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


Prelude to a Kiss-Off

By Published: June 16, 2005
Meanwhile, an alternative scene had been developed in New York City, returning the lofts to their proper purpose of education, experimentation and development. A regular weekend series at a gallery in Soho called Axis opened up the doors to approach Joseph Papp at the Public Theater. That developed into an extremely successful series called New Jazz at the Public. For a few years, the most innovative and adventurous artists in the Jazz tradition performed to packed houses every Friday and Saturday night, two shows a night. Sometimes, one group would perform all four shows; sometimes two groups would share the weekend or one night each. Sometimes two groups would share the bill each night. The one constant was that virtually every performance (in 250-300 seat venues) was well attended and often sold out. That means that every weekend, somewhere between 800-1200 people paid to see "avant-garde Jazz artists (ranging from best known to heavily under-recognized) in classy, high quality, dignified concert or cabaret settings. And the artist fees were substantially higher than the 6-night clubs were paying; sometimes more for one night than the club would pay for a full week!

Even more important, these audiences were racially diverse, equally comprised of men and women, and primarily of folks who considered themselves fans of music and art, not just Jazz. This opened the doors for mainstream and new Jazz clubs to embrace the music, as well as many other clubs and venues that presented a diverse assortment of music.

With the extensive coverage in newspapers, magazines and radio that occurred concurrently with these developments, we had the tools to expand national touring, developing a true network of presenters in four regions—Northeast/Atlantic, Midwest, Northwest, and Southwest. Between 1979 and 1981, we arranged more than a dozen tours of ten or more cities on one circuit alone running from Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver in Canada down the West Coast through Seattle, Portland, Eugene, The Bay Area, San Diego, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Austin and Houston.

Sam Rivers and Dave Holland (duo, trio or quartet) did six U.S. tours over two years. In 1980, the Art Ensemble of Chicago performed in 57 cities on two tours of 32 and 18 cities along with a handful of run-outs. Every tour earned good money for the artists. Virtually every date was well-attended. Occasionally promoters would lose money —unavoidable as that can always be. If so, we would find a way to balance things next time (and not from the artists' pocket), sometimes even returning them our commission as an act of good faith. Even when losing money, the concert could often be utilized by them as a developmental tool in building their reputations and generating community support. Virtually every time an artist returned to the same city, the fee increased and so did the audience.

And never NEVER did any artist ever work for the door.

It's important to establish the philosophy and a bit of the methodology here. First and foremost, these presenters knew that we were concerned about their welfare and committed to the mutual success of each endeavor. We provided extensive publicity and promotional support and were directly involved in the media and retail visibility surrounding every date. We directly arranged interviews, photo shoots, in-store activity, etc. The fees we requested were always based on whatever the market would bear. We used the old-fashioned concept of securing anchor dates so we could forge into new markets at lower fees. Dates that paid between $2500 and $3500 would be supported by other dates that could range from $1000-2000. That $3500 date would likely be $5000 next time; the $2000 would become $3000; the $1000 would become $2000. That allowed us to begin developing even newer and less accessible marketplaces for $1000-1500 for fill-ins.

Not only would this also increase record sales and wider national visibility for the musicians (thereby increasing their value in the European marketplace), but would also allow artists of lesser recognition to visit those markets at a lower rung of the ladder and begin to work their own way upward - sometimes through newly-emerging agents and managers.

Many of these promoters were developed with our assistance specifically to present our artists. Often they would be collectives built upon a single individual at a radio station, record store, newspaper or small college, who we discovered was interested in one of our artists or the music in general. We would assist, educate and often handhold them through the developmental process.

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