They Will Never Die


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...an assemblage of colorful creators who yielded saxophones not swords, and spoke the truth, no matter what the consequences. That's why their music has such lasting appeal.
I write now of heroes, a species that in our time, has become as rare as an oasis in the desert. My heroes aren't Greek gods, they are merely mortal, yet like their divine counterparts, they also possess something eternal - their music.

Whatever the joy and pain of their earthbound tenure, the creations of these passionate, remarkably inimitable people will sooth and inspire until we finally self-destruct. It appears that may be sooner than later.

The lion's share of these heroes have passed, remnants of bygone era when cultural icons were artists prized for their individuality. Most of the so-called artists of our day who become famous are no more than advertisements, and they advertise not genius but existence.

The individuals I prize, an assemblage of colorful creators who yielded saxophones not swords, spoke the truth, no matter what the consequence. That's why their music has the power that it does. That's why young people from all over the planet keep coming to New York even though survival as a Jazz musician is no day at the beach.

Yet even though their music is among life's greatest joys, these heroes, largely black and criminally under appreciated, have no spokesman. Subject to the standards of the music business of an era when most musicians were never compensated fairly for their work, once they recorded the music, they lost control of their creations.

Things are a bit different in the digital age. Musicians are empowered, if they so choose. Some do, some don't. Nevertheless, the Jazz legends have now become commodities, their music sold online by Walmart, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

That said, allow me to focus on the subject of this impassioned plea for respect and dignity: the marketing and distribution of this music.

In my last offering , I wrote about the recent label news whose reverberations have echoed quite loudly through our community—Concord's purchase of Fantasy.

I noted that Concord's initial press release left me with the impression that they were, once again, to my dismay, going to pigeonhole this music as targeted primarily for “adults.” This time, I have some suggestions on what Concord should do with their music, now that have acquired the rich Fantasy catalogue, as well mining their own library.

Before I get into this, let me state that I wish the Concord chieftains nothing but sunshine and ravioli. They are no doubt well intentioned, hard working folks trying to do the right thing. What I'm suggesting here is that they go beyond the usual and do something unique to honor this music and to better market it.

Honestly, I wouldn't want to be the President of a record label. I've met several of these chaps during my years as a journalist and they, like any businessmen, are under major pressure to generate profits. Some become power hungry, self-serving pricks. That's human nature.

But there are others who have kept the creation and marketing of quality music as their focus. One man comes quickly to mind in my gallery of record label good guys, Bruce Lundvall , of Blue Note Records. Mr. Lundvall, both at Columbia and Blue Note, has totally dedicated himself to this music. As a sincere enthusiast, he has preserved the Blue Note legacy, and continued to record new artists as well. At the same time, he's successfully walked a tightrope between creativity and corporate intervention. That isn't easy. Blue Note is part of the multi-national EMI conglomerate. How'd you like to have those bean-counters questioning your every decision?

Blue Note today regularly reissues their remarkable catalog, and has a stable of contemporary artists, like Joe Lovano, Bill Charlap, Wynton Marsalis, and Jason Moran, consistently recording new music. Concurrently, Blue Note has signed, and successfully recorded additional artists who loosely fall under the Jazz umbrella. Everyone knows that Norah Jones' remarkable success has greatly enriched the Blue Note coffeurs. The profits from Anita Baker, Al Green and Van Morrison will also help Blue Note's bottom line.

It's a formula that works. Norah Jones' sells five million CDs, and that helps Jason Moran stay afloat. Concord will no doubt attempt to duplicate this formula, who wouldn't? But they're going to have find artists other than Barry Manilow and Peter Cincotti to carry that load.

What Jones does is reach out to what I call the Jazz Friendly audience. These folks don't know anything about alternate takes or our unsung heroes, they just respond to what sounds good to them. They probably listen to Smooth Jazz stations from time to time, and have purchased a CD by Norah Jones or Diana Krall recently. If they hear something they like, they'll buy it, but you won't find them on a Jazz website, or reading one of the major Jazz magazines. That's too confusing.


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