Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Getting with the (Jazz) Times

IMG_0286photo © 2007 interstatial | more info (via: Wylio)
I'm a big fan of Jazz, and share this passion with my friend and fellow strategic planning consultant Morrie Warshawski. About a year ago, he brought my wife and I along with him to see Vijay Iyer at Le Poisson Rouge. We'd heard of his music, but hadn't gotten around to seeing him perform live, and we both thought he was great (thanks, Morrie).

We've now been to see him a few times, and just a few nights ago, I went online trying to purchase tickets for a couple of his upcoming shows. That was an experience I hope to never duplicate again – let's just leave this short and say that the entire online experience for finding and buying tickets to Jazz needs a massive overhaul. Iyer's site is okay, but the venue websites were a disaster (hint to Vijay's designer though - deep links to the actual performance page, not the venue page would help). Anyway, the experience was worth it because while on his site, I stumbled upon this great article in Jazz Times by Iyer about the state of Jazz today – attendance, education and the difficulty in getting access to live performances.

The article reminded me a lot about the independent film world: attendance declining; less and less financial support from the government, foundations and individual donors (but a rise in crowd-funding to be sure); more and more musicians graduating from Jazz programs and entering a crowded marketplace; musicians building followers/fans, but mainly because each new artist is looking for some connection to a possible break; fewer (affordable and accessible) venues playing live Jazz, and a general problem of access, meaning being able to find good Jazz because of these fewer venues, outlets (radio, etc) - so how do people even find the music.

Substitute film for Jazz/music and you see the similarities. I often lament the same situation in film - where are all these newly minted filmmakers going to find a job and earn a living? Here's a great quote from Iyer on the situation:

"It’s a basic problem of supply and demand. In this period of economic fragility, when jazz venues, festivals and record labels rapidly appear and disappear like so many elementary particles, where are all these highly trained, capable, student-loan-burdened musicians supposed to go? And yet, young people are entering this area of music in droves, an oncoming swarm whose aim is true. It’s as if the impossibility of the prospect drives them ever forward."

I've always argued, however, that I'm never upset as a consumer that there's too many musicians – I can always rely on friends and curators to help me find the good ones, and I believe this is true for film as well. With more and more classically educated and self-taught filmmakers, there's more people "in tune" with the history, importance and vibrancy of the medium, so audiences should only increase. Like Iyer, any filmmaker or film industry person, online gathers a fair amount of friends and followers. We're building a little network of indie film lovers. That's all fine and dandy, but how can we leverage this network to greater effect? If we did, could we solve all the "problems" of indie film? (I say problems, because they are always equally opportunities) Iyer seems to feel the same way, and is taking the next step and wondering how we might put all of this together for the betterment of all of us:

"So there it is, in all its banal glory: It’s 2011 and we’re all connected, across generations, subgenres, levels of visibility and empowerment. We have an abundance of young, highly skilled music students and recent graduates who are completely linked in with the rest of the jazz community. And collectively we face a scarcity of opportunities to present our music across America.

So my question is, can we achieve anything productive with this de facto musicians’ network? Can we marshal this virtual community of ours to confront the current situation? Is it preposterous to suggest that we all work not just as artists but as advocates, instigators, programmers, curators—the musical equivalent of community organizers? Can we imagine a “Field of Dreams” model where we, with our massive network, build the very nationwide jazz infrastructure that we’ve been waiting for?"

Great question, great spirit. I think the answer is an obvious yes, but I'd go a step further - given that we have multiple networks of artists, all struggling with the same problems across multiple disciplines, how much greater impact on the world could we all have if we joined together. It used to be hard to link such disparate groups, but it is now (so obviously) so much easier. Disconnected communities can become a mass movement. The time is now, let's build the network.
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Morrie Warshawski said...

Brian: You're welcome! Let's hit another jazz club together - soon!

Anonymous said...

Hi - I think you would be interested to know about Search and Restore, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing and uniting the audience for new jazz music. They are based in NYC and are very active.


Brian Newman said...

Anon - thanks for that link, had no idea about searchandrestore and am now a huge fan!