Jazz In Need, Post-Catastrophe

Jazz In Need, Post-Catastrophe

by Ron Scott
copyright © 2001 Ron Scott

In the wake of the World Trade Center catastrophe Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other key public officials called on all New Yorkers to support the entertainment venues that anointed this city "The entertainment capital of the world."

Due to a significant drop in tourism, a new city campaign "Continue Believing in New York," has come to fruition. With an emphasis primarily on Broadway (where some shows have already closed and others are in jeopardy), restaurants and hotels (both of which have already laid off a considerable number of workers). The campaign of course is a sincere plea and somewhat creative attempt to get tourists and local residents back into the city's exciting dazzle, a return to normalcy and joy. However, it's quite evident that with so many lives lost, such destruction, the United States latest bombings on Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and the city on high alert, the concept of normal life here will never be the same again.

It is during these times of calamity, during conflicts of war, that entertainment has taken a front seat in relieving some of the grief and anxiety. Jazz has always been an integral part of this entertainment to the masses. Ironically, with all the pleas to support tourism and all its entertainment outlets, jazz (America's only true art form) was never specifically mentioned by the public officials. Jazz like Broadway depends on tourists (80-85%) and has lost a significant share of its audience and they too are treading very deep waters to stay afloat.

Unlike "The Great White Way," city jazz clubs are primarily small venues with a seating capacity not exceeding 100 and unfortunately these musicians can't afford to relinquish their salaries like some of the superstars appearing on stage. These club owners are indebted to landlords each month, unlike their counterparts whose buildings are owned by colossal real estate corporations who can afford to forego their rent for a limited period during these difficult times.

On the current state of affairs city jazz club representatives stated the following; Alvin Reed, Jr. manager/co-owner of the Lenox Lounge stated, "Business is slow right now because we get a lot of tourists and we're only filling 1/3 of the club. Now some of the big names are available to play here but we don't have the large crowds to support them. In times of tragedy, regardless of where it is, people want to be home or close to it, and my father and I understand the situation. It's going to take some time for folks to want to come out again." He added, "We may have to take a loss because we're still trying to build jazz here and we can't turn away now. It's important that jazz fans in Harlem and around the world know that we're here for the long haul." Despite their current loss on jazz, the club's large bar in the front room has continue0d to do quite well, which somewhat separates them from the traditional jazz clubs.

Lorraine Gordon, owner of the legendary Village Vanguard which has played a part of the jazz scene for the last 60 years, noted, "I'm going to pay musicians their full salary, regardless; I'm willing to take the risk for a while. I'm happy with the artists coming in and I'll see what happens." She also said, "Life has changed, as we know it. We're all adjusting little by little, we do it graciously and the best we can."

Birdland's managing partner Andy Kaufman stated, "It's amazing that we're doing as good as we are. It has something to do with our long standing name. But business is definitely off 40-50%. It's understandable that people are a little bit hesitant about exposing themselves out in the streets these days. I'm anticipating this is going to end soon and people will want to come out and enjoy some good music. I think jazz is still alive and well in New York."

Paul Stache and Frank Christopher, owners of Manhattan's upper westside jazz club Smoke, noted, "Ordinarily this is the best time of the year for us but now even our best acts haven't been sell outs. However, we're confident that business will pick up soon."

The Blue Note's Dan Forte noted, "Business hasn't been great or where we would like it to be but we're doing everything to sell it." A few weeks following this quote the Blue Note discontinued Forte as its exclusive publicist, which clearly demonstrates today's financial instability of jazz clubs throughout the city.

In a prepared statement, Bruce MacCombie, Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, noted, "It is too soon to tell what the full impact of the September 11 events will have on our season. We are hopeful that New Yorkers and people from around the world will continue to embrace this music as a meaningful, positive and profound part of their lives. As the country continues to grieve and recover from the tragedy, we will proceed in presenting our season of events."

Rich Okon, manager of Iridium said, "Things have been picking up somewhat. Last Saturday with Stefon Harris (vibraphone) and Jacky Terrasson (pianist) was packed. It's a good feeling when people stop to thank us for being open, so they could try and relax for a few hours with some music." On my own visit a few days earlier, a couple from Norway told me they had visited three other jazz clubs and this was their second trip to Iridium in their ten-day visit. In the immortal words of the legendary drummer Art Blakey, "Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life."

Ron Scott originally wrote this article for publication in the Amsterdam News.

C o m m e n t s

Jazz In Need, Post-Catastrophe 1 of 1
Carla Rupp
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January 02, 02

Thanks for this informative report. This is valuable information for us, and you did a great job compiling these quotes from jazz clubs. Your story gives the flavor of this crucial situation for the business in NYC. Carla Rupp

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