There have been several interesting comments about the Rifftides Pay To Play posting. Jim Brown’s comment constitutes an essay and gets a posting of its own. He wrote it in response to messages about the Pay To Play piece that appeared on a listserve devoted to west coast jazz. The emphases and the colorful language are all Mr. Brown’s.
I come at this with the perspective of engineer (formal training), jazz fan for 55 years, actively working in and with jazz clubs for the last 30 years, and a background in accounting — both mom and dad were accountants.
In this modern world, our educations are “Balkanized” — that is, we specialize in whatever we’ve chosen to study seriously (usually, but not always what makes us a living), and rarely learn much about anything else — ESPECIALLY anything so venal as the economics (or the politics) of how the world works.
You would have to be living under a very large rock to miss the facts 1) that rents for spaces that are suitable for jazz clubs are sky high; 2) sound and lighting to support jazz isn’t cheap; 3) people who make decent waitresses and bartenders for jazz clubs need to be “a cut above” in terms of intelligence and sensitivity, and they deserve a living wage too; 4) it costs money to buy the advertising that fills the club; 5) there are taxes and licenses that a club owner must pay; 6) there are lots of nights in any jazz club I’ve ever been in with lots of empty seats, even with top musical talent and quality management.
The Jazz Showcase in Chicago has tried a bunch of locations over its 60+ years of existence, but not one of them that wasn’t in a high rent location has been successful! What do I mean by successful — fannies in the seats!
While I believe to the core of my existence that Jazz is the greatest artistic contribution of the 20th century, and on a par with the combined output of what we commonly call “classical music,” both classical music and jazz are minority interests to the population at large. The reasons for this reality are a sad comentary on the modern world, but they are a reality, and WE are fools if we ignore it.
We as jazz fans, and those of us who are musicians, all need to do our part as a TEAM to create, nurture, and support the jazz clubs that do exist, the people who make major investments in their time, talent, and dollars to make them run, the technical folk who work in those clubs when they could make lots more dollars elsewhere, and those who make the music. Without ANY of them, the jazz scene is far less rich (and damned well could disappear).
The “pay to play” syndrome that Marvin Stamm talks about is really about the musician sharing some of the cost of a financially unsuccessful gig. It costs the club owner a lot of money to open the club for a night. If it doesn’t come from folks who walk in the door, where does it come from? Especially because running a real jazz club is such a fragile business, you can’t have a lot of those nights and stay afloat.
When I was living in Chicago, I had a long standing offer of $2K to Joe Segal of The Jazz Showcase to book a very well known and very inventive pianist, if only for one night. He never took me up on it — it wasn’t enough, because he didn’t trust the pianist’s drawing power!
On the other hand, someone must promote the gig, and put the fannies in the seats. Usually that responsibility falls to the club owner. If it can be shared with a record company (or the artist), all the better. Veteran singer/pianist Judy Roberts, a stalwart of the Chicago club scene who ALWAYS seems to be working, does her part, in the form of a mailing list, circulating to greet her fans, and doing the things a real entertainer does to keep the audience satisfied.
ALL of us must be continually aware of the economic realities with every element of our contributions to the scene. I’m like Jack Benny in a gas station when I design sound systems or assist a jazz club owner in setting up his or her system. Musicians and jazz fans need to do the same. That includes everyone — musicians, bartenders, clubowners, and promoters working hard to make the audience feel appreciated and “in the scene.” It includes an audience that fills those clubs regularly, buys some drinks, and doesn’t bitch about the cover charge that pays the freight.
I’ll ask a rhetorical question here — “How many nights have readers of Rifftides spent in a jazz club over the past year?” As for the musicians among us, how many nights of a cover have YOU paid to support a jazz club in your community? Let those who answer, “more than once a week” cast the first stone. And the rest of you are full of s—.
Hotel Pianist says
I guess it’s a Catch-22. Musicians are especially interested in attending the shows of other musicians. But the less we are paid, and the less our services are in demand (because of less public interest and support, etc.), the less we are able to financially support other musicians and clubs.
I really don’t know what the solution is, other than greater government funding for the arts and more arts education. If the music market is left to its own devices, we will all just be singing “My Humps My Humps My Humps” all day.
There’s a reason that the entertainment industry has mainly catered to adolescents since the end of the Depression, and that is that they have much less competition for their spending money.
Bill Kirchner says
Mr. Brown makes some valid points, but he diminishes them with a rather snotty finale. I for one get out as often as I can to support my fellow musicians’ concert and club gigs. But in the metro NYC area and elsewhere, it’s virtually impossible to go to a jazzclub without dropping $40-$100 a person. “More than once a week,” Mr. Brown? Are you independently wealthy, or just comped in regularly? Like most people, I have a limited amount of disposable income. There’s a reason why some artistically enlightened European countries give state money to jazzclubs.
Ken Dryden says
My wife and I don’t patronize nightclubs in my hometown because we don’t care to be saturated in cigarette smoke. I know that New York City is now smoke free in clubs and restaurants and I did my best to get out and support the music while I was in town for IAJE.
I don’t know why people complain about high covers at clubs and then pay $10 per ticket to see rotten films, as well as buy bottled water and Starbuck’s coffee at a price that’s higher per gallon than gasoline.
Support live jazz if you want to have access to it in the future. There’s enough lousy live music around already!
Oliver Weindling says
This raises all sorts of thoughts to me, as I’m an (unpaid) director of the Vortex Jazz Club in London. I’d agree with the comment that it is important to make all feel part of a team. The only way that we can make The Vortex work is by relying on musicians to take some of the risk on the gig and also having volunteers get involved doing the door and the bar. Contrary to the point about government funding in Europe, there’s virtually no official support for clubs like ours. By keeping the cost down, we can keep the door charge reasonable and the quality high. Jazz clubs have an important role in providing regular gigs for musicians where they can be themselves and not lightweight entertainers, and the chance for the public to hear this music. If we worked on a full cost basis, then clubs such as the Vortex wouldn’t be celebrating 20 years of jazz.