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Searching For Jazz City - The Case for a Jazz Repatriation Movement

By Published: January 30, 2003
In America, despite the well-meaning intentions of some jazz producers, no great or important jazz festival can be found. Europe and Japan produce the finest jazz festivals, drawing hundreds of thousands of fans. In North America, the Montreal Jazz Festival is a wonderful example of what should be happening in the United States. Inexplicably, the American music business has never figured out how to market its own music. The fact that an American has to travel outside the United States to attend a decent jazz festival is a national disgrace.

Some other factors also contribute to the jazz slide. The U.S government does not adequately fund the arts, cutting down on recording sponsorship and concert opportunities for performers and new audiences. Jazz and many other artistic endeavors suffer. Following the federal government's lead, local school committees have been eliminating music programs due to financial constraints. This limits the music appreciation youths may obtain from listening to jazz or classical music. In Europe and Asia, governments and companies quite regularly provide major funding. Perhaps art should not be entitled to government subsidies. This is a philosophical and a political question: here in America, like it or not, commerce comes before art.

Some have even said that jazz music itself has lost its vigor. Recently, Blue Note Records CEO and producer Bruce Lundvall, who has been in the forefront of promoting jazz music for many years, suggested part of the problem is that young jazz musicians are not providing anything new and interesting for fans to get excited about. As strong and important a proponent of jazz that Lundvall has been—and he has been a giant—he is off the mark. The fact of the matter is that the recording business itself, forced by its desire to make profits, has created an atmosphere in which young jazz musicians have virtually no chance of getting a recording contract unless they are female and physically attractive. (Even then, these women will eventually be musically corrupted and stolen away by bigger record companies and made into pop stars). The music these companies release often bears little resemblance to the creative tradition, straddling boundaries with plastic pop and nestling in the easy listening zone. There is actually an awful lot of creative jazz still being played in America. It is just not finding enough ears.

For the past decade, music writers have made many of the previous points ad nauseum as they lazily churn out story after story. (It is interesting not note that these writers seem to take a very parochial view of the issue. They assume that if jazz is dying in America, it must be dying around the world). Rather than complaining about the direness of the situation, let me suggest some thoughts which could help change the perception about American culture, further the jazz music cause and even cater to America's need to make a buck.

We need to create a new jazz industry that honors its roots, but more importantly, enhances its artistic future by improving the financial awards associated with it. If you can't beat the system, why not join it? Let's make jazz profitable. It is the American way. It's not too late to start a new tradition in American jazz. It is time we stopped lamenting the situation and made an effort to re-establish America as the true home of jazz! It can be done.

A "jazz repatriation" movement consisting of concerned jazz proponents is needed to prove that our jazz culture is strong. It would take several hundred like-minded and dedicated jazz fans, educators, journalists and business people to plant the seeds. This repatriation movement would grow to consist of all jazz lovers and those who see the importance of saving this great American heritage and helping it to thrive in the future. Its mission would be to revive America's jazz culture through a campaign to locate a town or a city in America that is willing to become the new center of a profitable American jazz business community.

Think Orlando! Think Las Vegas! Okay, okay, you're right. Those cities are too big. Think instead of Solvang, CA, a town known as the Danish Capital of America. The entire town is based upon Danish architecture and culture. It exists for tourists and draws thousands of them. Think Williamstown, MA, host of the wildly popular Williamstown Theatre Festival. Avid theatergoers have made their homes there and many more flock to this Berkshire city to be part of its exciting theatrical productions. Williamstown has only been presenting plays for about 40 years, but it is now one of the most important theatre towns in America.

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