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Transforming Jazz From Cultural Staple to Cultural Imperative

Peter Gordon By

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Discovery of music has become increasingly complex as technology, from both the hardware and software vantage point, challenges known patterns of usage. It is constantly being rewritten and repositioned to achieve a competitive advantage. The pace of change is ferocious. To keep up, as the marketplace seeks to define a new norm, musicians have to rethink the parameters of their job. It has been suggested that artists might be best to view themselves as a brand, complete with all the trimmings of a new product introduction and maintenance strategies for continued viability and direct market activity.

An excellent study by Future of Music Coalition on "Artist Revenue Streams" showed more than half of musicians surveyed juggled three roles and a quarter of the study's subjects had four or more. The business of music is a critical knowledge base that is constantly being updated and redefined. It bears increasing weight for professional survival. But jazz has a paucity of resources to navigate these increasing technical waters. It is here we need to look to other genres that have dove deeply into these new opportunities to fully understand new prospects for emerging revenue streams.

Within the Broader Cultural Community

The explosion of new media has created a wholly new beast. Two basic tenants have turned the cultural marketplace upside down, both creating opportunities and creating a vastly congested emporium of choice. First, access to market is within everyone's reach in the cyber world. The great news is no longer does an artist or cultural entity need institutional resources to reach an audience. Second, barrier of entry, a traditional market stumbling block for new product introductions or in our case new music, has been reduced. As technical development and production of music is both available and affordable, the great promise of the Internet is that everyone lives on Main Street.

The Internet's fundamental value of meritocracy, or the ability for the cream to rise to the top, is its operational mantra. Match that against the reality of the sheer volume of artist offerings, user generated content and a host of other content clawing its way for attention; the end user quickly becomes overwhelmed with too many options. The very system that gave hope by giving equally, has now taken equally as well, subsumed by its own success. Memorialized by Barry Schwartz's "Paradox of Choice," the American psychologist argued more is often less. The volume of choice chokes the very notion that the Internet is the great equalizer, as it gags on its own invention.

Freedom of choice has been compromised by a cacophony of choice. How does jazz fight back? Not easily. The battleground is not within the music community but within the larger cultural arena. It's not a genre battle but a fight for greater cultural relevance. This is where jazz advocacy becomes a key weapon. Does jazz have a voice? Does it have a group beating its drum? There needs to be a collective voice, as a single voice is muted by the stampede of other voices.

We are beginning to see very positive signs of meeting some of these challenges head on. APAP has generously renewed the Jazz Connect confab for 2013. In 2012, the JazzConnect portion of the convention presented by JazzTimes, in association with the Jazz Forward Coalition, drew over 400 people and dealt with topics from "Do It Yourself (DIY)" empowerment to broad advocacy and infrastructure issues. On the national and international front, Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), Jazz Day and International Jazz Day are initiatives that have the active organizational support of the Smithsonian Institution, US Conference of Mayors, All About Jazz, Jazz Forward Coalition, Jazz Journalists Association, UNESCO and a host of others. Jazz Education Network (JEN) is ever growing in size, importance and as a central activation point for educators around the country.

If we look at jazz from the three vantage points, as stated above, it is ultimately the interaction of three circles within circles and radiating from the core jazz community, extending to the music and performing arts and finally blending in the larger cultural matrix. Collectively this is when our striking force comes into full strength. We are an ecosystem of codependents and need an ecosystem strategy to maximize our competitive edge. To say jazz is a musical art form sells it short. Jazz is a philosophy, a life form, a spiritual healer, a social lubricant, an intellectual stronghold, a unifier and a divider. Jazz is also a major workforce and a driver in our cultural economy. It has a multiplier effect across America, enriching many other businesses, small and large, which benefit from our concerts, music sales, teaching and good will. Think of it... attending a simple performance can employ a babysitter, the purchase of gas, parking, perhaps dinner and a few drinks, etc., spreading money throughout the community.


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