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Jazz and the Net

They Will Never Die

By Published: January 3, 2005

...an assemblage of colorful creators who yielded saxophones not swords, and spoke the truth, no matter what the consequences. That's why their music has such lasting appeal.

I write now of heroes, a species that in our time, has become as rare as an oasis in the desert. My heroes aren't Greek gods, they are merely mortal, yet like their divine counterparts, they also possess something eternal - their music.

Whatever the joy and pain of their earthbound tenure, the creations of these passionate, remarkably inimitable people will sooth and inspire until we finally self-destruct. It appears that may be sooner than later.

The lion's share of these heroes have passed, remnants of bygone era when cultural icons were artists prized for their individuality. Most of the so-called artists of our day who become famous are no more than advertisements, and they advertise not genius but existence.

The individuals I prize, an assemblage of colorful creators who yielded saxophones not swords, spoke the truth, no matter what the consequence. That's why their music has the power that it does. That's why young people from all over the planet keep coming to New York even though survival as a Jazz musician is no day at the beach.

Yet even though their music is among life's greatest joys, these heroes, largely black and criminally under appreciated, have no spokesman. Subject to the standards of the music business of an era when most musicians were never compensated fairly for their work, once they recorded the music, they lost control of their creations.

Things are a bit different in the digital age. Musicians are empowered, if they so choose. Some do, some don't. Nevertheless, the Jazz legends have now become commodities, their music sold online by Walmart, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That said, allow me to focus on the subject of this impassioned plea for respect and dignity: the marketing and distribution of this music.

In my last offering , I wrote about the recent label news whose reverberations have echoed quite loudly through our community—Concord's purchase of Fantasy.

I noted that Concord's initial press release left me with the impression that they were, once again, to my dismay, going to pigeonhole this music as targeted primarily for “adults.” This time, I have some suggestions on what Concord should do with their music, now that have acquired the rich Fantasy catalogue, as well mining their own library.

Before I get into this, let me state that I wish the Concord chieftains nothing but sunshine and ravioli. They are no doubt well intentioned, hard working folks trying to do the right thing. What I'm suggesting here is that they go beyond the usual and do something unique to honor this music and to better market it.

Honestly, I wouldn't want to be the President of a record label. I've met several of these chaps during my years as a journalist and they, like any businessmen, are under major pressure to generate profits. Some become power hungry, self-serving pricks. That's human nature.

But there are others who have kept the creation and marketing of quality music as their focus. One man comes quickly to mind in my gallery of record label good guys, Bruce Lundvall , of Blue Note Records. Mr. Lundvall, both at Columbia and Blue Note, has totally dedicated himself to this music. As a sincere enthusiast, he has preserved the Blue Note legacy, and continued to record new artists as well. At the same time, he's successfully walked a tightrope between creativity and corporate intervention. That isn't easy. Blue Note is part of the multi-national EMI conglomerate. How'd you like to have those bean-counters questioning your every decision?

Blue Note today regularly reissues their remarkable catalog, and has a stable of contemporary artists, like Joe Lovano, Bill Charlap, Wynton Marsalis, and Jason Moran, consistently recording new music. Concurrently, Blue Note has signed, and successfully recorded additional artists who loosely fall under the Jazz umbrella. Everyone knows that Norah Jones' remarkable success has greatly enriched the Blue Note coffeurs. The profits from Anita Baker, Al Green and Van Morrison will also help Blue Note's bottom line.

It's a formula that works. Norah Jones' sells five million CDs, and that helps Jason Moran stay afloat. Concord will no doubt attempt to duplicate this formula, who wouldn't? But they're going to have find artists other than Barry Manilow and Peter Cincotti to carry that load.

What Jones does is reach out to what I call the Jazz Friendly audience. These folks don't know anything about alternate takes or our unsung heroes, they just respond to what sounds good to them. They probably listen to Smooth Jazz stations from time to time, and have purchased a CD by Norah Jones or Diana Krall recently. If they hear something they like, they'll buy it, but you won't find them on a Jazz website, or reading one of the major Jazz magazines. That's too confusing.

These folks, the Jazz friendly audience, constitute one of two groups that represent the greatest potential for new listeners. They are the 25-40 year olds who have disposable income. The other group is kids, under twenty five.

But what about those over forty? I hate to generalize but most people over forty don't buy new music, and for the most part, already have their musical tastes set in stone. Within this group lies the existing Jazz audience, and I wouldn't waste any marketing money preaching to the converted.

How to reach the Jazz friendly audience? Well, I have a somewhat radical approach here, one that will no doubt be ridiculed in some quarters. The JFA, as I'll call them, have certain preconceived notions about that word, Jazz. It means so many different things to so many people that it no longer means anything.

Duke Ellington hated labels. He told Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie that the worst thing they could do was call their music Bebop. One of the most complex and intriguing musical forms ever created was saddled with a ridiculous moniker, which belittled its true nature.

And now it's the same with Jazz, a word that came of New Orleans brothels.

So step number one for our friends at Concord is to drop the word Jazz. And don't create one giant website that will only serve to intimidate new listeners. Instead, market the music by focusing on the feelings it generates, which are diverse and universal.

A few years ago, Joel Dorn, the fame record impresario who manages to be reborn every decade with a new label, purchased the Muse catalog and wanted to find a way to reissue the music with a new approach. He put together a series of compilations like Jazz for Lovers , Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon , etc. They were very successful.

New listeners didn't have to spend time trying to figure out which artists played what kind of Jazz, but instead, knew they were buying something that would provoke a certain feeling. And then something magical happened: the artists who were included in these compilations, began to sell their CDs because people began investigating music on individual tracks.

Yes, I know, Concord has already done this, with such recordings as Jazz Moods: Sounds of Winter.

Remember, there is no one answer to the mystery of how to market this music. The compilation idea is one, and its been proven successful, particularly by Starbucks.

Next time: Lifestyle Websites, Ring Tones, Downloads, Viral Marketing and more.


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