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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Opinion/Editorial

Hello... I Must Be Going

By Published: May 9, 2005
  • The 10-part PBS film, Ken Burns Jazz, with 14 million dollars co-funded by the corporate and foundation world, was purportedly going to bring Jazz into the cultural mainstream. Its various supporters in the Jazz and fine arts yapster community said that it would increase album sales and open up new opportunities for Jazz artists by making the music compelling to a previously uninformed audience.

  • The juggernaut institution Lincoln Center, with its Jazz division's annual budget in the 15 million dollar range, was able to raise over 150 million dollars for its aggressive building campaign, resulting in three new, "state-of-the-art (their words, not mine) facilities. All of the contributions they've solicited have been done so under the assumption that Lincoln Center Jazz is good for the health of Jazz.

  • All over the U.S., with Lincoln Center as its model, other wannabe monolith facilities have sprung up, raising funds from foundations, local municipalities and corporations, and private contributors.

    Add up all this scratch and we're looking at more than half a billion dollars! Let's subtract the amounts that could be attributed to investment and earned income (General Motors and Time Warner's participation in the Burns film; the LCJO's performance fees, etc.) and we still have over a quarter of a billion dollars handed over with no strings attached - all to benefit this Great Indigenous American Art Form.

    Now let's look at the empirical evidence of exactly where the U.S. Jazz scene is today:

    • The opportunities for Jazz artists to perform live is at its worst state in decades - maybe ever. Multi-city touring is virtually non-existent for all but a very small and selected few. The week-long club engagement is virtually extinct. Multi-night engagements are extremely rare. Highly respected and well-established artists are performing more often than ever before for portions of door receipts with no guaranteed fees.

    • Jazz record sales (including downloads, etc.) are at an all-time low. Any argument to the contrary would have to be based upon the inclusion of record sales by artists like Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and various "smooth Jazz artists whose sales should not count any more toward the equation than artists like Van Morrison, Booker T & the MGs or Boots Randolph did decades ago.

    • Jazz radio, already confined to college stations and NPR affiliates has received extensive cutbacks in time even from those outlets.

    • Jazz education has become a huge business, but is really no more than a coat of whitener (pun intended) on a badly decayed tooth. Not only has it fallen under the spell of the Jazz industry through the merger of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) with the industry self-promotional tool and personal back-patter, The Jazz Alliance international (JAI), but also, it is spilling thousands of new musicians onto a scene where they will find very few opportunities for self-expression (as to the quality of these young men and women as artists, I'll leave that to others).

    • Jazz has become totally marginalized in mainstream American society. General music magazines have significantly cut back coverage of Jazz, if not eliminating it entirely. Mainstream magazines, from People to Playboy don't even regard Jazz as a genre market as they do such forms as blues, bluegrass, world, etc. Television coverage is almost exclusively limited to BET Jazz, whose payment to artists is that old hustle, Exposure. PBS, the only other outlet (and rare at that) seems to think that the only living Jazz musician is Wynton Marsalis. (There is, however, a new one hour 13-week show being prepared for PBS. It's the first regular Jazz show for television in some 40 years. We shall see what effect it may have. My gut tells me one thing, but I'll wait for more information to get my brain more involved.)

    • And most distressingly of all, Jazz has become generally irrelevant to the African American community, especially its youth. Nice job, y'all!


    If any of the people who were the designers, architects and advisors on these various initiatives and programs were managers of big-league baseball teams, they would have been tossed out of the dugouts and sent out scouting high school players in Scahooteyville, North Dakota. That is, if their goal was to actually accomplish what the rhetoric claimed. But it wasn't. Essentially, the game here was much like the Bush plan for tax cuts for the rich, to put more money into the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Now, I am not saying that we have a bunch of Karl Roves and other starve-the-beast, Machiavellian neo-cons at work here. I don't think that the various parties involved in these initiatives said "Hey, let's take whatever money that Randy Weston, Sam Rivers, Sonny Fortune and Johnny Griffin were making and let's give it to Wynton.


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