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

By Published: January 30, 2003
The commercial and artistic identities of such towns as Solvang and Williamstown, and many others across America, derive from the commercial successes of the tourist industry. I am suggesting that a page from their playbook be stolen and we search for and create such a Mecca for jazz. The goal of this Mecca, Jazz City, would be to create a working artistic and business environment that would foster the lives and works of an exciting community of jazz lovers for generations to come. Participants would include musicians, teachers, students, fans, writers and publishers, music schools, music stores, recording studios, club owners, restaurateurs, motel and hotel owners and all of the ancillary laborers associated with tourist destinations. Its economy will be based upon servicing its own jazz business population and catering to tourists.

Envision a tourist city in which the number one pastime and business was jazz music of all types. The business in the stores, the bars and restaurants, the streets and the parks would center around jazz. In fact, the city's streets and parks would be named after famous jazz players. (Go down Dizzy Street. Take a left at Coltrane Corner). Statues honoring the international jazz greats would also grace the landscape. Jazz film and art festivals would be held. Jazz lectures and debates would be presented. Jazz City would have its own jazz radio stations. Visitors would be awash in the sounds of Kansas City, Chicago, Swing, Bebop, Modern Jazz and fusion music. Jazz City will become a beacon to jazz lovers from all over the globe.

Such jazz institutions as the Berklee School of Music and The Manhattan School of Music could establish satellite locations in Jazz City. A rented house, a few professors and some students would be a good start. Not every jazz student wants to travel to Boston or New York.

Small independent jazz record labels, doing business on the Internet or through direct mail, could set up shop and help to rejuvenate an ailing jazz recording industry. Jazz City could eventually grow to the point that it would support larger events. Every week there could be a jazz festival and once a year there could be a major jazz festival week, better than any in the world, featuring all of the great American and international artists. After some years, as the reputation of Jazz City grows, it could begin to send its own homegrown stars out on local, national and international tours.

Jazz City will become the destination that every aspiring jazz student or performer and every jazz fan wants to visit and spend some time and money. Younger jazz musicians would travel to Jazz City to be where it is "happening." Older jazz musicians would begin moving to there to retire, entertain and to teach the youngsters. Imagine the music that could be created from such a stew!

It certainly required a great financial investment to build Las Vegas and Disney World. But, Jazz City, like Williamstown, would not be burdened with such a huge constraint. The infrastructure of an existing town would greatly lessen the investment requirements. There probably won't be many millionaires made in Jazz City, but there will be plenty of people making a living doing what they love. Is that not the American Dream?

What type of city would be a candidate for becoming the new home of jazz in America? The usual suspects such as New Orleans or New York City should be ruled out. In fact, all large cities, no matter what their historical contribution to jazz may be, should be ruled out. There are too many other things going on in those places. Jazz City has to be mainly about jazz. And besides, it's too damn expensive for struggling jazz musicians to live in the big cities anyway. Let's give them a break and find a place that they can afford!

Hundreds of ideally located towns or cities that could use an infusion of artistic excitement and commerce. Many towns have lost industry and have far too many empty buildings. Why not fill them up with art? Why wouldn't some of these towns be willing to offer tax incentives to lure businesses? Many industries are constantly being given beneficial tax breaks by communities seeking jobs for their citizens. America has many such "industry" towns. Let's give it another.

Jazz City will never become as large as Orlando or Las Vegas. Jazz has never been a dominant entertainment in America and it never will become one. But, town leaders interested in raising their town's profile by protecting and nurturing America's jazz heritage should look forward to a gradual and manageable growth that will have the added benefit of soothing its musical soul. While it is never too late to start a tradition, it does take time to build one.

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