The Rifftides discussion about the size of the jazz audience moves along as comments continue to come in. Most them are posted following the original item, which you will find here. We’re adding the following communique from the pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, who goes beyond the effect of formal music education to questions of commerce and cultural health. Pandora’s box is now officially open.
1) Why does something have to be commercially successful to be judged as meritorious? Jazz was rarely ever commercially successful except on a very small scale. Soundscan changed everything, because then music was assessed not by its merits but by its absolute sales figures. The slippage between monetary and cultural value is typically American and it lies at the heart of this issue.
2) The entire market for music (not just jazz) is crumbling because of new technologies and unprecedented levels of access to the entire recorded archive. Meanwhile, however, more and more musicians of all levels of accomplishment are able to create, record, and distribute their own music. There are difficult repercussions here, but let’s not blind ourselves to what’s undeniably positive about both of these new realities.
3) There is essentially no jazz radio of any kind here. Gone are the days when Miles, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, and Sam Rivers were played on the same station. This is Clear Channel country; we have been divided and conquered.
Anyway, why should artists or audiences take any blame for any of this?
This is a music that requires nurturing and noncommercial support at all levels. There should be no stigma here; the same is true of classical music, even more so, and nobody doubts its merit or cultural value. In fact, individual patrons shell out big bucks to preserve classical and “new” music.
It takes vision to make this happen for jazz. Having toured all over the world, I must say that there’s very little of it in this country. One of the few glowing examples in the US is Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque. Look at their web site, especially this page, and ask yourself: how many other jazz presenters in the US are willing to pursue such a combination of fundraising, partnerships with community organizations, local businesses, and academic institutions, strong curatorial vision, and audience development over such a long term? You can count them on one hand.
What if we had one or two such upstart venues in every state? The entire scene would be different.
Bravo! Finally an insider who understands what many of us outsiders have been thinking if not saying for years. The business model for Jazz ought to resemble the model for Classical music rather than for rock or other pop music. Jazz requires effort to enjoy – which is what makes it so wonderful.
More private philanthropy with a bit of government assistance is the solution – not beating us outsider Jazz fans into buying every new CD or attending a Jazz club once a week. How about a subscription to four or five concerts a year like the Philharmonic or Opera do?
Bill Kirchner says
Nowhere in this most interesting discussion has it been noted that jazz was not born an art music. Jazz for a half-century (especially during the Swing Era) was a form of pop music and, Vijay Iyer to the contrary notwithstanding, did have its share of hit records and commercial successes. That’s how the Goodmans, Shaws, Jameses, Dorseys, and others became rich. Even though that era is long past, that’s why many people still expect jazz to compete in the commercial marketplace.
I agree with Vijay that more non-profit presenters like Albuquerque’s Outpost (and, I would add, L.A.’s Jazz Bakery) would benefit the jazz scene greatly. Right now, the scourges of the U.S. jazz concert scene are the “performing arts centers,” which as Marty Khan has pointed out elsewhere, typically benefit only the priciest major jazz attractions and leave the rest of us out in the cold. (Not so many years ago, I used to be able to do some periodic domestic tours with my Nonet; those days are gone.)
And subscriptions series are fine, Ira, but they have to be affordable. I know few jazz fans who can regularly afford to shell out for Philharmonic/Opera-level prices.
European-style government subsidy of the arts, including jazz, seems the only real answer, but in this country, where the powers-that-be are on a mission to diminish or eliminate NPR, PBS, and the NEA, that ain’t gonna happen.
Hotel Pianist says
What an interesting discussion! I would add that instrumental music in general is suffering, be it classical or jazz.
Cliff Preiss says
Actually, WKCR-FM in NY plays all those artists (although Stevie Wonder and Weather Report are heard less frequently than Miles & Rivers).
But what prompted this post is that the station will be holding a Sam Rivers Festival from May 18 to May 25: the saxophonist’s complete recorded works – and Rivers will be in town to contribute to the broadcast.
Listen at http://www.wkcr.org