Breathtaking News From The Festival Front

Here are the headline, subhead and lead paragraph of a news release from the Montreal Jazz Festival.

I wonder if he jumped in at the last moment to sub for another jazz star who withdrew, Lady Gaga, perhaps.

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  1. Ken Dryden says

    You’ll hear the usual defense that jazz festivals have to have non-jazz headliners in order to turn a profit, but it is still a joke to see the likes of the clown once again known as Prince billed above major jazz stars.

  2. John Birchard says

    Who’s next? Rep. Anthony Weiner? A once-great, even daring Festival goes to Hell in a handbasket.

  3. says

    You know, I think when the dust settles on this notably odious festival season we may be rid of it all for a while. I loved the money quote in your snippet above from Mount Royal. So Prince is offering up faux intimacy in a mere 2000 person pile-up, a real marvel, (they breathlessly exclaim}. “for a performer more accustomed to playing arena’s 10 times that size!” Jeeze, can you say spin?

    It’s like the decline phase of the rock star arc so prophetically conveyed in ‘Spinal Tap’ i.e. the “Stonehenge” segment.

    So we learn that rock/pop as a corporate cash cow is done but it’s still possible to send the hack in to confiscate some jazz money that in substantial part comes from taxpayers via art funding.

    Corporate welfare, like Matt Taibbi’s giant vampire squid, finds yet another pool to drain. Prince went from 20k venues to 2k venues and it is a crap shoot if he’ll do the numbers there even though they make it easy.

    Uuhhh. Rock/pop is supposed to make lots of money…

    Can we just all admit huge is over and restore the working scale of performance size and venue to what you knew in your feckless youth please?

  4. Dr. Mike Baughan says

    “Jazz Star”……………interpretations can be very loose these days @ “Jazz” Festivals. I guess it’s all about ‘butts in the seats’.

  5. Doug Zielke says

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s getting harder and harder to find “jazz” at a jazz festival.

  6. Robin Lloyd says

    I could just cry…
    what are they thinking? Oh, silly me, they’re thinking $$$$$$. Never mind.

  7. alex tough says

    nowadays too many festival ‘jazz’ performers are anything but jazz.. some radio stations also play ‘stuff’ that is anything but jazz!

  8. Rob D says

    Not a huge fan of jazz fests booking pop stars when they have proven (as the Montreal fest has over the years) that there IS a market for jazz..even more challenging jazz..that can be tapped into. I really think it’s about greed for the most part.

    As for Prince, I think he’s a terrific live entertainer who knows and loves many of the classic pop forms that dominated American music over the decades..blues, soul, and funk in particular. But his inclusion at a jazz festival worthy of the name is puzzling.

    Our local bluesfest seems to book anyone:

    1/ with “blue” in their name Blue Rodeo, Blue Man Group or Blue Oyster Cult
    2/ who can actually claim to recognize a blues progression when they hear it
    3/ who digs Jimi
    4/ who recorded a blues homage sometime in their the Elmore James riff at the fadeout of their “final song on the CD ending with studio wanking”
    5/ who was at Woodstock…Or knew someone who was..OK..none of those? Did you have the LP? You’re in!
    6/ who is fat, white and enjoys singing “mellow down easy” for the 2 hour jam that IS your set
    7/ who doesn’t mind playing in the tent marked “blues tent.” The more authentically blues-based your music is, the farther away from the main stage ye shall be.

    OK..have a nice weekend..

  9. Steve Mendelsohn says

    I just read Ethan Iverson’s comment on Do The Math about this thread and I’m annoyed. Iverson doesn’t give you any place to comment directly so I will respond here. He says, “I’d rather see Prince, who is more in the Duke Ellington tradition of ‘African American artistry meets entertainment’ than dozens of Downbeat poll-winners.”

    What the good Mr. Iverson doesn’t understand is that everyone doesn’t feel the same way as he does. I choose to appreciate my music more viscerally than intellectually. The thing that my gut tells me is that I like jazz. I go to a jazz festival to hear jazz, and however you classify Prince, he isn’t that. I, like many jazz fans, am not interested in any of the current cultural rationalizations that critics and musicians like Mr. Iverson use to justify liking the music they like. Prince is clearly a talented musician but I don’t go to a jazz festival to hear the kind of music plays.

    In my opinion the views of people like Iverson and Nate Chinen of the New York Times are having too great an influence on the music. There is too much willingness to accept anything as jazz. I have no problem with a wide umbrella but fans need to know what is under that umbrella.

    • Alexander Rocha says

      “What the good Mr. Iverson doesn’t understand is that everyone doesn’t feel the same way as he does.”

      Well, that’s kind of condescending, no? I’m pretty sure Mr. Iverson is aware that people disagree with him on a host of subjects. I’m also sure that he’d rather hear good jazz at a jazz festival than anything else; it appears that the economics of jazz festivals of this sort require musicians who at the least cross over to a pop audience, if not (like Prince) outright come from a pop background. Beyond that, I’m not sure if you’re aware that Mr. Iverson has written a fair amount in the past few years indicating that (a) he doesn’t think “anything [is] jazz”, and I certainly doubt he considers Prince jazz (b) he’s critical of the current crop of jazz elder statesmen-heavyweights for basically having all-star jam sessions on stage as opposed to showing up with a well rehearsed band playing serious music at the highest level. Iverson’s thought, I presume, is that Prince isn’t jazz, but at least you can count on him to put on a good show.

  10. Charlie Keagle says

    By one reckoning, a musical style is dead as soon as it engenders a festival featuring it. This implies that jazz died (or went into decline) in the late 50’s/early 60’s.

    Remember, much jazz before the 50’s was “pop” music.

    Anyway, what is jazz? It’s certainly not what it used to be, and the term has started to lose its meaning altogether except as a category for an historical style period of a particular form of indigenous American music.

  11. says

    I completely forgot that the Montreal Jazz Festival straps you into your seat and won’t let you leave until the last artist plays their last note. So horrible that someone who only wants to hear jazz (and who knows what their definition of “jazz” may or may not include) will be forced to sit through a performance from a hack like Prince.

    People need to get over themselves.

    • scott says

      Some of the posts here are so ridiculous – “Forced to sit through a performance from a hack like Prince”? Are you kidding me? Regardless of what you think of Prince’s music, he is far from a hack. Ask Miles Davis, who thought Prince was one of the great artists of his era. And most importantly to your point, NO ONE was forced to sit through the performance – do your homework – Prince played 2 nights at the club Metropolis – tickets were $160.00 each – trust me, no one who was there was forced to be! It was a concert full of Prince fans, who in many cases are also huge jazz fans.

      And regarding everyone’s ignorant comments that the jazz festival did this for money (!!!) anyone with some business sense would know that with Prince’s performance fees, there is NO profit at 2000 people, even at $160 a ticket. I work in the jazz business and happen to know that the festival lost money on his shows – they did NOT book Prince to make money – it was a loss leader – they brought him in to add profile to the festival and give fans something special. That is always their intention – to give the listener something they would never hear anywhere else – and that extends beyond jazz to pop, funk, soul and blues music.

  12. Steven Mendelsohn says

    I agree with Alexander Rocha’s comment about my previous post being condescending and I apologize for it. Mr. Iverson is an extremely talented pianist and a fine writer. He doesn’t deserve the language that I used.

    I still have difficulty with his point of view. When jazz festivals allow non-jazz artists to be the force that drives them, they stop being jazz festivals and become just music festivals. So what? the average person would ask. My answer would be that it leads to the continuing shrinkage of the jazz audience. It does this by keeping new listeners so confused as to what jazz is that they never get to discover Ellington and Mingus, as I did when I first go into jazz.

    I have followed jazz for 45 years. I have a Masters in music. But to be perfectly honest, I no longer have any idea what it is. Whose fault is it you might ask? It’s ours, the fans, because we have indulged musicians and critics who have decided to call anything that they like, jazz.

    I no longer know what to tell my High School music class. I play and teach Pops and Bird but they still think that Earth Wind and Fire is jazz.

  13. des says

    why did charlie keagle bother to reply to this post? he is obviously disdainful of the the genre, dissing one of the greatest musical art forms to originate in the u.s.a. if he doesnt like/understand the music maybe he can confine his comments to where they are more appropriate, i.e. rolling stone etc

  14. Peter says

    And while calling Prince “jazz” and booking him at a jazz fest is pretty silly, let’s not pretend that he’s only doing this because he can’t do anything bigger. He sold out a whole string of 20,000+ seat arenas this past winter without batting an eyelid.

    If he was in it solely for the money, he wouldn’t be taking 2000 seat gigs. I get the impression that Prince chooses the gigs he chooses because he thinks it will be interesting and fun. Every show of his is different, and while I don’t expect him to play Jazz up there in Montreal, I wouldn’t be surprised if the music he played there did lean more to the jazz side of the spectrum.

    So, absolutely, blast the festival organizers if you want for booking him. But perhaps one Prince show helps fund 20 other shows that you think are more “real” jazz.

    • scott says

      Again, the festival lost money on the Prince shows but they did it as a prestige show – they had brought him to Places Des Arts 10 years prior and it was a classic concert and the first jazz fest gig Prince ever performed. I won’t say what Prince was paid here but I do know, and it was a LOT for 2 club shows, and 2 sold out shows would not recoup the artist fee and concert production costs.

      I was at the second night concert this year and the band did quote “Dexterity” and “Scrapple from the Apple”, and his guitar/singer sang “The Look of Love” but it wasn’t really a jazz-leaning show. It was incredible, though – he performed for 4 hours the first night and 3 1/2 hours the second night.

  15. says

    Doug –

    That Prince is not a jazz artist goes without saying. But to call him a “clown” is not only un-called for but also shows an unfortunate tendency to let personal taste color one’s ability to perceive artistic brilliance.

    You know me well and for decades so I do not have to establish my “bona fides.” But even though the art form of jazz is my favorite of all I am able to appreciate other genres as well.

    Prince is a genius and also a virtuoso instrumentalist not only on the guitar where he has few peers but also on an arsenal of instruments.

    His music might not resonate with you and as they say “De gustibus non est disputandum” but even though one is clearly entitled to express one’s opinion not only under the protection of the 1st Amendment but also on one’s own “blog” I wish you could have done so without disrespect.

    Best regards and music always,


    PS – For the record (bad pun intended) I just checked my iPod and the 4 most represented artists on it (and I am speaking of hundreds of tracks) are, in order, Prince, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and J.S. Bach whose discographies take up equal amounts of space on my record shelves.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Mitchell –

      For the record (it’s not that bad a pun), I did not call Prince a clown. One of the commenters did. Nor did I indicate whether his music resonates with me. I posted the headline and first paragraph of a news release and made a glancing reference to another pop performer. What followed in the comments and reply section are the opinions of others. I have not made a study of Prince’s work. I have heard enough of it to conclude that it is a long stretch to confer upon him genius status. However, I respect your ability to hear. If you equate him with Bach, Parker and Davis, then I must suspend skepticism and listen further. Which of his works do you put on a level with, say, The Goldberg Variations, “Koko” or “Flamenco Sketches?”

      • says

        Absent Mr. Feldman’s response, I’ll wing it–that would be “I Would Die 4 U,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Party Like It’s 1999,” respectively, leaving “Purple Rain” to stand alone and indomitable: Rocquell Invictus Uniquest.

      • Michael J. West says

        Might also be worth mentioning that Davis himself equates Prince with Ellington on page 385 of Miles. Surely that makes him worthy of (re)consideration?

        For what my own view on the subject is worth, I’ll place Sign O’ the Times on a level with The Goldberg Variations, and “When Doves Cry” on a level with “Flamenco Sketches.” I’m still searching for a symmetric with “Koko,” but if you’re looking for a Prince guitar performance that shows equal parts virtuoso technique and melodic invention you’ve got any number of choices.

        • Doug Ramsey says

          I just listened to (and in the case of “Sign O’ the Times,” watched) MIchael J. West’s nominees and must conclude that he is being as sardonic as Ed Leimbacher.

        • scott says

          Regarding a classic Prince guitar performance, I suggest you watch this. It aint jazz, but it is perfectly melodic, soulful and super entertaining. This is from the concert after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies that Prince was inducted into.

  16. Ken Dryden says

    One of the reasons I referred to the “clown once again known as Prince” was his bizarre decision to temporarily replace his name with a symbol that defied pronunciation. Such a publicity stunt is a joke to me. True, I don’t care for Prince’s music and my insult was directed at his temporary name change, not an indictment of his music as being of no value to anyone.

    I’ve been wondering: What if Duke Ellington had been subjected to being listed below pop artists as headliners for a jazz festival? Would he have ever taken the stage? If you’ve read Mel Torme’s memoir, you will know that a contract error in booking giving the singer top billing over the maestro at a shared club date caused the pianist to refuse to take the stage for several days until it was changed.