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Big Band Report

Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?

By Published: June 14, 2013
This leads us to the blip on the radar screen alluded to earlier, one that has been growing (or, more accurately, shrinking) for the past several years. That would be attendance, which seemed (to me) to have reached an all-time low at Swingin' on a Riff. Even though Poston has already planned another event in October (see below), it led me to wonder how many more he can possibly afford to sponsor. To draw a picture, there was a time when I could barely elbow and shove my way through crowded hallways at a Poston event and had to scramble to find a seat, even in my favored back row. Not this time. The hallway outside the Marquis Ballroom was for the most part eerily hushed and sparsely populated, and I probably could have found a seat in or near the front row if that's what I'd wanted. Let's be honest; when bands led by Holman, Kubis, Barone, Broadbent, Neumann, Urwin and Richmond, showcasing musicians of the caliber of Shew, Christlieb, Watrous, Bergeron, Saunders, Andy Martin and many others can't lure at least two hundred people into a ballroom that seats 650, it's a sure sign that dark clouds are on the horizon. Holman's Saturday evening concert, and the Sunday evening performance by Curnow's L.A. Reunion Big Band, conducted by Shew, were perhaps the best attended (not counting the Sunday brunch, which included three concerts). Neither one, however, drew an audience of more than two hundred—and even that may be a generous estimate.

Granted, this is probably not something readers especially want to hear about a jazz event, but it's hard to brush aside the facts when they are staring you in the face. Before continuing, I should hasten to point out that these observations are in no way meant to cast aspersions on Ken Poston, for whom I have the greatest respect and who deserves all the applause we can give him for planning and carrying out these impressive events for so many years. There is no denying, however, the slow but steady decline in attendance at these twice-yearly LAJI events over the past few years. The question thus becomes, what has caused it? The answer isn't easy to grasp, as several diverse factors are in play. The sluggish economy is no doubt one of them but by no means the only one. Perhaps some of those who attended in the past simply decided not to return, their desire to see live jazz waning as costs for airfares, hotel stays, food and other amenities kept rising. Some others who used to show up on a fairly regular basis no longer attend because—not to put too fine a point on it—they are deceased. And, sad to report, they are not being replaced by the younger generation. At Swingin' on a Riff you could count on the fingers of one hand (or at least two) the number of "younger" people (say, age thirty or below) in the audience. The college bands (usually four, this year two) showed up, unpacked their gear, performed, re-packed and headed back to school, passing up a chance to see and hear seasoned professionals from whom one may assume they could have learned a thing or two. Unlike paying customers, students can hang around and listen for free should they choose to. In most cases, they choose not to.

While I've not spoken to Poston about financial matters, I find it hard to believe he could be breaking even, let alone making money from these semi-annual get-togethers. But even if he has managed to keep his head above water, should the current downward trend continue it won't be long before he can't. Maybe he has an answer, something that would reverse course and keep these jazz conclaves, which seem outwardly to be on life support, alive and well for years to come. I know I don't. The bottom line is, more people have to become aware of these singular events and decide to attend; if that doesn't happen, the future looks bleak.

On the Horizon . . .


And on that happy note, a few words about the next Poston / LAJI event, Jazz Themes from Hollywood: A Celebration of Jazz at the Movies, to be held October 24-27 at the Marriott LAX Hotel. Themes that have been lined up so far are "L.A. Confidential: An Evening of Jazz Film Noir," "A Tribute to Johnny Mandel," "Dreamsville: An All-Star Tribute to Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
b.1924
piano
," "Jazz Digs Disney," "Sue Raney
Sue Raney
Sue Raney
b.1940
vocalist
and Heart's Desire: The Songs of Doris Day," "Barefoot Adventure" (Bud Shank
Bud Shank
Bud Shank
1926 - 2009
saxophone
's music from the films Barefoot Adventure and Slippery When Wet), "The Fast and the Furious" (Shorty Rogers' music from The Wild One, The James Dean Story and Hot Rod Rumble), "Jazz and Kerosene," "Blues in the Night: The Songs of Johnny Mercer," "Great Songs from Lousy Movies," "The Swing's to TV: Jazz Themes from the Small Screen," "Va-Va-Voom!" (Jazz interpretations by Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
Barney Kessel
1923 - 2004
guitar, electric
, Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
b.1915
composer/conductor
and others) and "The Dave Pell
Dave Pell
Dave Pell
b.1935
saxophone
Octet Plays Burke and Van Heusen." More to be announced. For information, phone 562-200-5477.


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