By Jeff Gauthier
Music is all about community. The jazz musicians of New York are a musical community. Individual ensembles within that larger community are musical communities. However, so are social networking sites, record companies and the readers of All About Jazz. We can generally break communities down into two specific types: physical and virtual. Both communities can reflect specific musical styles.
Physical communities and virtual communities have been interacting ever since people started banging rocks together and then throwing them at each other, but the manner in which they interact is always changing. Already, through the magic of the internet, musicians halfway around the world know exactly what musicians in New York are doing right now. And if we were so inclined, we could easily check out what musicians in Amsterdam or Paris are doing. All jazz is local, all jazz is global.
Historically, it's hard to ignore the influence of record labels on virtual communities. For better or worse, jazz labels can reflect a particular aesthetic and if the stars are in alignment, that aesthetic can create a kind of community. A few labels have created communities that have defined entire movements in jazz. Labels can be perceived as musical families; a tad dysfunctional perhaps, which makes them even more family-like, but families nonetheless. Labels can bring musicians together and labels can pull them apart. A lot of musicians have been screwed over by a lot of record labels.
I started Cryptogramophone Records in 1998 to document a community of musicians in Los Angeles. As the years have gone by, this community reached out to other musicians and other musicians reached out to us. Now we're just a big old dysfunctional family with quirky cousins all over the map. It has been ten years and I have no idea where the time went.
While Cryptogramophone started out documenting a local community, we ended up representing a virtual community. Myra Melford and Mark Dresser used to be bastions of the New York Downtown scene before moving to the West Coast. Jenny Scheinman started out in the Bay Area before moving to New York. Erik Friedlander, Todd Sickafoose and Denman Maroney still live in New York. Scott Amendola and Ben Goldberg live in the Bay Area. Bennie Maupin came up in Detroit and New York but now lives in Los Angeles. Nels Cline still lives in LA but his career is truly international in scope.
In the record business people no longer ask, "Can the CD survive?" but "When should we stop making the damn things?" There's probably going to be a new model for record labels and for creating virtual communities in the coming years, but nobody really knows what that is yet. In the meantime, we all need to remain flexible and focus on the music.
Music is all about community. However, all communities are dependent on the people who support them. That's all of us. We can all support musical communities by buying CDs, legally downloading music and most importantly by going out to hear live music. Without the integrity of the physical communities, the virtual communities simply become hollow shells.