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5 Lessons That the Latin Jazz World Can Learn from Rebecca Black During Jazz Appreciation Month


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Our calendars turn towards April tomorrow bringing with them a yearly tradition, Jazz Appreciation Month. It's thirty government-sanctioned days that are officially dedicated to the history and future of everything associated with jazz. Some of us celebrate jazz 365 days a year, and for us, Jazz Appreciation Month seems a bit redundant. We can easily turn a deaf ear to the proceedings and wonder why the world doesn't share our daily passion for jazz. It's important to remember that most people don't have a conscious connection to the music for one reason or another. This is unfortunate, but it's also reality. It's also a prime reason to embrace Jazz Appreciation Month and ride the momentum into a wider public appeal for the music.

In order to reach people outside the jazz community, it's important to look at the situation from a different vantage point for a while. We know what most people reading this blog are hearing, they sit on the side of the fence that already appreciates jazz. So let's consider the other side of the fence for a minute. Non-jazz listeners spend their time hooking their ears up to something else, but what's drawing their attention lately? If we take a look at YouTube, there's one song above all others that has pulled people in—Rebecca Black's “Friday." It's a poorly written pop song with laughable lyrics and a barely listenable performance, but a current look at YouTube marks “Friday" with 67,926,399 views. Plenty of people have stated their negative opinions about the song, but they're still listening to it instead of some quality Latin Jazz. As we move into Jazz Appreciation Month, it's time to start thinking about moving the attention from Black onto Latin Jazz.

Black is a pretty easy target, but I'm not here to take pot shots today. Instead, I'm going to take a distinctly different and hopefully less cynical perspective. Black is a teenager with questionable musical skills that popped out of nowhere and grabbed the world's attention; what can we learn from her story? More importantly, how can we apply those lessons to our efforts to promote Latin Jazz during Jazz Appreciation Month? Sometimes a completely new viewpoint can help provide a breath of fresh air, so with that in mind, here's some thoughts about Black, “Friday," and Latin Jazz.

Video Is A Very Powerful Tool For Spreading The Word About Music

Black didn't spend years building a fan base by performing her music in dingy bars across the country; she simply made a video. For better or worse, everyone knows who Black is and can sing the tune to “Friday" based upon that video. Video is a bigger part of music than it ever has been before—we can pull up videos on our computers, phones, or televisions, exposing us to a massive world of music. YouTube is filled with a seemingly endless supply of Latin Jazz videos, ranging from classic clips featuring artists like Tito Puente and Cachao to modern videos with artists like Dafnis Prieto. Take the opportunity during Jazz Appreciation Month to share some of these great videos with your friends. Post an outstanding Latin Jazz performance on your Facebook wall every day. E-mail links to your friends with some background information about the artist. Send out great video picks daily through Twitter. Make this sort of commitment and there's a good chance that you'll turn someone onto some great Latin Jazz.

The Re-Mix Is Almost As Powerful As The Original

Have you seen the multitude of hilarious retakes on “Friday" throughout YouTube? People have made their own music videos for the song, mashed it together with death metal vocals, and posted their own performances of the song. This phenomenon is not isolated to “Friday" either—this sort of activity runs wild on YouTube. Do you have some video skills that you could put to the test during Jazz Appreciation Month? Pick your favorite Latin Jazz tune and create a music video for us. Develop something that catches people's attention—something creative that adds a story to the song. Or maybe turn one of your favorite Latin Jazz tunes upside down with a hip-hop remix—why not? Many times, these alternate versions send people running back to the originals. If you're a musician, record yourself playing your favorite Latin Jazz tune from your perspective, maybe even write your own. Say a word or two about the original artist and tell the world how they influenced your playing. Your perspective will add some momentum to the music and introduce it to your circle of friends, giving a much-needed boost to Latin Jazz.

Humor Gets People's Attention

I'm pretty sure that Black was taking herself seriously on “Friday," but a lot of people spent hours laughing along with the video. In a big part, it's the humor behind the song and the video that sent the numbers behind this song skyrocketing into the stars. We may all have different opinions about music, but we can all take the time to laugh together—it's a bonding experience that helps us feel connected. When applying this to Latin Jazz, things are a little different; there's not a ridiculous element embedded in the music. I think the jazz community (myself certainly included in this) takes itself a little too seriously though. There's got to be something that we can laugh about and Jazz Appreciation Month is the perfect time to do it. How about a funny video of someone doing a silly dance over a classic Latin Jazz tune? You could post an amusing story about an encounter with a famous Latin Jazz musician on your Facebook page. Send a serious of word plays out across Twitter that turn terms like clave, salsa, or tumbao into memorable one-liners. You may have to be careful that you don't fall into the trap of taking cheap shots at the artists or musicians for a laugh; that's a self-defeating action that goes against the spirit of the music. When you share humor with an underlying respect for your subject though, you simply make people smile and invite them into Latin Jazz.

Word Of Mouth Is Really, Really, Really Powerful

The jazz world often laments the lack of big budgets to spread the word about their music, but look at Black—she was a teenager with some bucks to spend on a song and a video before “Friday." Once the video hit YouTube, it wasn't a massive promo push from a wealthy music company that sent millions of views towards “Friday," it was word of mouth. Some of this chatter about the video was positive and a lot of it was negative, but it snowballed into a mass momentum of visibility. This viral energy tends to spread quickly across the internet, and you never quite know what will spark it. Take the opportunity during Jazz Appreciation Month to tell as many people as you can about a great Latin Jazz tune. Whether it's through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, your cell phone, or good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, get out there and talk about Latin Jazz this month. Once these people encounter something powerful in Latin Jazz, they're bound to tell someone about it too; it's simply the social nature of people. Whether the word gets put out to millions of people or even just a few, you've made a difference—a group of people have been turned onto Latin Jazz that hadn't heard it before.

Put Yourself Out There And Take A Chance

While I may not be overflowing with admiration for Black's songwriting and singing skills, I've got major respect for her sheer nerve. She took a chance on something that she believed in and put it out into the world. Some people might be laughing, but Black caught the world's attention, landing her on The Tonight Show, Billboard's Top 100, and more. I'm not encouraging anyone to take mediocre music skills to a national audience, but stepping outside yourself and taking a risk is always a good thing. It's not always easy to be an advocate for a marginalized music like Latin Jazz, but it's important to take that chance during Jazz Appreciation Month. Share an Irakere CD with your rocker friends and see what they think about Cuba's greatest fusion band. Take a friend out to a Poncho Sanchez or Eddie Palmieri concert and proceed to dance the night away. Turn on YouTube and watch some clips from Arturo O'Farrill And The Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra with your teenager and get their opinion. If you're a musician, call your local school and volunteer to stop by and talk about Latin Jazz with the music students. When you share the music that you love with someone and they don't hold the same opinion, you're taking a risk. Passion is contagious though, and there's a good chance that you'll open them up to a new appreciation for Latin Jazz.

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