A couple of weeks ago Concord bought Fantasy for a small fortune, over $80 million, to be exact. Who says there's no money in Jazz?
A bunch of hard working, dedicated people at Fantasy just picked up the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and that's always nice. Over the last thirty or so years, they developed and nurtured one super-heavy catalogue, some of the best music ever recorded. Between Fantasy, Riverside, Prestige, Milestone, Pablo, and Contemporary, we're talking major Jazz history here.
Disclaimer: I have written liner notes for the label, including priceless prose for a new release, The Best of Eddie Lockjaw Davis , and, their publicist is a woman I've known for decades, Terri Hinte. So, I have a special place in my heart for the label.
But the Concord catalogue has some wonderful music as well, nearly 1000 titles. The late Carl Jefferson loved Jazz and he went out of his way to support good music, both with his label, and a bunch of festivals.
So now Concord owns Fantasy and the sum total of their two catalogues is rather formidable. The question has to be, what's next?
According to their home page, Concord's latest releases include CDs by Barry Manilow, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Peter Cincotti. Of course there's others, like Chick Corea, but it would appear vocalists are their flagship artists. Hey, vocalists like Norah Jones and Diana Krall sell a lot of CDs, helping to keep Blue Note and Verve afloat. Record labels are in business to make money, nothing wrong with that.
The headline on the press release that announced the merger said "Two Companies Merge to Form the Concord Music Group, Inc., a New Leader in Independent, Adult-Focused Recorded Music."
Just what is adult-focused recorded music? For some people, adult-focused entertainment begins with nudity and four letter words, although I doubt Concord will release Jazz Hotties, a DVD with revealing portfolios. And yes, I do remember those Julie London LP covers.
But seriously, if that's possible in my addled brain, this adult-focused music thang, does that mean Jazz isn't for young people? Is that a reaction to all the alternative hiphop music being produced by young people?
We've been fighting the culture wars for too long in this country. When Nixon ran for President in 1968, he focused on a platform that appealed to frightened adults, promising to clean-up America, and its decaying moral values. Sound familiar?
I pray that the good folks at Concord, Inc. aren't planning on this marketing approach, positioning themselves as a label for adults. The idea that this music, our music, is adult-focused disturbs me. This concept is destined to enter the history books as another in the long line of failed attempts to market Jazz by pigeonholing it.
Since its inception in the early 20th century, the music industry has thrived by putting music into categories, convenient cubby-holes so that it could be more easily marketed and sold. That worked rather nicely in the old days, when the world was a lot less complicated, and when a few people had nearly exclusive control of the marketing and distribution of music.
But I'm sorry folks, that paradigm is over. It's too easy to get music now, and there are so many different types of music and people who want to hear it, that's its nearly impossible to categorize music anymore.
That word, Jazz, what does that mean anyway? Oh, we have to call it something, they say. Right. Would singer/saxman Curtis Stigers jam with Albert Ayler? Jazz is huge umbrella now, that's for sure. And Curtis is a good musician, so this is not a put down. For some listeners, he's the bomb. For others, Ayler is a God. But never the twain shall meet, except maybe in a jukebox in an Amsterdam coffee house.
So they want to call it adult music. Are the folks at Concord saying that because they want to boost the catalogue with more singers of the Manilow/Feinstein variety, artists whose audience consists primarily of adults? Will Orrin Keepnews soon be producing new releases by Englebert Humperdink and Tom Jones, and shuttling back and forth between San Francisco and Branson, trying to sign Johnny Yune?
I think the real problem here is that the adult Jazz audience already exists, and at this point, they aren't buying a whole lot of new music. Yes there's dedicated, opinionated groups of people who support Jazz and they are mostly over forty and either white or Asian. Just go to a Jazz club and tell me it's different.
Aside from the worldwide Jazz education program, there's nobody out there really doing anything to open this music up to young people. Preaching to the converted just doesn't make it anymore. We need to reach the I-Pod generation. That's the market, 25-40 year olds.
I was in an Apple store the other day and the salesman told me I-Pods were selling faster than umbrellas in a monsoon. There's a new universe of listeners who just don't buy CDs but instead, get their music from the Net. That audience is growing, and starting to spend money on music, otherwise Apple wouldn't have sold FIFTY EIGHT MILLION DOWNLOADS in the past year. These people aren't adults and won't be for some time.
That's the audience that Concord Records needs to reach.