Sunday, August 26, 2007

Covering Costs

As I visit Denver from time to time, I have come to appreciate its jazz scene. Some excellent artists make their home there, including Fred Hess, Ron Miles, Pat Bianchi and Chie Imaizumi. While it can’t compare to the New York club scene, which features multiple headliners of international stature every night, it does have some reliable venues to hear live jazz. According to the Denver Post though, business is not great. Some club owners were pretty candid about their finances:

“Dazzle expects to pull in $1.3 million in revenue this year - but there won't be any profit. [Club owner Donald] Rossa said his sales only cover operations.

Jazz @ Jack's on the 16th Street Mall should take in $750,000 this year but is still paying off startup costs, said owner Sandra Holman-Watts. “

The experience of Denver club owners actually highlights one of the oft-overlooked positive aspects of the free enterprise system: the freedom to send good money after bad. Under socialized systems, government controlled resources would be allocated under the best case scenario to projects with the broadest utilitarian appeal. In practice, they go to those with political connections. Neither broad popular appeal nor political clout, have been strong suits for jazz as of late.

Jazz has been historically blessed with entrepreneurs who were content to eke out a living by making the music available to a loyal audience. Those campaigning for a government subsidized performance space should take a look at the local taxes and regulations which make it so difficult to do business in New York. Club owner Lorraine Gordon complains of “the board of health, the fire department, the I.R.S.—all the departments that run your business in New York City, whether you like it or not,” in her book Alive at the Village Vanguard. (p. 206) Rather than entitlements that could actually lead to real resentment for the music, jazz supporters ought to be advocating empowerment-zone style tax cuts and regulatory relief. Those like Rossa, who voluntarily chose to spend their capitol on the music, despite having better returns on their investments available to them, deserve a break.