chamber works, bluegrass, and a range of talk channels. Applying RIAA's percentage of jazz sales to total sales, four million Sirius subscribers equal 136,000 jazz fans, certainly a paltry number for the nation-wide jazz radio audience. A station like WBGO-FM, which offers its program for Internet streaming as well as to a tri-state listenership, is available to much more than four million listeners daily, just employing current (free) broadcast options. WBGO claims a core listenership of 400,000.

"There are few full-time jazz radio stations now anywhere in the country, and if you get into some less inhabited regions, there is nothing," Washington proposed. "If you subscribe, you'll be able to hear jazz in the style of your choice all the time." Sirius planned to roll out an in-home service around Thanksgiving, but that didn't come to pass.

Could Satellites Save Jazz? How About an Umbrella Organization?

Key jazz observers think passivity in the face of current levels of jazz consumption just won't do.

"We sense there are more appreciators of jazz than the consumer numbers suggest, but since they don't have any cognizance of its that it is jazz, they don't buy jazz records, go to jazz concerts, or support the music as they might," said Chuck Iwanusa, executive director of the Jazz Alliance International, a three-year-old jazz industry association construed as something like the Country Music Foundation. "It seems jazz is in everything we hear on a daily basis, but that it is jazz strikes people as a big surprise."

He cited a Knight Foundation study showing that 60 per cent of adults say they have an interest in classical music, listen to it in their homes and cars, yet less than five per cent in 15 large communities patronize large orchestras. "There could be a parallel to jazz. People put it into their daily lives but don't go out to hear it, or purchase product. These are the issues we need to deal with. So for long-term institutional benefits, we have a goal of doing serious audience research, to define who the jazz audience is. Each of us thinks we know the answer, but we really don't, not definitively."

If "we" don't, who does? When the JAI held a press conference announcing itself at the IAJE Conference in New Orleans in January 2000, jazz department executives from Blue Note and Warner Bros. Records, producers of the Monterey Jazz Festival, SFJazz, BETonJazz Cable television and Jazz@Lincoln Center were on board. One would expect some of them to have gone after such basic information; perhaps they've been proprietary, or haven't learned to share. Maybe as RIAA's Robinson (a JAI officer, among 42 board members) mentioned above, collecting such data hasn't been thought cost-effective. Consider, after all, how the JAI intended to use it.

"We want to use the research, once we've got it, to inform educational programs," Iwanusa said. "We want to use it in dealing with ad agencies and marketers to use jazz in advertising differently. Country music artists endorse products in ads today; you get jazz music in the ads, but seldom the musicians themselves. If we're targeting younger audiences, we need younger musicians and products that appeal to younger people."

"There are so many things. It's time for a paradigm shift in the clubs." Most successful club owners agree. "Of all the genres, jazz in the retail store is the mystery because it's so big and not as easily negotiated as other genres. We're hoping to integrate public education and a marketing initiative, to develop guides to that part of the record store."

Tower Records did something like that -- commissioning handbooks called "Essentials," with recognized critics suggesting collection basics. Of course, there are already dozens of books that suggest jazz "essentials" -- typically, recordings already accepted in the canon, rather than new works arriving on the shelves today. And newspapers, magazines, websites all serve up record reviews intended as consumer guides. Besides which, one might hope to hear new releases on jazz radio.

"There are an undetermined number of radio stations defined as jazz," Iwanusa went on. "It would be nice to know how many, and where they are. It would be nice to know exactly how many jazz education programs there are in the country, and get some definitive number regarding the students involved. How many kids are we impacting in high school band classes? We need to know their lifestyle activities the same way Proctor and Gamble knows income, hobbies, propensities for what its customers are interested in -- how to move those consumers to the next step, the next product or the next level of financial commitment." Though the JAI has launched a membership drive aimed at enlisting listeners as well as jazz shakers and stirrers in its program, it is conceived as an industry association rather than an ad hoc, fan-based affiliation group.

"I have to be an optimist about this," Iwanusa concluded, "but there's a real sense of urgency. Everybody involved in the music is passionate about the music, and that's our strongest asset. Maybe that's why we have such bickering among ourselves. If we can get beyond that and harness the passionate commitment we have, then we can be really successful. We need to applaud and celebrate everybody's successes. It's great we've got a Diana Krall, who won six awards in the recent Junos [Candian Grammies], blowing past all the pop people. That's something to celebrate."

All Praise the Beautiful Singers

Get in line to praise beautiful women who sing, and pop/rock/soul stylists who proclaim their love of the old school, for they shall lead listeners (read: consumers) to the trough of jazz. This is the essence of the crossover philosophy perpetuated by several jazz record company execs and retailers.

"Traditional jazz labels are looking outside the mainstream areas," said Kevin Cassidy, senior vice president of North American operations for Tower Records. "An obvious example is Norah Jones. A crossover album such as Norah's is good for jazz because it exposes the foundation of the music. Blue Note, a tremendous historical brand name, has in Norah a pop artist who can take advantage of marketing and packaging, so a consumer might feel, 'Maybe there's an opportunity for me to check out something different, like some jazz.'

"In our stores, traditional marketing and specific local marketing -- represented by our floor staff's very high level of information and talent -- can attach a Norah Jones to a Cassandra Wilson. 'If you think Norah is good,' a department manager or clerk is likely to advise, 'listen to Cassandra.'" This logic didn't persuade members of NARAS, whose early 2003 Grammy nominations proposed Jones for eight awards, and Wilson for none.

"On the other hand, you've got somebody like Greg Osby who's been adventurous for quite some time now, but his adventurous CD gets lost amid one of 31,000 releases," Cassidy expanded. "God forbid they'd put Norah Jones on an Osby record. But I think those kinds of reciprocal relationships can be important. It gets both artists more exposure."

Assume Osby did record obbligato with Jones. Assume his exposure leads a Jones enthusiast to an Osby album. Let's pretend the wistful singer-songwriter's fan is entranced with the burning alto saxophonist, and determines to look further into the instrumental side of "jazz." Does that mean a new flood of sales will buoy brick-and-mortar outlets like Tower, which has reorganized its financial structure since June 2001 to avoid bankruptcy, in the process casting shadows over the billings of the independent record distributors and record labels who provide their inventory? And would this flood trickle up to quench the thirst for profits of record companies' jazz divisions?

According to RIAA's data, online sales grew measurably over the 12 months of 2001 (RIAA also has figures about free on-line file sharing, but there is little to imply that phenomenon has had significant impact on jazz yet). Old school jazz fans might prefer to shop in a real, rather than a virtual store. What if Tower goes out-of-business? Not to worry, said Cassidy with confidence. "I think you'll hear some resolutions of everyone's concerns about Tower in the not-too-distant-future, probably within the year [2002]." But that didn't happen, either. The only news from Tower at year's end was that it suspended publication of its popular and well-respected music magazine, Pulse!. Tower is still with us, as is HMV and Virgin Megastores. But with the entire CD business suffering declines across genres, none of them expect jazz to be the savior.

The Labels' Focus

"Has anyone said there's a bright spot at all, beyond Norah Jones?" responded Jeff Jones, head of Columbia and Columbia Legacy records, when asked how the horizon looks from his chair. "Our bright spots are strong successes with Chris Botti's first CD, Peter White's three CDs and Steve Tyrell's CD, which is big in the world he lives in. Chris has had great success overseas, because he has a large international profile as a member of Sting's band for two and half years." The fabled label of Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis -- not to mention Wynton Marsalis -- looked to smooth jazz, neo-fusion and pop-worldbeat to prop up its Christmas 2002 jazz receipts.

"If there's anything at all looking bright," Jones said, "it's the diversification of jazz departments within the majors so that artists like Chris Botti or Angelique Kidjo or Derek Trucks' band or Jorma Kaukonen can co-exist under one umbrella. These new musicians are original, make interesting music, and appeal to the real music connoisseur. Our releases don't have to be from traditional jazz artists who emulate Miles, Monk, Mingus and Ellington," though fans of mainstream and traditional fans were at least tempted by last year's elaborate Legacy boxed sets Miles, Monk, Lady Day, Charlie Christian and Herbie Hancock.

Will Columbia be reissuing Chris Botti CDs in 25 years? The inquiry offended Jones. "What kind of question is that? You can't expect to compare Chris Botti to Ellington. But some Columbia jazz now is just as vital as the traditional artists. Jeff 'Tain' Watts' record is clearly a jazz record. James Carter is going to make a real jazz record for us. The brand new EST album came out in late May. David Sanchez will start on his next record soon; the last time I looked, he was considered a traditional jazz artist playing Latin jazz. Wynton's catalog is still in print, though no, I can't talk about whether there are negotiations with him."

Negotiations apparently ended -- though Marsalis released All Rise, his ambitious follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Columbia album Blood on the Fields, on Sony Classics, another Columbia-related label. That goes to show the sea change. The Marsalises used to own Columbia's jazz department, with Wynton recording more than could be issued in any given year, however his older brother Branford, Columbia jazz A&R vice president, would try. In pursuit of more independence and less bottom-line stress, post-Columbia Branford has established his own independent imprint, Marsalis Music, in association with his manager Anne Marie Wilkins.

Something Strange About Independence

In the era of media conglomeration, can Marsalis Music really be considered a model small label? With only Branford's own releases issued by the imprint by January 2003, it's being marketed by the roots-music collective Rounder Records Group through an association deal with Island/DefJam Records for distribution through Universal Music Group (as of this writing still owned by Vivendi, the French water company which floundered in attempts to become an international media conglomerate). Got that?

"Rounder is the label group," clarifies Sheri Sands, vp of sales and marketing Rounder Records. "We do all the album marketing and setup, but the UMusic Group sales force sells and ships it, giving us major distribution. I work directly with the Universal field staff jazz specialists to get the records set up with retail. Our distribution agreement actually goes through Island/DefJam group, which is distributed through Universal. That assures Marsalis Music will have major distribution for future releases. "Jazz isn't new to us at Rounder. It's like all of what we specialize in, related to other, different genres we have. Branford's album is a traditional jazz record, a tribute to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and John Lewis, and we've had a lot of comments from retailers regarding the musicians" -- Branford, drummer "Tain" Watts, pianist Joey Calderazo, bassist Eric Reeves -- "as 'some of the greatest in jazz. Our belief is that this record will have mass appeal. Branford will get support from retailers, great positioning, and placement on store-floor listening posts, which will really help. For any jazz collector, this is an essential release. But the casual jazz listener will have a chance to hear this music, too.

"We haven't had a lot of jazz, which is one reason we're so excited to work with Marsalis Music." Rounder, originally a folk label, based its expansion on the unexpected breakout of rockabluesy guitarist George Thoroughgood in the late '70s. "It's very similar to what we do marketing blues, bluegrass and folk music: focus on the audiences the genres already have and try to go beyond those audiences. The genre right now experiencing a lot of success is bluegrass. The Coen Brothers movie O Brother Where Art Thou helped bluegrass a lot."

Hmmm. Would a popular feature-length film promote jazz? Ken Burns' Jazz, the 19-hour video documentary and related all-star best-of records are credited with bumping up jazz sales immediately after the series' public TV broadcasts in January 2000, but there's little thought that movies such as Calle 54, Robert Altman's Kansas City, Clint Eastwood's Bird, Bernard Tavernier's Round Midnight or Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues encouraged more than a trickle of buyers. No word yet on an upcoming Hollywood bio-pic of Louis Armstrong's triumphs, the Ellington Orchestra's 45-year road trip, Miles Davis from the making of Kind of Blue to the stewing of Bitches Brew, or the travails of the family Marsalis.

Another Case Study

"I hope Marsalis Music sells tons of copies. Jason's not the only Marsalis I've talked to about being on my label," said Basin Street Records CEO, producer, chief cook and bottle washer Mark Samuels, whose small, independent New Orleans-based company depends for distribution, promotion and marketing services from several small, independent firms. His company's business model might serve as an alternative to the way record business-as-usual is conducted.

Basin Street's releases are specialized, arguably localized, but New Orleans music has its history of broad appeal. "My mission is to put out the best New Orleans music -- soul, funk, blues, jazz," said Samuels. "There's so much talent here, and my interest as a fan is all of those things." He began Basin Street as a hobby specifically to record New Orleans down-home trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, live in November '97 at the club Tipitina's before a sold-out audience. Shortly after Ruffins' CD release party was held at Tip's in February '98, Samuels ran into trumpeter Mayfield, who he knew was beginning to co-lead a band called Los Hombres Caliente with drummer Jason Marsalis and percussionist Bill Summer.

"Irvin said, 'I hear your doing well with Kermit's record; are you interested in putting out ours?' I said, 'If you want to get a record out by Jazz Fest [New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival] we're gonna have to sign a deal within a few days.'

"This was on March 11; we had the record out by April 16, in time for their gig at the French Quarter festival, the week before Jazz Fest. Then it became the bestseller at the fest CD tent that year, when the band performed four songs together at the end of Irvin's set. They sold 800 copies on the basis of 20 minutes. They also had the best-selling CD at Jazz Fest in '99, when they performed a full set as Los Hombres Caliente. Because we weren't set up completely, and were not yet doing Soundscan reporting, their first CD didn't qualify until '99 for the Billboard Latin Music Award, which we won in 2000."

Samuels says he's sold some 20,000 units of each of the three Los Hombres records -- but it took him four years to reach that number for Volume One, and only 12 months for Volume Three. These numbers might seem inflated -- selling 20,000 copies of a jazz CD in 12 months has become a very rare thing -- and they can't be confirmed by Soundscan, because a bulk of them aren't sold in stores, but rather off the bandstand after gigs.

"I think sales are very dependent on touring," he goes on. "I think Los Hombres Caliente, Volume 3 could sell 50,000 or 100,000 copies if the tour schedule shaped up. This past summer they did their longest tour yet; they played June 16 to July 3 every day but two and hit seven Canadian fests, the first time they've been to Canada. Of course, that's an expensive operation in itself. Until Volume Three came out in April 2001, their touring band was six people; since then, it's been mostly a nine-piece.

"I do what's necessary," Samuels says of his hands-on operation. " I put money into tour support, getting artists on the road, getting them on TV. If Los Hombres goes to play before 400 or 500 people, they'll sell 100 cds. I hope for the word of mouth to spread, and we end up selling two or three for each one we sell at the gig."

Samuels harbored even greater sales hopes for Basin Street's eponymous Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen a soul-r&b-funk record by Bonnie Raitt's keyboardist. Cleary writes songs and sings, besides playing. "I understand instrumental jazz is a tougher sell than vocal music, but I'd love to help make instrumental jazz a popular music genre," Samuels said. Cleary, he notes, averages 120 CDs sold per gig. Basin Street's 2002 release sheet included albums by pianist Henry Butler, and a reunion of Herbie Hancock's semi-funky, semi-smooth Headhunters -- sans Hancock. "My rate of release has been enough for the distributors, so far," he added. "We have 18 titles in all, and seven or so released in the last few months, all paid for in full. So as you can imagine my cash flow is in a tricky situation, because of the nature of the retail industry at this time.

"Tower Records forced my distributor to accept longer terms than in the past, and they passed those terms on to me, so now I'm being paid for everything six months past due. I'm willing to do that with some accounts, because product's got to move before it can be paid for, and I want to encourage a retailer to keep a few copies of a CD on hand. But there are other retailers I won't do business with because they demand one entire year to pay and full return capability.

"I would have never expected that it cost so much money to promote a record, or this long to have turned things around. I'm going to stick with it, but it surprises me how much it costs to sell a CD. After selling 100,000 copies of records I'm still wondering when I'm going to be able to stop feeding the company out of my personal savings.

"It's a slim margin business, yeah. But I believe in every one of our artists. I believe people are still going to be buying and talking about some of the records for 75 years. I believe people will always go out to hear live music, and that we've only scratched the surface of our natural audience. I think it's just a matter of playing before more and more people."

Is a Jazz Club Not a Jazz Club?

That strategy might work, as long as there are places to play.

"I think a lot of the models are changing," mused James Browne, who used to manage New York's Sweet Basil jazz club, and opened its successor, Sweet Rhythm, on the same Greenwich Village site in fall of '02. "The record companies are changing theirs, the clubs are changing theirs. We have the ability and the need to change. That's where the bright spots are in jazz, and always have been. Whenever you have the option to change, that's a bright spot.

"I see potential for our business in the incorporation of many possibilities, all the hybrids taking place, a widening of the Net. I hear it in the music, with musicians like the drummer Dafnis Prieto, who brings so many different elements to what he plays and changes everything he touches.

"Vis à vis Sweet Rhythm, one change is to not call it a jazz club, and to be flexible about the bookings. My intention is to create a venue where people can expect to hear something different. To bring back the element of surprise that's been taken out of the music, which has gotten so predictable that everybody's gotten bored. I want to listen to new things, try new things, whether they work or not. After all, if I book something for a night that doesn't work it's not going to kill me -- as long as I don't make a habit of it.

"My bookings don't have to be record company-backed big name media events. They can just be somebody who's doin' it. I'm hoping to build the name of the place, as opposed to getting into a bidding war with another club over who's going to have a star.

"My room holds 130; sometimes we won't charge a cover. I'm not looking to charge $40 at the door. I want the hours to be flexible. We'll have live music, deejays, spoken word. I want to have fun doin' this, so when people ask me what it's going to be, I don't even know, because there's a lot of it that will be happening as it's happening. I want to build a community of people who are interested enough in the place that we'll have direct access to them via e-mails. If it is successful, people will come to see what's happening."

"When I have jazz, it's gonna be jazz -- swinging, four-on-the-floor jazz," says Browne; Sweet Basil typically featured saxophonist David Murray's ensembles, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Sphere, and never any compromise groups. "But other times it won't be jazz at all. Jazz is changing anyway, whether I exist or not. It needs to change. I'll do what I can to keep [drummer] Louis Hayes and [pianist] Hank Jones in my schedule, doing what they do. But maybe they'll be interested in doing something else. Will Hank stop in and do a night with Cheik Tidiane Seck [the Malian bandleader with whom he's recorded]? Kenny Barron is open to playing in different situations. To me, all these possibilities seem really bright."

The Paul Whiteman Legacy: Making Jazz a Lady

Jazz clubs and jazz combos have built-in flexibility that's not so available to larger ensembles and more formal venues -- giving one pause in a year when acclaimed jazz orchestras led by Jon Faddis and John Clayton lost their residencies at Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, respectively. Frances Richard, Vice President and Director of Concert Music at ASCAP, agreed that those recent institutional displacements are troubling, though perhaps not more so than concert halls' continued overall emphasis on European classics rather than American music. And she made the case that having jazz in major concert halls does more than clean it up for petit bourgeois (as opposed to less formal jazz) audiences.

"When Irving Berlin was 101, we called him and asked, 'What can we do to celebrate your music?" Richard reminisced. "He said, 'Please play my music where the good music is played: Carnegie Hall.' I think of that when I think of why it's important for this modern community to have representation there. Whether it's concert music or jazz, it's high time to support our own talent pool." The percentage of jazz programming on Carnegie's 2002 schedule falls short of RIAA's record sales mark; its major contribution since dismissing the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band has been to co-produce JVC Jazz Festival New York concerts with board member George Wein's Festival Productions, Inc.

"The good news from here is that the level of copyright fees we collect is holding, we'll have an increase in our distribution this year, and last April we initiated The ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Awards, for composers up to the age of 30. We announced it in a big press conference in D.C. with Congressman John Conyers, and Arturo Sandoval performed. We also have a commissioning project which we do in collaboration with IAJE, every year honoring an established ASCAP member and an emerging composer. This year the commissions are by [trombonist] Robin Eubanks and [drummer] John Hollenback; they'll be played at IAJE in Toronto in January."

"ASCAP has some 175,000 members now. I don't have a breakdown of how many jazz composers we represent, because often jazz composers don't register themselves as that, but simply as composers. You know, jazz is stretching out beyond its previous genre bounds, which is one of the conditions of concert music as well, and they're meeting each other almost midway. Which is a trend I love."

Crossover, or Roots?

Jazz innovation: that's an object much desired. Jazz denying its jazziness? Not where we want to go. Evidence that the core of the music holds? Where else to turn than Jazz@Lincoln Center?

"The bright spots? They were all onstage last night, at the finals of the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band competition," enthused Mary Fiance Fuss, the director of publicity at Jazz@Lincoln Center who has always seemed genuinely psyched about the educational, performance and audience outreach efforts directed by Wynton Marsalis, unequaled spokesman for jazz-of-the-tradition over the past two decades.

"It was a beautiful thing. If you want to know if jazz music is alive and well, you should have heard the kids at Avery Fisher Hall playing their hearts out for their peers, families and audience members, who were standing up and cheering. It was just one of the most beautiful things, to see Wynton playing trades with one of the best kids from one of the winning bands. . .

"And at the end, Wynton told them, 'I'm 40, and when I was coming up I never wrote a thank you note. But I want any of you receiving awards tonight from foundations to write that note. Acknowledge the gift you're getting. Make some connection to the people giving these awards. Let them know you're grateful."

The Gift

It used to be that music was assumed to be a gift, the listeners even more than the musicians the grateful ones. Now listeners and musicians alike are full of thanks and wonder that jazz can survive at all. At conventions such as the IAJE conference in Toronto in January 2003, there were some 6000 attendees, the majority being students and educators, supplimented by activists from the jazz realms of broadcast and print journalism, book and music publishing, instrument manufacture, record labels, concert promotion, not-for-profits and every conceivable adjunct to the glorious sound itself. Everyone was hustling, seeking ideas, profit streams, opportunities and potentials. All dug jazz in one of its forms or another, and all acknowledged that the jazz pipers must be paid. There was no consensus on how to achieve that aim, but when has jazz ever represented a consensus? Maybe better than the blind men describing the elephant, we can come up with workable thesis on what the problems and solutions are if we listen to each others' perspectives, and pull them together. Until we do, and therafter: Deep bows to all schemes and schemers keeping jazz alive.


Howard Mandel is author of Future Jazz (Oxford University Press), a longtime freelancer for many newspapers and magazines as well as National Public Radio, adjunct faculty at New York University, and president of the Jazz Journalists Association. This article was originally commissioned but (in slightly different form) ultimately rejected for publication by JazzTimes magazine. The author wishes to thank all informants and interviewees who contributed time and thoughts to his research.


C o m m e n t s

Jazz and the symphony 1 of 1
Todd R. Brown March 21, 03

Mr. Mandel, you mentioned that Carnegie Hall ended the residency of John Faddis's jazz band, and the Hollywood Bowl ended Frances Richard's. But a recent bright spot has been the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's emphasis on jazz in its 2002-2003 season.

Kermit Ruffins and Donald Harrison played Symphony Center in January (http://www.cso.org/atc_press_010603ruffins.taf) and Wynton Marsalis is will be making a "Jazz for Young People" appearance at the end of March (http://www.cso.org/sat_performdetail.taf?eventid=4116).

In September the CSO kicked off its season with a free, 10-hour day of music. Kahil El'Zabar's Experimental Band dazzled attendees with his world-jazz orchestra. Other artists who played on this day were trumpter Maurice Brown, Ernest Dawkins and musicians from Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble (http://www.cso.org/atc_press_091602dayofmusic.taf).

This last event is the kind of showcase for jazz that can really bring new fans into the fold. I went with my family, and my sister commented that not only did she enjoy El'Zabar's work, but it was unlike anything she'd ever heard before. Since both of us have been in New York (as of this March), I've taken her to two Jazz Composers Collective concerts at the Jazz Standard, which she said was the best jazz she's ever heard.

On the downside a couple names were misspelled in your piece: It's John Hollenbeck, not Hollenback, and the group is Los Hombres Calientes, not Caliente. Otherwise, great job reporting. Let's hope 2004 brings a renaissance in jazz listenership.

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