Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What’s the “J” stand for?

Jazz Week (regis. req'd) reports Time Warner is morphing BET On Jazz into BET J, which in addition to the random jazz program, will also feature a wide array of music. As laid out in a corporate statement: “Jazz today is seen, heard, and felt in a number of related genres, including blues, soul, R&B, Caribbean, and Neo-Soul music.” Of course R&B and soul had been so hard to find on the original BET. I can’t help suspecting they blinked too soon. If congress allows a la carte cable purchasing, niche channels with a low monthly fee, presumably like BET On Jazz, would benefit tremendously. Now instead of the having the jazz niche pretty well sown up, their competing with the other Caribbean and R&B outlets, including the original BET.

If truth be told, BET On Jazz never effectively catered to the jazz audience. Instead of documenting fresh players on the scene today like Greg Osby and E.S.T., too often they gave viewers “Najee Live in the Caribbean,” at a time when smooth jazz radio is on life support. It was hard for a jazz die-hard like me to get too excited about BET On Jazz, when we can pick-up DVDs of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Cannonball Adderley live on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual for less than the cost of a month of Manhattan cable.

Still, it is disappointing to see TW further marginalize jazz. I have to give Chairman Dick Parson great credit for his support of the Jazz Foundation of America. Parsons has also been mentioned as a potential Republican successor to Mike Bloomberg, which I could certainly get behind. I suppose business is business. In an a la carte universe, real jazz could have been a real alternative. Would you pay a buck twenty-nine a month to hear something you’ve never heard before every night? What will you be willing to pay for BET J?