The Jazz.com Blog
July 06, 2008 · 1 comment
One of the most pressing issues facing the jazz world is the gradual and seemingly irreversible disappearance of jazz radio, and the almost total exclusion of jazz from other forms of mass media. Frequent jazz.com contributor Eugene Marlow reports below on a small cadre of jazz advocates who gathered to discuss the the current state of jazz broadcasting at the JazzWeek Summit in Rochester, New York. T.G.
As a performing artist and producer of four original music CDs, I came to listen and learn from jazz radio programmers firsthand. It was clear almost from the opening comments that the JazzWeek Summit (similar to other performing arts groups) was a microcosm of what I had seen at the National Performing Arts Convention mega-meeting in Denver the previous week. [For the report on NPAC, click here.]
Day #1, morning #1. Ed Trefzger, stalwart publisher of JazzWeek magazine, the Top 50 JazzWeek chart, and single-handed organizer and master of ceremonies of the JazzWeek Summit (he received numerous plaudits), made the following comment in his opening remarks: “The music publishers think the role of jazz radio programmers is to sell CDs, the jazz radio programmers think it’s not their role to sell CDs.” From the outset it seemed clear that just like many of the stakeholders in the jazz industry, just like many of the participants in the much larger performing arts community, there is structural fragmentation, i.e., a lack of internal mission consensus, a lack of collaboration, and a lack of community outreach, to the detriment of everyone.
The JazzWeek Summit reflected many of the issues facing the larger performing arts community as expressed at the Denver NPAC meeting. It was also in sharp contrast to the NPAC. This meeting attracted about 50 people (NPAC about 4,000). The JazzWeek Summit was held in one room in the Clarion/Riverside Hotel in downtown Rochester. NPAC was held in the Colorado Convention Center, the site of the forthcoming Democratic nominating convention.
On the other hand, there were similarities: NPAC had world-renowned singer Diane Reeves. The JazzWeek Summit had world renown vibraphonist Joe Locke. No accident. The timing of the JazzWeek Summit coincided with the Rochester Jazz Festival, geographically located on the campus and surrounding environs of the Eastman School of Music, one of America’s leading music schools.
The JazzWeek Summit also included discussion themes that paralleled the NPAC. A session on “Community Involvement” was scheduled on the last day but never held because other sessions from previous days ran over. This was unfortunate. The description of the session was: “How can a [radio] station make itself an integral part of the jazz, arts, and education community? What have stations done to become an important and welcomed factor in the fabric of their markets?” This was a central NPAC question with respect to the larger performing arts community, but one un-addressed at the JazzWeek Summit.
Other parallel topics included a panel on New Media: “How can we take advantage of music streaming and other online content? How does having information on the web affect how we program mic breaks?” Another session dealt with “Integrating Latin Jazz, World Music and Other Sounds.” Clearly, this session was in recognition of the need to bring the larger world of music into the jazz radio fold. Other sessions focused on the role of the music director, "Mediaguide Monitoring," and several "Jukebox Juries."
Similarly, while the several thousand NPAC attendees participated in a last day Town Hall meeting, the several dozen or so JazzWeek Summit attendees held their own last day Town Hall meeting. Almost immediately, the topic of how to grow the annual meeting’s attendance and where to hold next year’s meeting bubbled to the surface. Chicago was suggested as a possible location for JazzWeek Summit 2009.
The microcosm of the Rochester, New York JazzWeek Summit in the context of the Denver NPAC meeting is not a singular example. The recent demise of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) and the several responses to this occurring in various parts of the United States, and the steep financial and audience building challenges being faced by many performing arts organizations are all signs of a common malaise: the performing arts have declined in value in this country and it has been a steady decline over a period of at least a half century.
Technology is partly to blame. From one breakout NPAC session I learned that with the introduction of electricity into theatres—with the concomitant ability to dim the house lights and raise the stage lights--show producers now had the ability to separate an audience from the stage performance. Prior, audiences were very much a part of the show.
Second, with Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the gramophone and the ability to record one’s voice and other sounds, such as music, as these devices became more prevalent and the technology of sound recording became more sophisticated, the production of live music in the home, as in chamber music and family songfests, diminished. Can we remember when most homes had at least an upright piano and other instruments in the living room as a matter of course regardless of economic status at the beginning of the 20th century?
And as author Kabir Sehgal points out in his excellent, recently published book Jazzocracy (Better World Books 2008), many in our younger generation think that what’s “new” in popular music is therefore hip, a notion that is, of course, a gross misperception.
The de-valuation of the performing arts in this country and its positive socializing effects are also results of the decimation of music, dance, and theater activities in our public schools. And we’re paying the price for it now with a younger generation that has little sense of cultural history. Another piece of evidence is the almost weekly announcement of the elimination of an “arts” critic from a leading newspaper in a moderate-sized and large market. This, even in the face of thriving or growing arts activities in that same market. Shrinking profitability is the usual reason given.
We now live in a world that has both mass marketing and niche marketing, with a strong leaning towards the latter. Growing the audience for the performing arts or selling tens of thousands of CDs has become close to a miracle in the classic world of the performing arts. As Quincy Jones once quipped “A hit jazz CD is one that sells less than 20,000 copies.” Jazz performers and labels would be ecstatic to get close to selling 20,000 CDs. It is worth noting that, in the music segment of the performing arts world, opera is thriving, followed by classical music, followed by jazz at the bottom of the chart. Opera is probably thriving because it is multi-dimensional theater, incorporating all elements of the performing arts. There’s a clue in that, I think.
It is time, quite clearly, for the performing arts world to pull together at the national, local, individual and group levels. The performing arts in the United States need to turn a corner. To do so, however, requires a collectivity of action. The individualistic philosophy that is the cornerstone of this nation’s founding has been pushed over the line: people seem only to care about themselves and to hell with the larger community. The concept of community is well embedded in China’s long history and look what it is doing now economically. It is not a new lesson that there is a direct relationship between the positive socializing effects of involvement in the performing arts and economic development.
It has been said that when a country spends more and more money on military things (when it doesn’t need to) and ignores the socializing benefits of the arts, this is a sure sign of a nation in decline.
While the 20th century was surely America’s century, the 21st century will be known as China’s century, or at least “The Rise of Asia.” This can be balanced, not through military force, but by the force of the pen, the note, the voice, and the body. It is time for those in the performing arts to take action together.
This blog entry posted by Eugene Marlow.