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  • John Norman Shaw wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Well I suspect the majority of music enthusiasts just head for the local scene and don't bother with festivals anyway... it's a social scene at it's best "down the bar." So it's an irreconcilable problem to me as to whether or not it's a jazz festival or not.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Not necessarily true, John, depends on where you are; I've seen evidence of both. And the writing of this piece was driven by the fact that, to some, this is a very important issue.

    Irreconcilable? Well, it ought not be; few things in life should not have a problem! :)

    Meanwhile, thanks for weighing in!

  • Joseph Vella wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Outstanding article John. Your points are well made. It is always inclusion rather than exclusion when it comes to jazz.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Thanks for the kind words, Joseph, and for taking the time to write,

  • Navdeep Jhaj wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    "preponderance of gray hairs and no hairs"? C'est un fete de sausages, Mais non!" :)

    Agree completely with the litmus test. When I attended NOLA Jazz Fest, I ventured out of the Jazz Tent only twice--to see Sco' in the Blues Tent, and George Wein with Anat Cohen and Howard Alden and some local act with Bucky Pizzareli in the "Heritage" tent. somehow, I missed out on Dave Matthews, The DMG, or whatever else it may be called.

    Chicago is strangely an entirely jazz affair, but it's only a weekend endeavor, free, and dependent on city funding by the Dept of Cultural Affairs--whose budget has been slashed and its staff largely gutted. We'll see what September brings this year.

    "Monteaux"? Yeah, for sure, some stupid with a flare gun burned (the jazz content) to the ground, many many decades ago. :) Which reminds me... gotta go track down my Tull, Yes, Hackett and Oldfield Live at Montraux...

  • Robert Bush wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    John, excellent article on a depressing trend. I remember Rod Stewart complaining about performing at Montruex many many years ago, with the original Faces.

    Rod said they had to perform after some "jazz-band" and they had to keep dodging huge piles of spit (from the horns) all over the floor! He said the crowd booed through their entire set. (talk about the good old days! :-)

    So this had been going on for a while. There's always the Playboy "Jazz Festival" out here on the West Coast--which has been overtly pop for years.

    Then again, the Playboy had Weather Report back in the day, and I believe, if memory serves, had either Lester Bowie or the whole Art Ensemble of Chicago one year.

    There's a flip side to the economic debate: guys like me who aren't made of money, have to make economic decisions I will think very carefully as to whether it's realistic to buy a big dollar ticket in order to see one "real" jazz artist, two marginal ones, and a "headliner" like Robert Plant or Earth-Wind-and-Fire.

    Having said that, there's really only two kinds of music: good and bad, like Duke used to say. I'm not adverse to the inclusion of pop acts--especially if that allows for bringing in someone like Lester Bowie or Kenny Wheeler. Obviously, bringing in Lester would be impossible now...jeez, I'd buy a ticket for Justin Bieber, Liza Minelli and Ricky Martin if only we could see Lester one more time...(sigh).

    Anyway, excellent thought provoking stuff. What I come away with, is as fans we need to go out and attend the few festivals that promote the music we really love, if and when they do.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Hey Navdeep,
    As one of the gray-hairs myself, I recognize my fellows far too easily! :) Thanks for adding your take on the picture.

    Robert, I don't actually see it as a depressing trend, I see it as an inevitable consequence of growth and evolution. Re: your comment about being made of money and having to make choices where to spend your $$? Of course; but, again using Ottawa as an example, $280 gets you a Gold pass to every show for the 11-day run, so if you don't go see Plant, Costello, lang or N'Dour, you're still getting more than your money's worth, imo.

    I like what you are coming away from the article with, but with one additional thought: consider that festivals who are broadening the purview but still maintaining strong focus on jazz, as Ottawa, New Orleans and Montreal do, are worth throwing your $ at. Again, my litmus test: you can attend all three and hear nothing BUT jazz for the entire run, so who cares if there's some non-jazz in the programming - you can easily ignore it, no?

    Thanks for taking the time to weigh in, as well!

  • Dave Sumner wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Whether festivals with predominant non-jazz acts continue to use the word 'jazz' in its branding is really of little consequence. Every genre of music has its internal struggle with prevention of watering down of its particular style. There's plenty of righteous indignation among the Indie crowd when a mainstream act plays at Coachella or Pitchfork. The Alternative crowd roared its disapproval as Lollapalooza transformed into the type of music fest that the Alternative crowd originally wanted an alternative from. Classical fans gnash their teeth as programs steer toward more mainstream pieces to attract wider audiences. Last night, a country musician ranted to me for a strong twenty minutes about how ridiculous it is that current acts sound more like twangy covers of eighties hair-rock than Waylon Jennings.

    I'm not saying I don't cringe when the word 'jazz' is associated with a Joss Stone performance, but if they need to hire her or Robert Plant or etc in order to keep a jazz festival alive that's still getting gigs to jazz acts, well, whatever, I can live with that. I know how to read a festival itinerary, and I always have a pen handy to circle the jazz acts I want to see and the non-jazz I want to ignore.

    Nice article, btw.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Thanks, DS; and yes, exactly: most festivals provide plenty of choices, and it shouldn't be that hard to ignore those things that don't interest. Thanks for taking the time to provide some additional important insights as well - no, this ain't by any means a "problem" restricted to the jazz world.

  • Chris Rich wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    I see it as an aspect of post peak oil contraction everywhere. Huge stuff may have been a transient phenomenon. Much turns on design.

    We just had a very successful promotion campaign for Jazz Week in Boston where Michael and I used AAJ to model out a complex array of events under a theme rubric but without a formal conventional festival framework.

    Once upon a time the Great Awakening Movement had huge crowds but it passed. That was like the 1840s.

    The question I posed in a private e mail to Doug Ramsay is. "What is our aim here... to show our mastery of logistics or our cultural heart and soul?"

    When extraordinary things like sponsorship, big names and all else have to be applied in escalating desperation it starts to resemble life support for a terminal brain dead coma patient.

    What proof do we have that sponsors must have some form of gigantism to justify a sponsorship decision?

    What if 1000 small events for 100 people dispersed across a year perform the same brand recognition as one ungainly monstrosity?

    There is also the resource allocation problem. And there is even an odd ghost of segregation in New Orleans where Arcade Fire is on some huge noisy stage while the Mingus remnants are stuck in a tent.

    Why didn't Mingus just open for Arcade on the same stage?

    I ain't even posting the full body of the e mail. You don't wanna know.

    In general, though, our future will be about skillful management of contraction and movement toward the sustainable.

    What examples do we have now? What can we invent?

    I'm dying to see the box office numbers when this season of hugeness finally slides down the quays into the past. There lies the 'tell'.

  • Daniel Lehner wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    I think to NOT include non-jazz acts into jazz festivals at this stage in the game is short-sighted, especially with modern jazz oriented festivals. There's so much great and worthwhile cross-pollination going on with jazz and other musics that audiences of people like Dave Douglas, Darcy James Argue or Claudia Quintet would really want a chance to see people from "across the aisle".

    At Winter Jazz, during Nels Cline's Stained Radiance, the multi-media collaboration between the guitarist and painter Norton Wisdom, people actually GASPED at Wisdom's live painting transformations. My friend and I were near tears. I think the rest of the crowd was also emotionally moved. If they can accept artwork from other mediums at jazz festivals, I'm sure they can accept other kinds of music.

    I know, I know, we have to keep the grey hairs that have the pocketbooks happy. Which is why when my friend complained that each venue at Winter Jazz had a specific "sound" (all related programming, i.e. Sullivan Hall was the "hip-hop jazz" venue), I told him it had to be done. If one venue or tent or whatever wants to be the "straight-ahead" tent, as restricting as it can seem, that should be used as an effective tool to keep all audiences happy.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    re: proof of gigantism, this - and most points I made, in fact - have come through discussions with the people who run these festivals. They are loathe to use the term "harsh reality," preferring, instead, to just use "reality" as they see it as inevitable and unalterable. So do I.

    Why Mingus didn't open for Arcade is, however, a great question, as I gew up in a time when you had double or triple bills that regularly crossed genres. Nowadays, though, and it's not just festivals, there's the feeling that you have to keep a show within a certain box, when I absolutely agree that by putting Mingus ahead of Arcade, some young folks would get hipped to Mingus, and some older cats might find themselves liking or loving Arcade.

    Thanks for some additional food for thought.

    Daniel? I am with you 100% as you probably already know! :)

  • Martin Kasdan Jr wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    This is from a post I made on a similar discussion in David Fricke's Rolling Stone commentary about New Orleans Jazzfest:

    As a freshman at Tulane, I was at Jazzfest #1, 1970, where there were more performers than people. Fast forward to 1980, and I have been to Jazzfest 1980-98, took 99-01 off when my daughters were born, and have made every Jazzfest 02-11, usually for both weekends. [Another RS poster] is absolutely right, it has never been just jazz. I am a jazz columnist, and have been a serious jazz fan since around 1968. I have been blown away at Jazzfest over the years by jazz artists ranging from Lionel Hampton to Sun Ra (just to mention the breadth of jazz available at Jazzfest). That said, the only times I have ever seen Van Morrison, King Sunny Ade, Steel Pulse, Big Joe Turner, and so many more, were at Jazzfest. And there is so much more than just the music - real Cajun, Creole, and other N'awlins food for sale (not hot dogs and elephant ears), indigenous traditional as well as as contemporary art and crafts . . . Jazzfest is, please pardon the cliche, a gumbo incorporating the multicultural influences that make New Orleans unique. /s/ Martin Kasdan Jr,

  • Chris Rich wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Well people who have a stake in something are unlikely to be party to their own demise.

    They will just keep tossing more coal into the boiler til it blows up.

    Eventually market realities will do that job. I also wonder if gigantism is a hallmark of all sponsorship forms or if there are sponsors, or will be some who like the slow and steady presence they would have by dispersal.

    Just because one particular cohort of money bags has come to see things through a gigantism prism is no reason to assume a different model won't arise.

    I wonder how many artist fees could be derived just from the porta potty budget, the security detail budget and the insurance carriage costs?

    Jazz has already survived rock suffocation as rock was a passing fad, simple folk tunes on marshall stack steroids with faux genius mystique.

    But kids no longer care to be guitar heroes and when rock band formation at the street level fades, the genre goes with it.

    But Jazz is woven into the fabric of community life wherever a marching band leads off the town football game, wherever a school has music classes.

    I'd argue that removal to this imposition is a fundamental precondition for the real health of jazz and grotesque fees for geriatric rock fossils is really akin to wealth confiscation elsewhere in our society where some minuscule percentage of the people, neo-oligarchs, take all the money.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Martin, and chris,
    Thanks for weighing in, much appreciated!

    Chris, the sponsorship issue is not just big moneybags. Smaller sponsors, worried about their budgets, get nervous when they don't get what they want in return - visibility.

    It ain't just "big bad business"; it's (at least in some countries!) arts funding from various levels of government. Everyone has an agenda, a reason to invest, and festivals have to manage a tremendous balancing act, imo, and most do a tremendous job, to boot!


  • Chris Rich wrote on May 20, 2011 report

    Well those who would wish to keep the status quo will have to cross their fingers and hope it works.

    And if not, the passing of it all will free up a lot. Instead of handing 1 person 600k with all the added cost hugeness premium, you can give 600 people 1k with next to no hugeness premium.

    There are many ways to craft a sponsor presence in these situations but the real beauty is little need for sponsors.

    It is way easier to produce a show for 100 people. And, oddly, that is about the size of our primal clan units before we invented large civilizations.

    I am quite familiar with arts funding as over the course of my active production life I was able to put more than 100k directly into artists pockets with little waste.

    It is a nice working scale. And I always hated the anxiety about whether it would work on opening night.

    I really feel for those who have to worry about making million dollar events work out.

    Let us look to a time where they won't need to.

    Let us surf with the changes that may well doom it all and have an off the shelf capability to come up with something better for the greatest number of musicians and fans in the most appealing and memorable circumstances.

  • Michael Ricci wrote on May 21, 2011 report

    I attended the 2010 Ottawa Jazz festival and had a chance to hear music ranging from Mikko Innanen and Innkvisitio to John Scofield and the Piety Street band. I caught Bill Frisell over two consecutive nights in two different bands--a front row experience, in an intimate venue, I won't soon forget. The festival also presented Herbie Hancock and other popular acts that I did not attend, but I was kept busy with Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Etienne Charles, Ingrid and Christine Jensen and others. If Ottawa needs to either add more mainstream acts to sustain their model or expand it in order to present more jazz, I fail to see the problem. I heard the festival was criticized for this year's line up. Checking it out ( looks fine to me.

    I read one article by an Ottawa Citizen columnist and he closed it with, "With the homogenization of our specialty music festivals, we're not only a long way from Preservation Hall geographically, but musically as well." I have news for him, even the Preservation Hall Jazz Band has changed with the times. They constantly collaborate with musicians beyond jazz: My Morning Jacket, Steve Earle and Del McCoury to name a recent few.

  • Keith Gamble wrote on May 21, 2011 report

    Maybe it`s just me, but I think a jazz festival should be a jazz festival; without any apology! What`s wrong with a jazz festival that caters to a niche audience? At least the festival remains an authentic jazz festival. I think those of us who love the ART of jazz should be concerned, and yes, I think many of us are jazz snobs, and it is the jazz snob that will keep the art of jazz alive more so than any young commercialized audience.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 21, 2011 report

    Thanks for writing Keith. The problem is not catering to a niche audience; it's being able to retain the funding required to do so. I'm as big a jazz fan as you'll find, but I'm also a realist. Sadly, you can ignore realities and watch jazz festivals go the way of the dodo, or you can look for a reasonable approach to mixed programming, one that still provides a preponderance of jazz content, and have them around for years to come.

    Let me reverse the question, using my litmus test. If you can go to a festival, and be immersed in 11 days of outstanding jazz programming, with plenty of choices, then is it so hard to ignore the handful of shows that are added to the program to make that very thing possible? Why is it such a problem?

    And you can, with all due respect, talk about jazz snobbery all you want, and you can disrespect younger folks for their "commercialized" tastes, but as the baby boomer generation starts to retire and pass on, who will be left to carry the torch for jazz? Isn't it better to try and draw some of those younger cats in, with the hopes that if they see a show they like at a festival, they might stick around and check some of the other shows out, get introduced to the music and begin to listen to jazz?

    Another question: if you don't like festivals' approaches at bringing in the younger crowd, what do you suggest? It's easy to criticize, but more difficult to come up with a workable solution, unless you are content that jazz dies out with our generation.

    Authenticity does not have to mean absolute 100% purity, and if you read the article, you'd see that I do draw some lines in the sand between some peripheral programming, and losing the entire jazz focus - as, I'm sorry to say, Montreux has done.

    Either way, thanks for taking the time to write; we need to have these discussions, pro and con!

  • Keith Gamble wrote on May 22, 2011 report

    Hello John, and thanks for responding to my post. As I stated in my earlier post I believe a jazz festival should remain a jazz festival. On your point of immersing one self in an 11 day jazz program with plenty of choices, no, it is not hard to see true jazz fans ignoring the handful of added shows, but when does a jazz festival cease being a jazz festival, but to merely become a music festival?

    Am I disrespecting young folks for their "commercialized taste"? No! not at all. Corporations target young consumers by appealing to their youth, and that`s not a bad thing; it`s capitalism, and living in a free market economy. The reality is younger audiences are in general attracted to other forms of musical entertainment; not jazz. Who will carry the torch of jazz? young people will. This is no contradiction; look at jazz education programs across the country. Many students will not become professional musicians themselves, but represented as fans seated in our audiences at jazz festivals.

    What do I suggest? I suggest we maintain an artistic integrity by keeping jazz festivals as jazz festivals. We have to know who is in our audience so we can creatively target jazz fans, which also calls upon festival organizers to work with sponsors that are connected to jazz audiences, i.e. corporations that target market to seniors and baby-boomers. As for young audiences, how about sponsoring corporations that offer products and services to a youthful jazz audience.

    John, I think jazz is an art form that represents an important soul and spirit of our nation. Jazz is not a popular music that is going to be embraced by the masses, but an acquired art form with a devoted audience. Does this mean jazz festivals should be smaller? maybe; larger, and ever expanding is not always a positive. That`s just simply my opinion.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Hey Keith, good of you to respond!

    I hear you re: when does a jazz fest stop being a jazz fest - that's the whole premise of my piece, and my litmus test, at least to me (!) clearly answers that, as it makes clear that a festival that has become too dilute, like Montreux, is no longer a jazz fest, while one with a small % of peripheral programming, like Ottawa, is. I do agree that there is a point beyond which a festival stops having the right to call itself a jazz festival, and the question is: when exactly is that? The litmus test I've suggested sounds good to me - perhaps you've another one that you'd like to share, as the purpose of this discussion is, indeed, to find solutions and mine is by no means the only one - I just got to say it first! :)

    You are absolutely right about jazz education and young people carrying the torch; the problem, however, is that while the educational system is bursting at the seams with young folks studing jazz, this phenomena is not being reflected in attendance at jazz festivals - at least, not in North America (in Europe you see better balance).

    I do believe that you have it bass-ackwards regarding sponsorship, however. Jazz festivals solicit sponsors, rather than choosing them, and there's a diff (and some orgs actively approach festivals with sponsorship, but there are conditions to be met for them to do so). Festivals do go after funding from companies that do target young - or broad - demographics, but who shows up as sponsors at festivals are the ones who nibble. I would wager that only a small percentage of the corps that festivals approach actually contribute - but you're certainly correct in suggesting that more representation from youth-oriented companies would be a good idea.

    I'm with you 100% on the soul and spirit part - though as a Canadian who also spends a lot of time in Europe, I think of it more globally, and that includes a more global perspective on some of the issues you raise, as the US is - surprisingly, for the country that first brought jazz to the world - one that has next to no government support for its own art form. Go to Canada, and many European countries, and you'll find public arts funding, that changes the complexion of jazz festivals.

    As for bigger vs smaller? That may be true, and not all festivals are looking to become mega fests. Many are just looking to retain the market they already have. And one thing is certain, as I said in my piece: whether public or private, no sponsor is going to see a decision to reduce in size as a good thing. Is it sad that it is this way? Perhaps; but it's a truth that every festival faces. And let's also realize that when we talk big for a jazz festival (outside a few exceptions), we're still talking order(s) of magnitude, for example, than rock festival, so we need to position with that in mind, I think.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contribute, and keep it going if you like - the more we talk about this stuff, the more chance we have of making a difference.

  • Svein Olav Eriksen wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Hi everyone! A well written article asking an important question which I do not know the answer to. But I feel a jazzfestival is indeed a jazzfestival when it captures the essence of what jazz is all about, now and then, and continue to be at the peak of what's happening. For me, that's the ultimate test whether a jazzfestival is knowing it's place. But every festival is different, and I come from Kongsberg, Norway and have been extremely lucky to have the (best) contemporary jazzfestival right outside my door for the past 18 summers!

    I cannot speak for any other jazzfestival, but the trend is that more and more of the bigger ones have to succumb to major/mainstream artists in order to survive. And I could agree to some point with some of the contributors here, saying jazz festivals should remain as a jazzfestival, but what is jazz? How do we define it today?

    IMO, a modern jazzfestival (although 50+ years old) should strive to show jazz in all its glory, whether it's hardbop, dixie, freejazz, or improvised noise.

    Jazz is not constant, it's a continuous flux. If ya know what I mean:)

  • John Kelman wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Hi Svein!
    Thanks for writing - love Kongsberg, was there for the first time in 2010, and it looks like I'll be back in 2012 for something a little more than just covering the fest...but I can't reveal it yet!


  • Chuck Koton wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Hi John, Well, it's sure a controversial issue among music lovers... Personally, Id never even gone to a "jazz festival until about 15 years ago because I felt (without having attended any, mind you) that these productions were really more about a party than the music. I finally went to Playboy back in the mid-90s and, though the crowd, with its drinking and yakking, certainly turned me off, I did see Benny Carter, Les McCann, Donald Byrd, Chick Corea, and a few other real jazz bands... In the end, there was enough jazz for me and it was a good time... Monterey's 50th a few years ago was my 2nd festival and it was overwhelming, in a good way: Ornette, Brubeck, Diana Krall on the big stage and Terence Blanchard, Kenny Burrell, Chris Potter, and other great bands at the smaller venues. If a venue financially needs to book Robert Plant to bring in jazz bands that's OK with me. I'll just stick to the music I dig and let everyone else do their thing. If its a choice of "pure jazz" fests or no fests, I guess there's no real choice!

  • John Kelman wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Thanks, Chuck, that's exactly my point: we can either insist on absolute purity (whatever that is exactly) and watch festivals topple, or acknowledge the need to find some balance - as long as the festivals' primary focus remains jazz - and hope that they continue to bring great music our way for years to come.

  • Keith Gamble wrote on May 23, 2011 report

    Hello John, Chuck, Svein, and all who have participated in commenting on this article. I have greatly enjoyed our back and forth article postings. I cannot say I agree with everything lock stock and barrel; we all have our opinions we hold too, but I must say our discussion has been enlightening.

    If any of you happen to be in the United States, or in Detroit, MI, please check-out the Detroit International Jazz Festival; I think you`ll enjoy it.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 24, 2011 report

    Hi Keith,
    LIfe would certainly be boring if we all agreed! But the idea is, indeed, to hear different perspectives and try and work our way through a clearly contentious issue, so thanks for taking so much time to participate in the discussion - which I think, in the long run, is really more important than the article itself.

    I'm very familiar with the Detroit JF, AAJ covers it (we've a writer in the vicinity), but hope to make it there myself someday.


  • Lindsey Turner wrote on May 25, 2011 report

    Thanks for your thoughts John. I just reposted this on the Litchfield Jazz Festival's facebook page. Litchfield has, for 16 years, been known for it's stellar jazz line-up, but even we have had to book acts like Dr. John and Earth Kitt on the years that we had extra funding and would try to draw a larger / broader audience.

    Most of the festivals you talk about are major city festivals -- Litchfield is held in an arts focused small town 2 hours north of NYC, Kent, CT (pop. less than 3000), so there is an added challenge for funding and audiences, not just line-up choice. We've managed to keep running the first weekend in August since 1996, but it's certainly not a money making endevour (the Festival and it's 4-week Litchfield Jazz Camp are both run by a 30-year-old not-for-profit) and let's face it, pure jazz festivals don't make money.


  • Ray Callender wrote on May 25, 2011 report

    Definitely a good article John. I don't mind seeing groups booked that aren't per se jazz groups at festivals as long as it doesn't mean that they comprise the quality of actual jazz groups. After all, it's called a jazz festival for a reason, right? For example, last year Jacksonville blew it's whole wad on having Chris Botti accompanied by an orchestra at its festival and really skimped on the straight ahead portion of the festival. This year however they more than made up for it, booking Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Joey Calderazzo, Gary Bartz, Russell Gunn, etc. and still managed to book groups like Raul Midon, Mavis Staples, and Dave Sanborn. I think it's a great idea to lure non jazz fans with big pop names like Robert Plant, etc. and hopefully they hear McCoy Tyner or Kenny Garrett and maybe go out and buy one of their records and lo and behold, you just created a new jazz fan! I'm all for anything that will help to keep jazz festivals in business as well as potentially broadening audiences for "real" jazz artists. I'm sure the minority of audience members at my show at the Jax Jazz Festival will be hardcore jazz aficionados but that's fine--if I do my job right, I'll have exposed a roomful of non jazz listeners to something that motivates them to go out and buy some jazz records and go out and support local jazz venues.

  • Jack Huntley wrote on May 25, 2011 report

    Insightful op-ed, John! I find it interesting that other genre festivals are having the exact same arguments about content. Being a North Carolinian, Merlefest has been having this debate for years. I guess everyone's trying to make a go of it in any way possible.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 26, 2011 report

    Boy, hit the road for a couple days and look what happens! Thanks Lindsey, Ray and Jack for your thoughtful posts. It's great to hear from a small festival that is facing similar challenges. Proof that this is an endemic (pandemic?) problem, regardless of size, which lays claims that it's all about big corporations and big money. Clearly it ain't.

    Ray, absolutely, my brother, we're thinking exactly the same way about getting new folks to come over to the dark side :)


  • Richard Rogers wrote on May 26, 2011 report

    Great article John. It's not quite the same story over here in the UK, but the concern is still there. I'm not a jazz classicist or anything, and I enjoy most forms of the music, but even the festivals in England, Scotland and Wales are starting to feel 'unbalanced'.

    We get a lot of big names for big audiences, such as Diana Krall or Jamie Cullum, but some decent jazz is often much further down the bill. Your comment of using the yardstick of 'is there enough jazz if we removed all non-jazz from the festival?' is escpecially true, with many three day festivals now having a one great day and two less than appealing days.

    There does appear to be some awareness of this though, as while the big vocalists and distinct non-jazzers headline, there's a lot of good stuff earlier on, in the smaller halls, on the smaller stages. But right now it is a very fine balancing act that has made a lot of people unhappy, as now there just isn't the level of choice that was enjoyed previously.

    This isn't just happening with jazz though either. In England we have Glastonbury festival, which has always been traditionally a 'guitar' (not necessarily rock) event. More recently in order to get younger audiences in and thus more money they've expanded to various RnB artists and the like. again not a problem as there's a vast array of choice, but as long as it stays somewhat balanced and retains some identity, it won't be a problem.

    Just to end this rambling contribution, the smaller european festivals are often very strong, with a great selection and a real sense of community. Next year I may just attend 4 or 5 euro festivals and forsake my own country.

  • Ian Thumwood wrote on May 26, 2011 report

    As a regular at Jazz a Vienne in France since 2001 I was fascinated to read this article which I found extremely infuriating. Judging from this conclusion, the "jazz community" (musicians, festival organisers , fans, etc) might all as well throw up the white flag.

    Vienne is a pretty interesting scenario insofar that the main artists perform in the Theatre Antique with each night supposedly being billed as dedicated to a particular speciality with usually two groups playing one 90 minute set. This can combine Modern jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny as well as other evenings where the perfomers may not necessary be "big hitters" but frequently interesting all the same. There have also been evenings dedicated to contemporary French jazz as well as the perennially popular "Jazz Manouche." Other evenings are dedicated to Blues, singers, Brazilian jazz, Cuban jazz , big bands and gospel. I think most jazz fans would be generous to this type of music. Even someone like Angelique Kidjo can be made to fit the bill. For more esoteric tastes, up-and-coming musicians as well as more adventurous styles are also available in a club that plays into the early hours of the morning.

    Over the last few years, more "popular" acts have cropped up such as the synthetic pop slush of Seal or the truly woeful Joe Crocker - just a fat , bald, talentless bloke from Sheffield. Last year the festival celebrated 30 years and took a spectacular nose-dive as the volunteer team who had previously produced the festival was swept aside by a "professional team" who kicked a large proportion of the jazz into touch. As well as the likes of Cocker, a hillbilly band led by Elvis Costello was also on the bill as the whole festival slid into a very reduced jazz agenda.

    What was interesting was that this produced a massive backlash from festival regulars and the changes did not seem to be particularly well embraced by the town. One of my friends runs a couple of the large hotels in the town and she commented that the nature of the festival had very much changed with the young groups of student musicians being replaced with customers who did not necessarily absorb themselves into the musical community - a great trait of the festival in the past. there were rumblings of discontent from many musicians I met up with in the town. Many familiar faces who go year in and year out were missing. This has an impact on local restaurants, shops, bars and other estanblishments. In addition, retailers who specialised in selling CDs, jazz related merchandise and music books experienced a drastic downturn in revenue as people turning up for Joe Cocker or other pop gigs had no interest in buying John Coltrane play-alongs . Economically, the change in style of Jazz a Vienne seriously impacted upon those traders who had hitherto benefitted from a more concerted jazz bias. Embracing popular music did not necessarily result in riches for everyone even if there was standing room only at some of the "pop" gigs. This year the festival is hedging it's bets with the likes of John Jones and Cyndi Lauper performing blues material but there does seem to be a bit of a fight back with concerts by some very significant jazz legends.

    As a jazz fan, I don't want to spend a day travelling from Winchester to the South of France nor spend the best part of £1000 to hear pop music. There is enough of this on the radio. If I buy a season ticket for a jazz festival I want to hear jazz or atleast something that is closely allied to it. I appreciate that jazz is a broad church and have a wide taste in music myself, but a jazz festival should do what it says on the can!

    I would have to say that I found the article far too sympathetic to the introduction of non-jazz related musics. At the same time as arguing that pop acts are essential to make jazz festivals economically viable, by reducing the the opportunity for audiences to hear jazz at what should be a celebration of the vibrancy, versitality and originality of the music this is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy by minimalising people's exposure to jazz. This will only result in an even smaller audience for jazz in the future. I can see no sense in it. It is not "a great idea to lure pop acts" to jazz festivals." This audience doesn't give a shit about jazz (Esperanza Spalding was billed with Joe Cocker and the audience talked throughout her set) and I would suggest that they should Foxtrot Oscar to the numerous rock / pop festivals and not pollute the jazz ones. I find this argument to be ill-thought out and demonstrably inaccurate. It is total bollocks to think that someone will morph into a jazz fan after hearing McCoy Tyner alongside Robert Plant - most of the audience would depart as soon as the pianist started to play. This music is just too sophisticated for your typical, cloth-eared rock fan.

    If there is a failure to make jazz "more attractive" I feel that this is largely due to a lack of imagination on the behalf of promoters. Some of the arguments expressed in this thread make me dispair - especially as they are made by people who allege themselves to be jazz fans. There is more than 100 years of jazz to take inspiration from and, as stated above, the music is always developing to keep the music fresh in a fashion that is precisely what rock / pop is unable to do. How can a festival celebrating jazz ever be stale? furthermore, you would never think of booking Cold Play to perform at Aldeburgh so why is it acceptable for pop acts to gate-crash jazz festivals? No wonder jazz is continually fighting a rearguard action judging from some of the comments posted here!

    Sorry to take an aggressive stance here but it feels like many of you have thrown in the towel already!



  • Alessandro Achilli wrote on May 26, 2011 report

    I'm an Italian jazz journalist but not a jazz purist: from today to next Sunday I'm attending a jazz festival where the most interesting concerts will be the non-jazz concerts. But I think that "the challenge of bringing a younger audience through the gates" by "broadening their programming into areas either peripherally related to jazz... or, in some cases, away from jazz entirely" is largely a failure because names like Robert Plant, Daniel Lanois, Deep Purple, Elvis Costello, Youssou N'Dour and Joe Cocker may appeal exclusively to fifty-something audiences, maybe to some forty-something and sixty-something but definitely not to young people. My other doubt is: if, anyway, promoters do win their challenge not of rejuvenating but at least of broadening their audiences, will that bring enough money to their festivals, once the "stars" will be paid? Last night, a big festival promoter told me that he's trying to have Prince in the next edition of his festival; if so, he'll pay something like 500,000 euros plus all hotels, p.a., stage etc. How many tickets (and at what price) should they sell in order to gain some money to be spent in other parts of the festival?



  • John Kelman wrote on May 27, 2011 report

    Thanks Ian, Richard and Allesandro, for keeping the dialogue going!

    Richard, I don't think us jazz fans have to throw in the towel; as my article suggests, I believe there is a line that a jazz fest can't cross and remain one. But we do have to be aware of the very real issues that festivals large and small have to face each and every year. Festivals have had to cut expenses for key things in the last couple years, and still cannot make their budget balance, so what are we to do? Let them simply fail?

    No, I think a middle ground is available; one that allows quality peripheral programing to support the jazz that defines a festival, and at the same time brings in a younger demographic so desperately required to keep festivals going now...and into the future.

    I am not sure if you read my article fully, because I agree wth you - spending 1000GBP to go to a jazz festival to hear , well, not jazz, would be infuriating if that's what you want. And if you cannot do that, then you're best not to spend your money. But don't forget my litmus test: That the festivals still need to offer jazz fans the opportunity to focus exclusively on jazz and, if it's important to them, ignore the non-jazz programming.

    Again, I ask a simple question: If you can go to a festival, and see nothing but jazz every day, and have choices about what jazz you see, why do you care if there is some non-jazz going on at the same time? How is it hurting your experience?

    Allesandro, I agree in some cases (Deep Purple) but not in others (Plant, Lanois' Black Dub) re: ages. But I'll let you know how well this succeeds in Ottawa after it's over. I don't know if I agree with you now, but I may later! :)

    re: how many tickets and what price/prince? Good question, for which I have no answer. But if that Prince show subsidizes all the other jazz shows and allows the festival to continue, then that's what matters, no?

    Last thing, Ian. No, Plant won't likely lead to Tyner in one iteration; but over time, Plant, who might lead, say, to a group like Medeski, Martin & Wood, well may. It's not a direct link from rock to mainstream jazz, but I know plenty of younger folks who have come to jazz via rock artists. So I think we'll have to agree to disagree, and I would also tell you that this article, whether or not you agree with it, was not ill informed or not thought out - I spent considerable time weighing the matters, based on years of covering 8-10 festivals/year, and meeting with festival directors and programmers around the world.

    Anyway, thanks again guys; the article was written to engender discussion, and I'm thrilled everyone here has taken sometimes clearly considerable time (Ian!!) - even if we don't all agree.

  • Robin Margolis wrote on May 30, 2011 report

    As a young jazz fan, I have to reiterate Allesandro's point. As much as younguns these days overlap to a surprising degree with Boomer and Generation X tastes, I don't think you can attribute Plant and Lanois to festivals reaching a hand out to me and mine. Aging rockers and respectable musical journeyman like Lanois and Costello look a lot more Boomer to me, so I would talk to your peers 'bout that flavor of pop. I also might add that outdoor, beating sun festivals never feel well suited to jazz in the first place, though some rockers can work that kind of space well.

    I wouldn't expect the pop brought in to reflect our tastes, though. The long and short of it is this: the young and youngish don't have anywhere near the disposable income to throw around. Festivals often represent a good deal for the overall cost of travel, housing, food, and tickets, but the need to spend that lump sum up front and all at once is daunting when your savings aren't considerable enough to carry you through.

    If we wanted an example of what a festival reflecting younger audiences looks like, I point to the UCLA Jazz and Reggae Festival. It's not a jazz festival at this point (jazz day has become "jam day"), but I think a look at the acts better represents the kind of pop that could draw young if included in a jazz festival.

    In fact, if you look past the fact that the majority of the artists aren't even close to jazz, I think it suggests some much better options for bridge acts. The Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble and Karriem Riggins honor the jazz tradition (and classical) far more than Joe Cocker or Robert Plant ever would, with the added bonus of being young artists interested in pushing forward, not looking back to their own fabled days of yore.

    Jazz musicians have often been uniquely poised to understand many genres from the inside, not just because of the versatility of the art form itself, but because many of them pay the bills working gigs for other genres and audiences. Robert Glasper gigs and has relationships with some of the best of the hip hop and soul/R and B acts. Ditto for Karriem. Miguel Atwood-Ferguson plays with everyone from Christina Aguilera (actually did some hip arrangements for her, though I am not even remotely a fan) to jazz giants like Wayne Shorter, Ray Brown, Mulatu Astatke, and Billy Higgins.

    Jazz originated as a communal art form, deeply rooted in black communities around this country. As has often been the case with people of African descent in this country, respect shown for jazz and knowledge of the artists music involved could get you accepted into the community, no matter where you came from. Adopting a European art-music model of guardianship of the real "jazz," is not just an ill-fitting approach, but, to me, an offensive one. Once an art form is no longer living, then it can be preserved and appreciated from a distance, but not before.

    I'd love to see festivals that set jazz next to those many other musicians who can knowingly pay respect to it and who might walk within multiple traditions including jazz. The Roots Picnic does the same with Hip Hop, including some of the oldest and newest Hip Hop alongside forward thinking rock, electro, and jazz (Esperanza Spalding plays this year). This doesn't mean that the acts need to be any different than who they authentically are, just that we can model the many types of music fans can appreciate. I think that would also serve much better to school young cats on where the music they love comes from and insure the continuance of jazz.

    As you probably can believe, I could keep going here with a number of other authentic points of entry for new people to the music (I grew to love hiphop because it sampled jazz). I'd love to see more multigenerational conversations where respect is shown both directions.

  • John Kelman wrote on May 30, 2011 report

    Thanks, Robin, for taking the time to provide such an extensive comment. I do, however, and with all due respect, that we're focusing a little hard on the "who" and less on the "why," when it comes to extracurricular programming.

    A lot of it, I think, has to do with the "where." Glasper has played Ottawa twice, and neither time on the mains stage or to particularly large crowds (ie. they were nowhere near sellouts, even in considerably smaller venues).

    This year's Ottawa festival has a number of acts that will appeal to a younger demographic, even if Plant doesn't (though I wonder how many folks who are talking about him as an aging rocker have heard his last two records, both of which hardly fit in that category, imo; he did, after all, win a Grammy for Raising Sand, his collaboration with Alison Krauss).

    The real tell, at least for Ottawa, will be when the 2011 edition is over, as they'll know whether or not the gambit worked - both in terms of restoring its bottom line to a break-even or minor plus position, and with respect to the demographics.

    I agree with you on the discussion of guardianship, though I'd caution you about using European art-model too loosely. I just came back from Bergen and Natt Jazz, where a tremendous new group called The Deciders, with members ranging from early 30s to mid-40, garnered tremendous acceptance form a largely young crowd. The music was bold, adventurous, freewheeling - and unequivocally stemming from the American tradition, even as it was clear these players were bringing their own cultural counterpoints into the picture. How did they succeed? With energy, enthusiasm and no shortage of humor. Easily avoiding any suggestion of shtick, they played original music with knotty heads, frightening start-stop arrangements and passages of jagged freedom. And yet, they kept the crowd with their attitude, which was as far from jazz as a glass box art form as you'll find.

    Ditto Norway's Farmers Market, a band that's so infectious, so danceable (even in irregular meters) and so plain fun that it's easy to forget just how challenging the music they play is. And Arve Henriksen's new trio - combining ethnic percussion (Helge Norbakken), electronic percussion (Audun Kleive) and Henriksen's trumpets, vocals and electronics - also clearly appealed to a mixed demographic.

    As was the case for much of the festival for the four days I attended. In fact, my experiences in Europe tell me that the problem of aging demographic seem more a problem in North America, as festivals I've been to, ranging from Bergen to Molde, and Tampere to Tallinn, all seem to be bringing in a far broader cross-section of folks ranging from 20 to 80.

    Perhaps festivals here in North America need to look across the ocean for ideas, though I think that it's a far more complex thing than following that model would yield. It has to do with a culture where culture is not, in general, a dirty word, and one that's more prone to the word "and" than it is "or."

    Again, Robin, thanks for taking the time to write. Much to think about, and maybe all this discussion will lead to some concrete and practical ideas that festivals can consider in subsequent years.

    PS: You wrote ". I'd love to see more multigenerational conversations where respect is shown both directions." Absolutely! That is, in fact, one of the things I see in some of the European festivals I've been lucky enough to attend....

  • Richard Rogers wrote on May 31, 2011 report

    More strong replies again from everyone - although John I think your reply to me was actually probably meant for Ian. I was, I think, largely in agreement with you.

    Your idea of looking across the Atlantic for ideas is a strong one as the Europeans really have the right idea, and they have some incredible festivals going. Not sure if this would work for the US or the UK, but it is worth considering. As is using a megastar to subsidise the smaller acts. If it works. I've no idea what the 'success rate' on such a tactic is.

    The thing is though, and it's a dangerous opinion, is that I think introducing non-jazz, or more 'populist', artists to the roster is a good one. Jazz for many people is a dirty word and often derided when very little of it is actually known about, like many genres I guess. But the reality is most people would probably like some jazz, if exposed to it - be solo piano of Keith Jarrett, or say the funky-electronics of Medeski, Martin & Wood, or even something 'minimalist' like the Portico Quartet. And maybe by people attending an even to see Sting, or Jamie Cullum, they might take a gamble and check something else out. Maybe that works, maybe it doesn't.

    I use Portico by the way, even though many argue whether they are jazz or not, because I introduced a good few friends to the band, who liked them live and at least half have now checked out other artists that I don't think they would have ordinarily.

    Regardless this is a great discussion and thanks for facilitating it John. Keep it up!

  • John Kelman wrote on May 31, 2011 report

    Thanks for diving back in, RIchard - and great to hear you cite Portico. A big fan, finally saw them in Montreal last year. I say they fit in the larger jazz continuum, no problem, even if they aren't by traditional definitions.

    This discussion really has been terrific - thanks again to you, and everyone who has taken the time to participate!

  • Albert Thompson wrote on June 13, 2011 report

    I do attend jazz festivals, and I take my pre- teen and teenager, have been since they were toddlers. The Montreal fest excluded, too expensive to take the kids, but where I was introduced to Salif Keita. Thank you.

    New Orleans, great trip. We saw artists that never travel as far north as New York, and while escaping the midday heat by ducking into the Gospel Tent we settled into a hour of pure joy.

    We have regularly attended George Wein's fest in Saratoga Springs. At this "hybrid" the kids have become fans of Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris McBride, Dianne Reeves and Regina Carter, to name a few. They have also been greatly enriched by the experiences of seeing James Brown, Femi Kuti, Etta James and Catherine Russell. Plus they can appreciate the difference between Brian Lynch, who was relegated to the small stage, and Chris Botti, who commanded the same time slot on the big stage.

    Since I don't live in a major market and the jazz bookings from year to are mostly meager, I look forward to attending festivals for the social and the aesthetic pleasures. Plus, I am actively developing the next generation of music listeners, and jazz will be a part of what they intentionally listen to.

  • John Kelman wrote on June 13, 2011 report

    Thanks for chiming in, Albert, and providing some very valuable insight into how jazz festivals can, indeed, create new generations of fans - and fans with bigger ears than just jazz. Credit, of course, also due to you, for making sure your kids get the exposure. When I go to an ECM at 40 fest in Germany, and see parents bringing their kids to a Keller Quartet performance of Ligeti and Bartok, and the kids are quiet and engaged, it only supports my belief that, rather than spoon-feeding 'em, kids can take a lot more.

    Back in the stone age, when I was growing up (!), you went to rock shows where you could see Miles Davis sharing the bill with The Grateful Dead. You could turn on the radio and hear The Byrds back-to-back with Coltrane. Programming in recent years has become monolithic, and for kids I think it's a particular shame, as they have open ears and an ability to intuitively connect the dots between diverse musicals performances.

    I should have written about that also, as I think it's an important factor in the "getting the younger demographic in" issue.

    Thanks again for commenting, let's keep this thread going as long as it'll last. With the festival season upon us, perhaps folks will report back on their personal experiences.