Friday, August 17, 2007

Take Five Instead

Jazz may not have a lot going for it with the general public, but it does have a well earned reputation for independence. That’s why the well-intentioned campaign for a city subsidized performance space for experimental jazz is troubling. It may trade away a significant part of jazz’s cultural capitol for a government entitlement.

This campaign by the Alliance for Creative Music Action was largely spurred by the closing of Tonic, which certainly was a great loss. However, given the number of fantastic gigs I have been to in recent weeks that were only moderately attended, I question the efficacy of demanding space from the city for subsidized venue (particularly if its shows are sparsely attended). Regardless, it is highly unlikely that the city would provide such subsidized space. (I can’t make ACMA’s 8/21 meeting, but would definitely be interested in what is discussed.)

Frankly jazz needs larger audiences more than it needs entitlements. Instead of writing letters and demonstrating, those who support this music should try to bring five jazz outsiders (not your jazz hang-buddies) to a show each month. That is, expanding the audience by bringing five people who would otherwise not be attending jazz gigs at all. (I have tried this for certain events in the past, and yes, it is real hard, but the results are immediately measurable.) If 100 people actually did this for three months in a row, it would expose 1,500 people to the music, which could result in tangible economic benefits for musicians.

Sales of jazz albums were down 8.3% last year according to Nielsen Soundscan. Jazz is losing market-share within an industry trending down. However, it is not because of the quality of the music released in 2006. The music is still vital. In fact, much of what I have heard live and on CD recently has been truly fantastic. The problem is jazz has not been effectively marketing to new listeners. Its true believers need to evangelize more, not look to Caesar for a subsidy.