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Prelude to a Kiss-Off

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In reality, the late 70s and early 80s was a period of great promise, tangible development and attainable potential... Musicians were discovering the value of their own creations and developing an entrepreneurial spirit of marketing and unified action.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

If you tell a big lie often enough, it will become the truth.
~Joseph Goebbels

It is not only a matter of not caring who knows - it is also a matter of knowing who cares.
~Sufi saying

In Part 1 of this series (Hello... I Must Be Going) I referred to the first Big Lie:

That Jazz was in trouble during the late '70s and early '80s, before Lincoln Center and the fine arts foundation world stepped forward to rescue it.

Let's now look at the reality.

The wonderful choreographer/dancer Eiko (of Eiko and Koma) once said to me that there are points in time where it becomes necessary for us to de-evolve, to go back to where a mistake was made and a wrong path was taken, so that we can take the proper path. With that wisdom in mind, I'd like to take you back some 25-plus years to a period of whose circumstances many of you are either unaware or misinformed.

Now, being a hardcore realist and highly unsentimental mutha, I'm not about to paint some nostalgic rosy picture of a Utopian time that we should strive to re-create. To do so would be quite misleading. In reality, the late '70s and early '80s was a period of great promise, tangible development and attainable potential. Audiences were growing for all forms of Jazz—straight ahead, fusion, avant-garde, etc. Independent labels were beginning to flourish. Musicians were discovering the value of their own creations and developing an entrepreneurial spirit of marketing and unified action. The work of highly committed activists like Larry Ridley, A.B. Spellman, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, David Baker and others had established a level of respect and dignity for the Jazz art that was making the high brow and big stakes world of foundation fine arts funding pay serious attention.

New presenters and presenting collectives were springing up all over the U.S. with artistic and educational imperatives rooted in idealism and integrity, providing viable alternatives to the traditionally exploitative club scene and George Wein-style moguloids. Alternative music venues—like the Armadillo in Austin; the Old Waldorf and the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco; the Exit/In in Nashville; The Bottom Line in New York City, among others—began to include adventurous Jazz artists in their programming alongside top names in Rock, Country, R&B and other popular genres. High-profile promoters like Bill Graham and performing arts visionaries like Joseph Papp began to present top quality Jazz artists for their artistry rather than commercial viability.

In the cold, harsh realities of the present day scene, the preceding does sound pretty Utopian doesn't it? At least it should for everyone but the handful of selected facilities, the fortunate executives and employees of the funders and fundees, and a few professional entities that have shared in the multi-billions of booty. And of course, let's not forget the little cadre of pimps and... uh, looking for a euphemism here... shall we say, recreants, whose jobs are to testify and evangelize to the value of it all.

For the rest of us, let's look at some historical information to substantiate the litany of promise that I described. As Chico Marx says in Duck Soup "So who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes? So set your eyes on this.

When our organization Outward Visions was initially formed (as the unincorporated Rasa Artists) back in 1976, there were three major booking agencies for Jazz artists. To generalize, Jack Whittemore handled the hardcore straight-ahead (McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Betty Carter, etc.); Abby Hoffer handled the mainstream traditional; and Ted Kurland represented the ECM/fusion field. The major figures of the avant-garde (an inappropriate label that I use grudgingly) worked regularly in Europe, but had virtually no representation in the States and only a few pockets of performing opportunity—New York, San Francisco, and to a lesser degree Philadelphia and Ann Arbor, along with random access to certain colleges. However, many cities had their own local "avant scenes, generally based upon the loft scenes of the '60s and even more so, the early '70s in New York.

We decided to attempt to fill that void.

I won't go into boring details about the methods we used to successfully develop a marketplace in both the retail and performance level for a music that previously had little demand in America. However, within two years we began regularly touring artists like Sam Rivers, Anthony Braxton, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, The World Saxophone Quartet (and some of the individual members of both of these groups), and a few others throughout the U.S. By 1979, regular tours of 6-12 cities were occurring, sometimes with four or five groups touring simultaneously.


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