Jazz and Milk

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It is time to lift jazz and the musicians who practice it from the edge of poverty to the dignified place they deserve.
By Roni Ben-Hur

Choosing a career as a jazz musician, from an economic stand point, is the same as making a high risk investment. The returns could practically be a dream come true or a disastrous state of affairs. For most of us, it is some of both.

To make sure we don't end up with unpaid bills, we diversify the way we make ends meet. For me, that means performing in many different situations and teaching a great deal, working with people ages three to 83. The beauty of it is that, like many other jazz musicians, I come into contact with an enormous variety of people. Some have backgrounds in jazz and some never even heard the word 'jazz'. But, they all have one thing in common—they love the experience of being involved with jazz. The music has a joyous and positive effect on them.

The point I'm trying to make is that jazz affects our lives in marvelous, surprising and meaningful ways. We need to drive this point home as much as possible since, all too often, people have written off this music before even giving it a chance. Too many wonderful recordings end up just sitting on the shelves of stores or record labels and too many great artists are just sitting home instead of enriching people's lives with their music.

So here is what I propose. A few years ago the dairy farm industry came up with the brilliant idea of making milk popular. We saw posters all over of celebrities from the world of entertainment, sports and politics with a milk mustache endorsing the drinking of milk. We in the jazz world should do the same.

Let all the athletes who love jazz say so. The movie stars who love jazz, say so. The public figures that love jazz, say so. Of course, it isn't that simple to do logistically, but let's implore the musicians' unions, the IAJE, the NEA, SAG and AFTRA and the newly formed Jazz Alliance to form a coalition for this purpose. I'm sure recruiting the celebrities would be easy. If they can endorse listening to jazz on recordings and in live performances, we'll be able to gain the many new listeners we desperately need.

With adults, I think we need this campaign just to remind them about jazz—that they don't need to completely understand it to enjoy and feel it, that a jazz performance is a nice way to spend an evening and a jazz CD is a great accompaniment to your workday or the car ride home.

With young people, we need to let them know that jazz exists, that it's hip and they don't have to be seven feet tall or built like a linebacker to play it. It just takes discipline, the kind one needs for life in general and once you learn it, playing it is great fun. That's why we call it 'playing'.

Then, someone should approach all public officials and tell them to consider live jazz at all their social functions. Would it not be patriotic to honor America's classical music? Why not have live jazz at the opening of a new library, during a cocktail party with foreign dignitaries, during the inauguration of a public official, etc...

It is time to lift jazz and the musicians who practice it from the edge of poverty to the dignified place they deserve. I think all we need to do to accomplish this is to let the truth be heard and that is that jazz is a wonderful music which enriches people's life. The tricky part is to have people with high visibility and enormous influence say that truth so it could be heard.

Heck, I'll even wear a mustache!

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