State of the Jazz Union

You may have read this in multiple parts in rant form, but a much more cohesive version of why I gnashed teeth over Yoshi’s and Jazz Fest West, and any festival apart from my beloved Capital Jazz that went more than 25% R&B, is live up at Detroit Jazz Magazine, where I’m an occasional journalist.

Link: http://detroitjazzmagazine.com/Articles/stateofjazz.html

You may be wondering why I’m rehashing this. And I will tell you in no uncertain terms: because someone has to say it. Someone has to say it and someone has to keep saying it. Until and unless we all come together – promoters, bookers, artists, photographers, fans, and journalists – then we will really not have very much in the realm of what the jazz scene has to offer.

And a genre that has been alive, evolving, and robust in every iteration for a hundred years deserves better than to be pushed by the wayside.

K.G.

Let’s talk about depression. For real this time.

I think it’s time we sat down and talked about depression. Not just because Robin Williams’s death is bringing it forward, but because there’s entirely too much out there that is giving people the wrong idea about what it is and what it isn’t. And, having first-hand experience with it, I can’t not talk about it. 

Fair warning that a lot of this will get very personal. I’m writing this so you can learn this, and share with any Well-Meaning Wilma in your life that just plain doesn’t get it. I have had my own fight with it, and trust me when I say it’s not something I’ll soon forget. 

That and all those Well-Meaning Wilma people just plain piss me off because they do more damage than they realize.

What it is – and what it isn’t.

Depression isn’t a stretch of ‘the blues’. Let’s get that out of the way. When you’re depressed, you’re not in a sad state of mind that you can sleep off. If there is a single expression that would best explain what depression feels like, it would be oppressive quagmire of involuntary indifference. It’s not what you feel – it’s a lot of what you don’t. In my worst bouts of depression, the only thing that could describe what I felt at the time was numb. I didn’t feel anything. Considering I am a passionate personality – obviously – and I thrive on creativity, to not feel anything was definitely, wholly, completely, not right.

Clinically, depression is an imbalance of brain chemicals, which in turn affects your mental and physical well-being. 

You don’t feel sad, so much as you feel as though you don’t see the point in doing the most basic things. You get up in the morning, you get your cup of coffee, and you just don’t see the point in it, even if you love that part of your morning ritual. You go to the park to sit down and read a book, but you don’t go into the park – you just don’t feel like you want to anymore. You have aches and pains where you didn’t have them, and worse, you can’t attribute it to growing older; you know your knees didn’t make that sound three months ago. You think, “I can’t get up this morning” – no reason, just that thought, just that feeling – and it stretches into a week…the a month…and next thing you know, it’s a half a year gone by before you wonder why you don’t like to go to the park anymore.

Worse thing is, you have no control over it.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions about depression: that the sufferer can control it or manage it at will. They can’t. They simply cannot turn on the “happy switch”; such a thing simply doesn’t exist. They can’t think happy thoughts unless they’re constantly medicated. They can’t shake it off. This isn’t something to ‘shake off’ – it’s something to battle through, and that battle will wrangle every little last bit of everything you’ve got before you so much as make ten feet worth of headway out of that quagmire. There is nothing that the depression sufferer can do, on their own, to climb out of it.

 

The Coat 

It may be a copy-pasta from the prior post, but here you go. I’ve written about depression being like a heavy coat, and it seems to be a fitting description. So here goes.

Think about depression as a very heavy coat that has a mind of its own, and its sole purpose is to confine you and to stifle you until you collapse under it. It’s a coat that slinks up onto you and buttons itself up tight when you aren’t looking, and certainly without your consent. It confines your movements until you struggle to so much as get up. You can think of nothing but the world outside the coat, but because it’s interfering with your line of sight, you can’t participate in it. You know you can remove this coat, but it’s so heavy that you struggle to so much as move a hand towards the buttons. It’s hard for you to breathe wearing this coat, but it won’t get removed on its own and you know it. And you can’t take it off and put it back on at will – the coat won’t let you take it off without a struggle, and you know that you will never want to wear it again. The coat confines your mind too, until you think only within the spectrum that it allows you to think in, confining you to just the inside of your head.

And eventually, your world shrinks. You can see nothing and know nothing but what the coat allows you to see and know. That’s when you don’t see the point in trying to take off the coat anymore. And it only grows heavier. You know there’s a world outside, but you have accepted the weight of the coat, and though you never forget your life before it, you struggle all the more to remember when the coat got onto you, and what the motion is to take it off.

And your body never forgets the coat. Even if you do succeed in ripping it off, and it falls with a dull thunk into a corner, you remember what it was like to carry that weight on you everywhere. You never forget it. You never forget how it feels. And you always have that little smidge of fear in the back of your mind, what if one day you wake up and the coat is back on you? You have no say whatsoever in whether or not you put on the coat – you would never wear it voluntarily, and you’d never wish it on anyone else. You always keep an eye on the coat in its corner, because it never fully disappears. It haunts you, even when you do regain some sort of a normal life after it, it’s never quite the same, because when you look into that corner, there it is, and you are reminded of what it was like to wear it. 

In summary, depression confines you to the inside of your head, and it’s never from one’s own doing. 

 

The Well-Meaning Wilmas – and the damage they do.

I have to go there, because I’m pretty sure that most people reading this who had suffered through depression have had at least one Well-Meaning Wilma in their lives. A person, who likely has never gone through depression or has absolutely no real understanding of what it is or what it means, who likes to give their “advice” on how to break free of it. I’m sure a couple of us have been guilty of saying, “Snap out of it!”. 

Here’s the thing: none of those well-meaning adages ever work. Not a single one. Never has, never will. In fact, for all of you well-meaning folks out there, if someone around you is depressed, trust me when I say that every time you open your mouth, you’re making things worse. 

I’ll explain how, in detail, so there’s no confusion about why that doesn’t work.

“Snap out of it!”/”Shake it off!” – let’s get this straight: you can’t ‘snap out’ of depression. No one ever asks for it in the first place. It’s never a ‘snap-out’ when and if it does lift. It’s more like a very, very slow sunrise that lasts weeks. You know it’s lifting, you know it’s getting brighter, but it has to happen on its own time. You saying to ‘snap out of it’ only demonstrates to the depressed person that you have no understanding of how they feel.

“You have so much to live for!”/”You have such a great job/friends/lover!” – in your opinion only, turtledove. The depressed person doesn’t necessarily agree. How do you know their depression hadn’t cost them their job? How do you know that the depressed person didn’t have a friend turn on them, and that triggered the downward spiral? Again, you’re only showing that you have no idea how they feel. Moreover, you’re making assumptions about their situation. Two strikes in one, and both of them tell the depressed person that they can’t confide in you. This doesn’t help in the slightest.

“Can’t you just…not be depressed?” – quite obviously, no, and thank you for showing your ignorance of the condition. 

“Well, God says [insert Bible verse]” – …no, just no. Shut up. God has nothing to do with it. If God was so great, then He wouldn’t have given the brain the capacity to do this to itself. Think about that for a second. Keep your religion to yourself when it’s not you going through it. 

“You’re just doing this for attention.” – If I could only encompass in words just how angry I get when someone says that to a depressed person. And yes, I’ve heard that said multiple times. This completely and wholly devalues what they’re going through, which is the single worst thing anyone going through depression can experience on top of the condition itself. You have no right to devalue their feelings. If you don’t understand what they’re going through, that’s fine, but you have no right whatsoever to claim their experience isn’t real because of your own ignorance thereof.

“Think of your family/friends!” – Really? The depressed person already does – they’re wondering how to leave them so they wouldn’t have to deal with what they’re going through. They’re wondering how they would be better off without them. Selfish? No. Not at all. Trying to keep them safe from the quagmire? Yes. Bet you never thought of it that way.

“Be positive!” and “Be more positive!” – again: shut up. Seriously, shut up. This is the single least helpful thing you can say. There’s no way to ‘be positive’ in depression that doesn’t involve heavy medication, drugs, or alcohol. Depression is not, I repeat is not, something a person can control. Trust me, if it were, there would be no depressed people in the world.

Before you ever judge someone for drinking, etc., ask yourself if you know why they’re drinking. Alcoholism isn’t a disease in and of itself, it’s a symptom of something else. Alcohol is a depressant (as in, opposite of stimulant) that dulls feelings, inhibitions, and perception – it’s the perfect self-medication for someone who doesn’t want to be inside their own head. Addictive personalities gravitate to anything addictive, but a depressed person is that much more likely to gravitate to a anything in the depressant spectrum of pharmacology – anything, really, if it means they won’t spend any time inside their head for some time. In short: never, ever tell anyone to be positive/more positive/cheer up. Unless you have a bottle in your hand, cheering up is just simply not possible. Know what it does for the depressed person when you say that? It tells them you don’t understand how they feel. It tells them you’re judging them. It tells them that they can’t trust you. Which in turn makes the depression worse. 

“Well, I was depressed too, and I’m fine, so you can be too!” – if you’re saying that, chances are you were never depressed in the first place. In my experience, as both a depression survivor and as someone who had held more than a few hands of those going through it, absolutely no one who ever experienced genuine clinical depression ever says that. It’s not a one-size-fits-all condition, and not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Again: you’re not helping. 

You may read this and ask, “Well, what can I say, then?”

And this is the thing: you shouldn’t say. You should listen. The only words out of your mouth should be, “Talk to me.” No more. Nothing else. Because the depressed person doesn’t need to hear anything. They need to be heard. Because by the time they’re reaching out for help, they just want a reminder that there’s at least one person on the other side who will listen to them. 

And how can you listen if you’re giving platitudes?

 

The Public Eye – and how depression makes actors of us all.

This is something that I also touched on in the prior post. I know that Robin Williams’s death had taken us all for a shock, and I have seen quite a lot of wholly ignorant statements on what it looked like from the outside. 

Let’s not forget that Robin Williams was a public figure. Moreover, he was an actor. Putting on a performance was his livelihood. He was a master at putting on a show for the public; he thrived on making people laugh by putting on a show. But as I wrote about the suicide of L’Wren Scott, there is a gilded shell, and the more public a person is, the more focused they become on appearances, the more disconnected the shell becomes from the real person underneath. 

Robin Williams had to keep putting on the show. He had to keep putting on the mask that said everything was okay. He had to make people laugh, because while they were laughing, they wouldn’t see that he was not okay. And the truth is, people in the public eye are a lot more likely to suffer from depression, and due to the money they earn from their work, they are a lot more free to self-medicate than others. What’s absolutely horrifying is that tabloids eat this shit up and make a show out of documenting someone’s breakdown for people to point and laugh at, and as a result, the people who eat this up forget very readily that the person on the other side of the page and the camera lens is every bit a real human being, and that the newspapers are publicizing something that, if it were happening to someone who wasn’t a public figure, would be seen as an unmistakable sign that that person needs help.

We as a voyeuristic celebrity culture have created a pressure cooker for the very people whom we admire/ogle/look at/hear. The pressure to put on the happy faces and appear as though nothing is wrong has grown immensely ever since the media has gotten the idea that public figures aren’t entitled to privacy – as though they stop being human when they start being a public figure.

One of the scariest photos I’ve seen was of Kate Middleton – Princess Kate as she is now, I should say – walking down the street…and behind her was a veritable wall of paparazzi camera lenses. I wish I could say I was joking. That image was honestly terrifying. I have to hand it to Kate for having the fortitude to keep going with that sort of a magnifying glass trained on her for the benefit of the gawping public. But it also told me the kind of people that we have become. We think nothing of a single person having to walk past a wall of camera lenses dedicated to their every move, as long as we the viewers get our fill. 

But in truth, we are not so different from those in the public eye, especially if it’s us who suffers from depression. We too put on a show. We put on a show for our friends, our coworkers, our families, spouses, children if we have them – we put on an incredibly convincing show that tells them that everything is okay. We laugh and joke and hold court and talk on the phone like we used to, and we hide it. We hide that in the morning, we have to psych ourselves up to get out of bed. We hide what’s really inside our minds, all to keep the Well-Meaning Wilmas in our lives at bay. We don’t want to hear the platitudes, we don’t want to hear the tropes, but we’d love someone to listen to us. Just listen. Nothing else. Or even just let us park our heads onto their shoulders for a stretch. 

The trouble is that we don’t always have someone who will listen. In our viewing, voyeuristic, entertainment-hungry culture, we are a lot more likely to attract a slew of people who’d love to watch us struggle through the quagmire than we are likely to find someone who will offer a hand, a shoulder, and an ear to help us out of it.  

And that’s how we learn to act when depression comes knocking. It’s a self-preservation impulse, and it is strong enough to make Oscar winners of even the plainest of us all. 

 

Getting personal

As you can probably surmise, I had my own battle with it. I heard all the Well-Meaning Wilma platitudes I listed above, and then some. To say that it wasn’t an easy path might be an understatement. I don’t want to jinx it, but I can tell you that my time with the coat is, very likely, the absolute worst I’ve been in my life, and if I can survive that, then I can survive anything.

Thank all the lucky stars out there for the awesome friends I had at the time. Thanking my lucky stars for the ones I have now. Really. Without them, this struggle would’ve been exponentially worse.

But what I want to talk about in this segment isn’t myself or my own time with the coat. Plenty enough for that. What I want to talk to you about here is what it takes to climb out of it. If there is someone who is depressed in your life, or you yourself are wearing the coat now, then this will give you the idea of what getting out of it entails. 

As the title of the section says, it’s getting personal. And getting through depression to find your way out really is. A huge part of getting out of depression is acknowledging, and fully feeling, the weight of the coat, and revealing that to someone on the outside. Everything you hide, everything you don’t want other people to know – it has to come out. This involves feeling everything that the condition has numbed down. You have to feel the entire spectrum of everything that the condition brings before you can say, “I need help”. 

And I will warn you in no uncertain terms: it will hurt. It will hurt like a motherfucker. Part of depression is that it suppresses a normal emotional spectrum, but once the dam breaks, you will feel everything at once. Your emotional spectrum will go into a complete tailspin once that happens. But…that is also how you know that right now, if you reach out for help, you will be able to receive it. 

That last bit is important. Too many times, depressed people cannot receive help. Not that there isn’t any available, no. They can’t perceive as such, and they can’t absorb it. It’s all part and parcel of what depression does to the mind. The numbing extends to how you perceive the outside world. Even if someone is right there waiting for you to reach out your hand and grasp theirs, it still depends on whether or not you are actually able to lift your hand to do it. 

Self-medicating may seem very self-destructive from the outside. And I’ll make no bones of it: it is. However, there is always a point where self-medicating won’t work anymore. One fine day, you’ll be staring at the martini glass, and wondering, “Why did I get another refill?” And this is a very important point in a depressed individual: this is actually the point where the depression reaches its peak. It’s also a very dangerous point. At this stage, one of two things can happen: the person decides to reach out and get help, or they look for a stronger method of self-medication.

It wholly depends on two things: the individual…and whoever is around them at the time. This is why you keep a close eye on the people around you. Don’t judge, just listen to your own gut, and ask, “Is there anything amiss here?” Someone whose maximum is 2-3 drinks does not all of a sudden start downing shots. You will know: your gut doesn’t lie. 

And once you are ready to say, “I need help” – always look at the people who have been around you the longest before you open up about it. Chances are, they already know something wasn’t okay. Chances are they may have caught on. But you will know very well who the real friends in your circle are those who will stick with you through the “I need help”. You will lose people as a byways of coming out of the quagmire. But don’t dwell on the ones you lose: dwell on the ones who will see you through the end of it. These will be the people who know you best, and these will be the people who will be there for life. 

 

On Suicide

This is something I cannot easily write. I can only link you to this post as to what suicide isn’t

The period leading up to suicide is honestly one of the darkest journeys through one’s own head. Ending one’s life is seen as the only relief from that pain. So many times I’d see something like, “Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary problem” as a way to convince someone to not do it. That doesn’t work. Why? Because a suicidal person doesn’t see it as a temporary problem, and worst is that it might be too late for them to see that it’s temporary. When someone is in the prison of their own head, they don’t see what the person on the outside sees.  Worse, they can’t.

To end one’s own life is tragic. It’s a loss to mental illness – and make no mistake, that depression is an illness, one that no one invites or ever seeks out – and it’s a loss of the will to live first. We have a powerful survival instinct, us humans. To want to end your own life is that survival instinct tipping its hat, breaking its rapier, and surrendering it to the coat. “I give up,” it says. “I can’t continue this fight.” Suicide is the person finally crumbling under the weight of the coat. 

It is not selfish, regardless of what you may believe. Why? Because the suicidal person genuinely believes that the people around them are better off without them there. Illogical? Possibly. Unnecessary? Likely so. But selfish? No. Never. Because the suicidal person is not thinking of themselves apart from being a burden on those around them. 

It’s a scream for help, but if no one hears it, or worse, they go Well-Meaning Wilma on that person, that would be the tipping point for that survival instinct to say, “I’m done.” 

This is why the absolute worst thing you can ever say to someone is, “You’re being selfish, think of the other people.” 

They already do think of the other people. And calling them selfish only pushes them further towards the edge. 

 

Don’t rail against Robin Williams. No one saw the coat on him, and no one saw how heavy it got until he just couldn’t handle another minute of it. Never call him selfish, not after he had given so much of himself to the arts and, through the arts, to us. Remember him for what Herculean effort it must have taken him over the years to have made us laugh the way he had. Think of what it cost him, through wearing the coat, to get up and do his job as a public figure keeping the spark alive in all of us. 

 

Afterwards

Yes, there is an afterwards to depression. 

As you may have grasped from this post, depression never goes away completely. 

That is the other insidious part of it all. There’s no such thing as over for good with depression. There just isn’t. You will have bad days. You will have more than one bad day in a row. You will fight with everything you’ve got to keep steady through those bad days, and they pass, eventually. They will pass. 

I’ve been there. I have bad days once in a while. I have days where I wonder why I bothered getting out of bed. I have days where my shoulders and back ache in a way that reminds me of being curled up on a couch with no inclination to move. I have a memory like a hard drive; once in a while, a moment will come back to me, a moment that I tried to format out of my brain. 

How do I deal when I get like this?

By going out with friends. By going out to walk in a tree-lined neighborhood with my music on. By choosing a city on a map and looking up when there’s a good show to go to there, and getting the hell out of dodge for a weekend. By photographing something, anything, really. By looking at the books I’ve written, the pictures I’ve taken, the achievements, the travel list I’ve been crossing off, by reminding myself that I had clawed my way out of the quagmire before, and that I was able to accomplish everything I dreamed I could. By reminding myself that there’s still more to do, still more people to meet, still more music to hear, still more stories to write. 

Because I know that it could get much, much worse than that one bad day, and that I’ve survived worse than the bad day…and that I can survive anything. 

Even the coat.

K.G.

In Memoriam: Robin Williams

Even typing out the title to this post, it feels foreign. Unreal, almost.

But it is true.

Cause of death looks to be a suicide, if news sources are to be believed, and considering that this is Robin Williams – our Robin Williams, of Mrs. Doubtfire, of the Dead Poets Society, of the voice of Genie in Aladdin; someone who has been part and parcel of our household entertainment collection, to where we can say that we have grown up with him – it hits so, so very close to home.

We have lost many talented people already, and it saddens me to have our Robin be among those whom we lost. Philip Seymour Hoffman was another. The line stretches long, but ah, this truly highlights that we, the people, whether we are famous or not, whether we work in the public eye or not, have become experts at playing the greatest role of all: the role of “everything is okay”.

Robin Williams, who had inspired so many, who had given so many smiles throughout his career, has grown to be a master at that particular role. I cannot imagine that those around him knew what was truly in his mind, or if they did, they were at a loss as to how to approach it. To everyone around him – certainly to those of us watching from afar – he certainly seemed the happy-go-lucky Robin Williams. There was nothing about him that could’ve suggested that anything was awry.

Ah, depression, you wily beast… No one sees you coming, either, do they? Not the people watching, and certainly not those whom you sneak up on.

I wrote once before about likening depression to a coat. Think about it. Think about depression as a very heavy coat that has a mind of its own and its sole purpose is to confine you. It’s a coat that slinks up onto you and buttons itself up tight. It confines your movements until you struggle to so much as get up. You can think of nothing but the world outside the coat, because it’s interfering with your line of sight. You know you can remove this coat, but it’s so heavy that you struggle to so much as move a hand towards the buttons. It’s hard for you to breathe wearing this coat, but it won’t get removed on its own and you know it. And you can’t take it off and put it back on at will – the coat won’t let you take it off without a struggle, and you know that you will never want to wear it again. The coat confines your mind too, until you think only within the spectrum that it allows you to think in, confining you to just the inside of your head.

And no one else, unless they too had worn this coat, will ever know what it’s like to wear it. “Can you just…not be depressed?” they ask. It’s like “Can you just…not wear the coat?” But in truth, you can’t. You never can ‘just not wear it.’ Especially when you didn’t ask to wear it in the first place.

And your body never forgets the coat. Even when you do succeed in ripping it off, and it falls with a dull thunk into a corner, you remember what it was like to carry that weight on you everywhere. You never forget it. You never forget how it feels. And you always have that little smidge of fear in the back of your mind, what if one day you wake up and the coat is back on you?

That’s probably how Robin Williams felt.

But he was a public figure too. He couldn’t let people see his struggles, because he didn’t want to run the risk of exposing that side of himself, the side that is most vulnerable. He was a public figure. He couldn’t let people see what was wrong, because in this culture of ours, people were much more likely to make a voyeuristic experience of his struggle rather than just reaching out and saying, “Talk to me. I’ll listen” and leading him away from the prying eyes, shutting the door on the cameras, and turning off the phone calls from the agents and studios. It’s harsh, but that’s what our culture has become.

After we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, L’Wren Scott, MJ, and so many more amazing talents, and now that we lost Robin, I can’t help but think:

The spotlight truly is the loneliest place for any human being to be.

We can talk about the risks of suicide all we want. They are all very valid. But know that public individuals are used to playing a part for the people watching, and they have mastered the art of making sure people know nothing about what’s under the surface. They will do everything in their power to hide their struggles, and they will do it well. You won’t know – perhaps you may get a hint or two if you know the person well enough, a word said, a something that’s out of the ordinary, which will make you wonder whether everything is okay. But you will not know for sure unless they tell you.

You can do everything that the prevention hotlines recommend. And I would encourage it, because something is better than nothing at all. But the most important thing that you can do, which you may already know, is simply listen to the person. Don’t try to rationalize what they’re telling you. Don’t try to interpret. Don’t respond. Just listen. Just listen to what they have to say, because no matter how little sense it may make to you, to them it is valid. They just need to know that there’s someone, anyone on the other side of the confines of their own head.

*long sigh*

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow. Having had my own stretch of time with the coat and knowing entirely too well what he must have been going through, I can’t help but ask, was anyone listening? Did anyone close to him take a look at his eyes, just to see whether or not his smile ever actually reached them? The signs of depression and/or suicide risk are not always obvious; you have to know what the person is really like in order to peg if anything’s off base.

Maybe someone did see… Maybe no one did. We’ll never know. But what we do know is that one of the bright lights of the world has gone out. And I really wish that we could roll a collective 5 or 8 for him to come back to us, but such is life.

We miss you, Robin. Thank you for your smiles, and here’s to making those smiles last for generations to follow.

And to my friends – not like I need to say this publicly – thank you for being there for me, and know that I am always there for you in turn. You all know how to find me.

K.G.

On Events & Behind the Scenes

Or, better put, the viewer’s perspective on what makes events happen.

First things first, though, I’d like to thank everyone who read my epic rant on Jazz Fest West. It’s probably my most-read post in the entire five-year history of the blog, no joke. I have had plenty of excellent discussions all over social media on this topic. Thank you, one and all.

I am following up further on the topic and bringing it into a different vein, on account that there is something else that has come to mind.

As before, I won’t name names outright. If it’s you, then by all means, lace up the shoe and wear it. Also, please note that what I’m writing in this blog is simply no more and no less than my personal opinion. You’re free to disagree, but as an independent, I’m free to express it as I like it.

My biggest problem with a lot of jazz festivals, or “jazz” festivals, better put, is the over-dilution of R&B. Capital Jazz is the exception to this. Why exception? The two genres – jazz and soul/R&B – are largely sequestered throughout the festival on their own stages. Jazz is at the big Pavilion Stage, and the soul and R&B are at the Soul Stage (or Symphony Woods stage, as it was this year). And that is fine. People enjoy both genres equally across the board, and know what they want to see.

However, if you have only one stage, then the genre mix does not go over well. Not with the jazz fans, not with the R&B fans, and while I can’t speak for the artists, I can’t imagine either side of the divide is happy either.

But right now, I’m not going to wax ranty about the genre divide too much. I’m going to wax philosophical about event production, and what does and doesn’t contribute to event success. To many of you, this is basically preaching to the choir, but to some of you, this will be a quick Event Production 101.

The thing that any promoter needs to know is that artists always talk. They talk between themselves, and they talk to their friends. So when a festival promoter is getting a bad rap from the people behind the scenes, I tend to look askance at the event altogether. If people I know are getting mistreated by a promoter, then I will avoid the event. Why? I see it as unethical to give money to someone who doesn’t treat my people well. Likewise for working with such a production. I will give most people a chance, but you best believe that I won’t so much as put my camera battery into its charger unless my contract is ironclad and my deposit is in the bank.

And let this be a message to every event promoter or club owner: if the people you work with have something to say about you that is not a praise, this can, and inevitably will, affect your venue or event. People will not come to your event if they feel that their friends are mistreated in any way, and they will certainly tell other people to avoid it if they will get any sort of bad treatment.

To note, I know I’m not immune from this. If anyone is setting out to work in any enterprise that thrives on word of mouth for its survival, they too are subject to the same rule. I try my best to do right by my clients, but I know that there will be some people with whom it won’t go well. And I know that how I handle such a situation will very much affect how my business will continue. That’s the risk I run by working in music – and you know what, that’s the responsibility I have to take.

But from the event perspective, word of mouth is hugely important. Event production falls into the category of “spend money to make money”. For every festival event, the venue needs to be booked, insurance needs to be acquired, artist contracts written, deposits paid, and so on and so forth. Depending on your event, there’s a lot of outlay there. The event producer will make a profit by recouping the costs in a total amount greater than the initial investment.

So word of mouth, especially positive word of mouth, is the single best insurance for attendance, which in turn is a single best insurance for the promoter recouping costs.

The second and very important part of event production is how to price it.

Consider this: every production is an investment-first endeavor. Even the most basic of concert shows. When a producer wants to put on a show, they have to rent the venue, pay the performers, rent the backline, get the insurance – because few if any venues will ever allow a show without insurance – and then and only then set the prices at a rate enough that will break them even, or at least minimize the loss. Of course, the objective is to make a profit – keep that in mind, always.

Similarly with festivals. The difference is that there are more performers, higher venue costs, and therefore higher ticket price.

That explained, there’s one major, major thing to note: if your event is not priced to sell, it will not. This is especially true for any event that sees out-of-towners in attendance on a regular basis. If your ticket prices are not appealing, then you can trust that a chunk of the audience – usually the chunk where the event travel is longer than an hour by car or by subway – will not attend. If they can get the same or similar lineup elsewhere, for a lesser price, what motivation will they have for attending your event? The price has to be right.

I’ve encountered this with more than one festival, and it’s part of why I’ve gotten very choosy with the events that I attend. Some of the best jazz fests are, typically, out in CA. I always look at the performers, the price, and the promoter in charge, in that order. There are some performers for whom I will gladly hop on a plane for, and likewise some that I would not travel very far to see. The price is a major deciding factor: if I can get a cheaper ticket somewhere closer, that’s what I will do. And the promoter in charge: how does he or she or they treat the people they work with? I want to know that my people will be treated right. I want to know that I will be treated right if I’m working for the event in question or for someone affiliated with the event. I cannot tell you how important that part is for me, not as a viewer/audience member, but as someone who works behind the scenes of a lot of events.

When a promoter for a festival decides to do a charter cruise, all of the above plays into the event’s outcome.

Putting on a charter cruise is easily the single most expensive thing an event producer can ever do. I’ll certainly commend the producer in this case for being ambitious, because I know the accounting required in such an endeavor. It’s a lulu. What I will, however, ask, are three things:

1. What’s the lineup trying to accomplish?

2. Who’s in charge and what do I know about them?

and 3. How much?

Answering Question #1 is a mixed bag with a recent cruise endeavor that I’ve spotted rolling out. I don’t mind genre splits on a cruise, because that way, I can actually have a cruise. This is, again, why I love Capital Jazz very much: if I’m not a fan of an artist, that is perfectly okay – it means I can go for a massage, have a steakhouse dinner, or just plain relax and sleep in the meantime. It’s nothing against the artist, of course, but for myself, as a fan of jazz first, I have little interest in R&B. On the years where it’s less jazz and more soul/R&B, I actually got to have a vacation. But I’m looking at this recent cruise and I’m seeing major R&B/soul headliners…and what looks to be all major jazz headliners from the past 3 years’ recent fests and other cruises all thrown into the same bag. Okay..? Is the emphasis on the R&B or on the jazz, then? I’d probably love such a cruise, because the jazz event is wholly satisfying for one like myself, but the overall purpose of the event looks muddled, which in turn makes me ask how well it’s actually organized. With CapJazz, it’s clear that they want to present two sides of the genre divide that they built their brand on, and they make the day-to-day operations work. What’s the purpose with this event?

#2: Yes, I know who’s in charge. But I will ask references from people who had worked with them before. The references are important. My observations are one half of the puzzle. What people tell me is the other. And yes, if I don’t hear good things about Le Grande Fromage who’s putting the entire thing on, then you best believe that will play into my decision to go or not to go.

#3 is the most important of them all. How much does it all cost? I looked at the pricing and it was a case of sticker shock. Yes, I know charter cruises aren’t cheap. For me especially – because I travel alone. This is the thing: cruises don’t like people traveling alone. If I want my own cabin, I have to buy it out. Some productions have singles pricing, others allow me to pay 150% plus double the port taxes to buy it out. So already, I’m at a disadvantage. I expect a price disparity from one cruise production to another, but if I can get a single-price cabin and at whatever rate it is, it’s still less than the per-person price of a cabin elsewhere, then I will most certainly go where I keep more money in my pocket.

Just as an example: I can get a single cabin on one cruise, all to myself. Add in port-tax and gratuities, and it’s a grand total about $3K – yes, steep, but if you’re considering that in addition to cabin cost you’re also paying admission to no less than 40 shows/jam sessions/events, then you’re getting a pretty good deal. However: that same 3K on another cruise is just the per-person cost for the cheapest inside cabin on board – and if I want to go on that cruise, I’d have to pay double that to go alone. Of course, this means I’ll go with where I can get more bang for my buck – in this case, with the single cabin that costs less. Because, with the other production, if they’re generous and let me buy out at 150%, I’m still going to be paying no less than $4,500! That’s the cost of my entire trip with the other guys – including flight, hotel pre-cruise, and onboard spending! Yes, I will concur the lineup won’t be the same, however, I am not made of money, and I am going to go where it costs me less in pure out-of-pocket expenditure.

I wholly understand that prices have to be at a certain rate for the promoter to recoup initial investment costs, but if enough people say, “That’s too much money” and not go as a result, then the entire event is in jeopardy. Not enough ticket sales = significant loss = less money to the promoter to reinvest in future events = future of the entire production is…? This is how and why the All Star Cruises had closed their doors; I was lucky enough to have been on board the last sailing, and the price was rockbottom – lucky for me, but in retrospect, it’s a sign of desperation on the cruise line’s behalf if they gave me my cabin for the rate that they had. They were trying to fill the ship, and no, they didn’t fill it. So the line had closed its doors after that last one, and I understand why: the promoter must have taken a hell of a bath. It was an amazing ship, a fantastic all-jazz lineup, but if they couldn’t manage to pull off a full ship, then yes, I wholly expect them to shutter it.

Likewise for festivals. Doubly if the cruise and the fest are put on by the same person. Because whatever the festival reputation is, it carries into the cruises. This is why you see Michael Lazaroff’s production consistently sell out – whatever my opinion on Lazaroff is, Smooth Jazz Cruises are, last time I checked, a driving force behind Seabreeze Jazz Fest, which is one of the most sold-out East Coast events after Berks and Cap. It’s extremely likely that the Breeze attendees pack in en masse for the cruises: they know what to expect based on the fest. Same for CapJazz’s continued success: people know what to expect from the festivals, and go on the cruises – and vice versa.

To sum up, I will say this: we all look out for each other behind the scenes. I can’t count the number of times a fellow photog or musician had done me a solid, and I’m more than prepared to do the same for them in return. There are some promoters I will always work with, because I know that they will treat me with integrity, and that they will do right by the people they book. Likewise to contrary. And the number-one thing a promoter needs to keep in mind is exactly that: what references will he or she or they receive after the event is said and done? This is on all sides of the divide: performer, manager, booker, photographer, attendee, vendor… References come from everywhere, and a huge contributing factor to the continued success of a production is making sure that the positive outweighs the naysayers.

K.G.

Fifty Shades of WTF?

I couldn’t resist. So yeah, the Fifty Shades of Grey tripe is becoming a movie franchise, and it has a shiny new trailer.

Of course, people are going gaga over it.

I swear, I must be a pod person or something. Really. Because I just cannot see any of that as “sexy”. I cannot see anything about Christian Grey as a character that would make it noteworthy, except for the fact that he’s a fucking sociopath.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get this straight: abuse is not sexy. Not even if it’s written to try and be sexy. Abuse is abuse, and abuse should not be tolerated, whether physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, you name it.

I read some of the book, but I stopped in disgust. Can someone please tell me how any of that is different from Twilight? How is the dynamic between Christian and Ana any different than Edward and Bella? Both are incredibly unhealthy, and in both cases, the male half acts as a predator chasing prey. In Twilight, it was Bella for being human and having the blood scent that affected Edward like heroin. Not even kidding, look in the books – “You are like my personal brand of heroin” was the phrase used. And Christian targets Ana because she’s a virgin, ergo naive, ergo he can do with her as he feels like and “mold” her into his ideal partner.

And people think it’s sexy? That it’s a good portrayal of the BDSM scene? Good lord, folks, if that’s what you think is sexy, I truly wonder about how satisfied you are in your own sex lives and what your ideas are about men respecting women. Because that’s just some seriously unhealthy shit that I’ve skimmed through in that book, and by no means am I a prude.

One of my best friends is heavily in BDSM, and she’s a sub. I also chatted up a professional dominatrix at a bar – yes, I live in NYC, you never know whom you’ll meet where. From the opposite side of the submission divide, they both told me that in the BDSM world, no one in their right minds would treat anyone the way Christian treats Ana throughout the series. BDSM hinges very, very, very heavily on consent. Hell, 99% of all sexual relationships hinge on consent. What Christian does treads into the territory of rape; I do not recall Ana consent to much of what he was doing with her. And don’t let me hear the “if she doesn’t say no that means yes” crap – hell no. If you’re in bed with someone and you aren’t blind or deaf, you will know very well when someone wants you to continue.

Really. I can’t understand how this shit got this popular, in both series’ cases. I will not pay money to even a street bootlegger hocking DVDs to see this crap. I mean, really. I know Americans as a whole are still very Puritanic when it comes to sex, but…really, folks, give me a break. I have read all of Twilight on a lost bet, so I know how to get through shitty fiction. But if it fails the Random Page Test in about two paragraphs, then I can’t help you there.

I really, honestly cannot understand how people, especially women, think that this shit is sexy, romantic, etc. I can’t. Granted I’m not exactly a “romantic” in the strictest sense, but I have a certain standard of behavior I expect in a relationship, based on this little thing called respect and this other thing called common sense. Except I’m afraid it’s not so common.

Really? This is made into a movie?

Then I guess fiction really has gone to shit.

K.G.

On Hitting the Three-Oh and Milestones

In one of my “thinking” moods, I realized that yes, I’ll be celebrating a “milestone birthday” next year. Well, so people call it, in any case. I use quotations because, really, I’ve not put much emphasis on age or lack thereof in the past.

Considering that when I entered my twenties I was coming out of a convoluted and rather sheltered upbringing, the past ten years alone have been an eye-opener, start to finish. Not easy at the best of times, but necessary. Let no one say that the real world is not a worthwhile teacher; often, it is the best teacher one can have. Certainly, it was mine.

It’s all about how you apply the lessons you’re presented with.

One very, very major thing I learned is to adjust your goals, or the means to approach them, as you go. If you can’t get to your goal after repeated attempts, it’s perfectly fine to re-evaluate it and adjust it as it needs to be done. When I was 20, I wanted to be taken care of and comfortable. I learned that I shouldn’t necessarily have to rely on other people – parents, husband, etc. – for that. I still want to be taken care of – but this time, by myself, first and foremost. Did I accomplish that? Within reason, yes. Do I have more to go? Yes.

What I started thinking about is what “being 30″ actually means in today’s world. Just the larger spectrum of things.

When I was growing up and later, when I went to college, I was taught, as were most of my peers, that by thirty, you’re supposed to have “settled in and settled down”. What does that mean? It meant a career path that, after college, you now had about 7 or so years to get settled into, a career path that brings you enough income to have a place of your own. By 30, if you’re not married and have a kid or two, you’re usually told (if you’re female) that your “biological clock is ticking”, regardless of whether or not that’s true.

That’s what I kept seeing ahead for myself when I was in school. Then I actually had to ask myself: what of this do I want? And turned out that quite a lot of the expected script for being in one’s thirties did not at all appeal to me.

And, well, you know me. If I see an opportunity to do something the way I want, I will immediately go for it, doubly so if I know in advance that it will make me very happy.

So right now, with my age mark about to hit the three-oh, I realize that, apart from the fact that going your own way in life is truly the best thing any human being can do for themselves, that my peers have been lied to by the sheer virtue of being given a LifeScript(tm) to follow. By shoehorning themselves into a scripted, predictable, society-expectation-molded way of life, they have effectively given up any real freedom that they could’ve had. I mean, think about it: an average Joe USA will go to school, take a job to pay the bills, get married and have a kid, and then work work work because kids are expensive (which is one of those things no one tells you) and tries to pay off mortgage and student loans (because you can’t live without debt these days, which is another thing no one tells you). Yes, it’s what’s expected of him. This is how thousands of people across the country live. Not once do they question this script. Not once do they step back and see that they are roped into working longer and longer hours for the same pay to make payments on the house they almost never spend time in. Their time is invested into the job. They come home, exhausted, and then they come home to have to work again on their relationship – because it does require work – and their children.

Likewise for women. They’re told to go to school, get a job, get married, have kids. And then what? Exhaust themselves twice over being an employee and a mom? And face social guilt and everyone getting judgey on them because they aren’t doing X or Y per the script? Come on. Moms and non-moms get it all the time about how they’re not doing X enough when in reality, they’re running themselves ragged with X and Y, but no one mentions Y. Work, come home, parent, be a spouse. Where’s the “rest” aspect to this?

What sort of freedom is this? What sort of freedom does this script allow?

My twenties were marked by analyzing that script, and every other social directive my peers and I have been spoonfed, and realizing – harshly in some cases – that I am just not capable of doing that to myself. I felt most at home when I was traveling: to my friend’s up in Cape Cod, on a plane to my first cruise, on the railroad to explore a new city… Travel was where I felt most at home. Even though right now, at a bit older than 24 (when I started traveling for real), I grumble and grouse at the early wakeup calls to my flights, I can never deny that this is what I was born to do: gallivant, explore, photograph, tell stories of my adventures.

The other major realization that I feel coming with my thirties is the responsibility that we are all given, to take care of ourselves and ours.

My health has been a thorough misadventure. But it’s also been a great learning experience about what does and doesn’t work with my body. As it is, I have tried the whole “lose weight” rigmarole. Once my thyroid got its meds, the weight started coming off rapid-fire. When it stalled, I tried WeightWatchers, only to plateau and regain everything I lost when my body hit starvation mode: WW relies largely on fiber and vegetables as a filler, and completely disregards that lipids are an essential part of any diet (a half an avocado is how many points?!). It’s great for getting into healthier eating habits, but for long-term weight loss, it fails. I went back to WW after I regained the weight, only to yo-yo again. So I decided to scrap all “weight loss” plans and just enjoy my workouts for the endorphin rush, and eat as I please.

Know what happened? My health thrived. My blood tests kicked out their first “perfect score” in about a decade. I stopped feeling like my stomach is a bottomless pit waiting to be stuffed with food; I stayed with my habits but re-introduced avocados and the occasional potato. My appetite became a lot less “must eat everything” and a lot more “fuel up, stay full through day”.

We get only one body. Only one health. We can’t change bodies when this one has outgrown its usefulness. Our primary responsibility is to know when to focus on you. Your health, your well-being, your living. And if you’re in the position where you have to be a caregiver – then taking care of that person’s health is also on us.

I’m not talking about kids.Not just about kids, for my parent readers. I’m talking about the people who are around you. Parents, if you’re close to them. People who took care of you, who may be needing care in return. Myself, I had to come to close terms with my mother’s retirement, not just as the end of comfort – and let’s face it, so far I’ve been lucky enough to be comfortable while living with her – but as the beginning of my slow takeover as the household provider. I’ve seen it coming, but now’s the time to actually stop looking and start doing. My mother is looking forward to her retirement and not working, and maybe just possibly doing a little travel in her own right. And other things. And financially, I know that she and I need to start working together financially; this way I can sustain us, and she can enjoy some peace in her retirement without having to go broke.

That’s responsibility. That’s shared responsibility. And moving into my thirties knowing how to handle that, frankly, is something I feel very proud about.

All those milestones that people put into the standard LifeScript(tm), they are milestones only in the context of the people who set them. For people who graduated high school and then got married and had a couple of kids before they hit thirty, any other sort of life is unimaginable, especially if they see everyone around them doing the same. To them, that’s normal. That’s the script. So they will set the same milestones for their children, regardless of how their children feel. So many times I see stories online of X person being the first in their family to graduate college, and behind the stories of people supporting their goals, I find myself always asking, “And how many naysayers are around X right now saying behind their backs that they don’t see the point in college and X should’ve just gotten married and stayed in town?” Because for those people, X’s accomplishment, momentous on the scale that they’re the first ones to graduate in their family, just doesn’t make sense because it breaks the norm. It doesn’t fit the script. They don’t know what to do with it, and in all things human-natured, decry it.

Let them.

In my experience, the people who try to pull you down for your achievements are wholly incapable of doing what you’ve done. So let them bitch. Define what your milestones are for yourself.

Most people wouldn’t think that “taking care of their mother” is a milestone – for me, it is. My mother had pulled me out of a fair few sticky situations, and I see it as a return of debt to make sure that her retirement isn’t fraught with financial worries, and a point of pride that I have a plan to do so, and can follow through with it. Most of my peers don’t quite see contributing to an IRA as a milestone – and in that regard, I wholly understand them; there isn’t enough income to go around when you still have loans to pay. But the fact that I have saved my first thousand dollars for retirement despite my otherwise deplorable spending habits is a great thing. It’s a thousand dollars that I won’t have to bust my hump for after a certain age.

Right now, very safe to say that I look at fiscal responsibility as a major part of growing older. It took me a long time to get smart about my money, even more surprising the fact that I work in accounting. But that is also how I got smart about what’s mine: I worked on other people’s books, finances, companies, and looked at what they were doing, and began to see how to apply it to myself. I am not where I want to be, but I am a ways ahead of my peers at this moment, and if there’s anything I can do to help them out, then usually I do so. Knowledge is the thing that pays it forward.

As I gear up for being a “thirty-something” in New York, I’m also setting new goals for myself. First goal is to just relax – reasons obvious. Second goal: to not spend so much time working and/or being alone; like it as not, human contact is an essential thing, and my friendships do need cultivating. And third goal: get myself to where I can, in fact, think seriously about buying a house. If student loans are the only thing standing in my way, then I need to figure out a way to up the ante and get them paid off now.

I’m still not too sold on the idea of having a “personal life”. Maybe it’s because I am too busy, maybe I’m just not wired for it, but I just don’t see myself with long-term companionship at this stage in time. Still. I just don’t see it. If I think of a weekend, then inevitably, there’s my camera, there’s an event, and there’s a ticket to a bus/train/flight to get there. And the way I see it is thus: if over the next five years I do not meet anyone who is worth carving out the time for, anyone who will make me say, “This one is special, different, worth my time and efforts”, then I will resign myself to the single life for good. I don’t see myself ultimately staying alone – so my intuition says – but I certainly don’t see myself dating anyone with my adventurous, photography-chasing, music-indulging life being what it is, and I am a realist above all. I don’t believe in “the one”, I don’t believe in Prince Charmings, and I certainly don’t believe in settling down. But if in the first five years of my thirty-dom I don’t meet anyone – then, you know what? Works for me A-OK if I’m a solo flyer. I can build a hell of a life for myself by myself. After all, I’ve already gotten a good start on it.

Bring on the Thirties!

K.G.

Enough already.

Yes, I’m still pissed off about the Jazz Fest West cancellation, and I’m even more pissed off because I’m seeing the same R&B’d-out lineups happen at other festivals too.

I am very much over staying quiet about what’s bothering me in this industry, and I am well aware this might make me unpopular in some circles. Know what? I’m past the stage of giving a shit. I would rather stand for what I feel is right and stand alone than follow a crowd when the crowd is heading in a direction I am not okay with.

If you see yourself or your event in my writing, then lace up the shoe and wear it. I won’t retract a single syllable, nor will I issue a single apology to anyone whom I may offend/piss off. So don’t even bother writing to me about it. I am expressing my sole opinion, and if it’s unpopular or if it pisses people off – that’s fine. Maybe it’ll get people to think a bit, too.

I do, however, hereby make a pledge that, with the sole exception of Capital Jazz Festival, which has consistently put on an event that’s balanced across all three major genres that it offers and openly acknowledges as offering – jazz, soul, and funk – I will not put one red cent towards a festival or event that over-dilutes its lineup with R&B and continues to bill as a jazz festival.

I will not buy tickets to a diluted event. I will not offer my photo services, even to the detriment to my own income. I will not attend, not even on a guest list.

Why?

Because I have truly had enough, and I do NOT support what’s happening to the festival lineups. I am not okay with it. I am definitely not okay with it. Nor are quite a few people I know. I enjoy Capital Jazz because Cap makes every effort to ensure that all genres get equal weight.

I have witnessed Newport Beach Jazz Festival morph into something I barely recognize in the space of the two years since Scott Pedersen had stopped being in charge. I have borne witness to what happened with radio station playlists after Broadcast Architecture came on the scene and “architectured” the playlists to where my own beloved CD101.9 had become an unpalatable loop before its demise. I saw what happened after CD101.9 flipped. I saw clubs and venues that were known for having a variety of contemporary jazz suddenly begin saying, “There’s no market for jazz” when it had previously been a fairly consistent stream of their revenue. You may have seen it in your cities too, that same chain reaction: a station becomes unpalatable, people stop listening, them boom! it flips, then suddenly the local events dry up because everyone parrots that “there’s no market” – when their market is still right where it was, but it’s just not being catered to anymore because the radio ceased existing and prior thereto, the lineup got so homogenized that it became just plain boring.

And I am seeing the same pattern emerge with festivals with the demise of Jazz Fest West. The past three years, lineups got diluted more and more with R&B. Now JFW collapsed. How much do you want to bet that this has given every naysayer who said, “Jazz is dead” at the radio station shutdowns more fuel to the fire? How much do you want to bet that everyone who had trash-talked jazz before will now have additional grounds for doing so, because not even the jazz festivals are truly jazz festivals anymore in lineup? This is all only adding to the extremely mistaken impression that jazz, whether straight-ahead, smooth, acid, whatever, doesn’t carry an appeal, when few things are further from the truth.

Before people say that jazz is dead, let’s first check that that isn’t deliberate.

Let me also remind you that I was behind the scenes in trying to put on a festival event – as a bookkeeper. This was an eye-opening experience to the very harsh realities of the business aspect of the music business. I know full well that without securing a major sponsor, it’s next to impossible to make the event happen. Yes, you do have to play politics too, whether you like it or not. Market research becomes a lifeline. And the event I was working on just couldn’t pull the sponsorship together. Jazz Fest West, however, had financial and media backing that the event I was working on just didn’t have and couldn’t get. Whatever JFW’s cause of demise actually is, I still firmly stand by my previous hypothesis that the lineup was a huge contributing factor to its collapse. They had the sponsors. They had a long-standing rep to fall back on. They had media presence and advertising, even in the post-collapse climate. But the lineup had changed in recent years and it just wasn’t the lineup that Jazz Fest West was known for in the past. The damage is done.

Whether or not the festival will make a comeback, I don’t know. But jazz is something people travel quite a ways for – I’m not referring to myself here, but rather folks from Europe who would board a flight just to hit up a jazz festival in the US – and if they look at a lineup and say, “Not worth it”, what do you think they’ll tell other fans?

Whether local to the fest or to their country, in today’s world of social media and word of mouth, how would that affect ticket sales for that particular event?

Don’t tell me there’s no new artists to put on a fest with. There are plenty of new artists, but the challenge is weeding through them. It used to be that the radio stations had done that quality control for us. Now who’s doing it? Who’s the quality control? If the audience doesn’t see or hear a new artist, then how do they even know the new music is out there? The Internet is drenched in new musicians; how do we weed out who the good ones are? Online radio stations and interviews are only one piece of the puzzle; the real determinant of success is the live show. Spaghettini’s is a historic launchpad of jazz talent of all hyphen-jazz iterations possible, but Spags doesn’t have to operate alone. Newport Beach of 2012 and prior had a separate stage for up-and-coming artists, and if you may recall 2011, a young kid with a tenor sax slightly bigger than himself came out on the side stage, then onto the main stage with Dave Koz, and kicked some serious ass on both. You may know him: Vincent Ingala? A Spags regular who packs the house each time? Look at where he is after that 2011 Newport Beach event. And he got there without the jazz radio climate; this was all in the aftermath of the great shutdown, and he got where he was because Scott Pedersen took a listen to his debut album, all of which being self-produced, and decided that this kid had a shot. He could’ve so very easily booked Eric Roberson, who’s a pretty well-known soul singer, in Vincent’s stead, and drawn in a slew of R&B/soul fans. Instead he kept an all-jazz fest and launched a career.

There are many more like Vincent. I would rather they get a shot at a festival timeslot as opposed to, say, Stephanie Mills, whom I can say a lot about, and so can other artists. I would rather that Chicago, NYC, and other major cities had a Spaghettini’s all their own to launchpad this new talent. If I had the capital and the time, I would gladly go to Philadelphia and reopen Zanzibar Blue, have that be the East Coast version of Spags.

The bottom line is that the music business is a business. A cut-throat, merciless, opportunistic business that, the more I think about it, is no less competitive and brutal than the real estate market in NYC. I worked in that market, and if I had to choose between music and real estate, I would ask if that’s even a real choice. Excepting perhaps that music has a lot more benefit than lease signings for small closet studios, the two industries require a lot of business moxie, in nearly equal amounts.

Five years ago, I made the decision that I was going to keep the jazz world as a permanent part of my life, and first thing anyone told me was, “Music business is 10% music and 90% business” and since I first heard that I. Got. Schooled. in what that really means. I cannot even tell you the importance of the business aspect of this industry when it comes to the festivals. Nor can I understate the importance of knowing one’s audience and appealing to them. New audience nearly always finds a way into the event, but the importance of knowing what the audience is looking for cannot possibly be overstated.

This is all. about. business. 

The proverb “penny wise, pound foolish” carries a lot of weight in nearly all service-based industries. Music performance is, at the core of it, a service-based industry, and it is very much subject to that rule. If you’re R&B-ing out a lineup of a festival as a way to put butts into seats, ask yourself how long that will last for if, as a consequence thereof, you’re putting off your long-term jazz attendees. Yeah, you’ll have bigger attendance numbers – for how long? If you have a high ticket price to meet your break-even point a little faster than you would at a lower number, you’ll get your sales from the people who want to come for the new lineup – but not from those who can get the same/similar/more desirable lineups cheaper elsewhere, and who aren’t likely to come back as a result. What’s more important: short-term revenues or long-term longevity? Faster time to arrive at break-even point? These are all decisions that every event planner, of any event, of any genre or sort has to make. Jazz festivals are only one example. And each and every one of them is a business venture. Make absolutely no mistake of it. Yeah, cold, but that’s what it is. Don’t think that the music is the primary motivation. Business is business, and business is first.

So let’s actually look at things in terms of sheer consumer-based economics. We, the consumers, need to make clear our expectations of what we want from our entertainment. If the promoters deliver, okay, great. If they don’t, then don’t be shy about seeking it elsewhere. This is how changes are wrought. If you are not okay with something, staying silent will only ensure that your demand is not adequately met.

Jazz Fest West is a cautionary tale to a lot of festivals, and whatever reasons it has collapsed for, my observations completely notwithstanding, it all needs to go to serve as a preventative example, so such a collapse can be avoided in the future.

I firmly assert that no festival with a majority R&B lineup that continues to bill itself as jazz, anywhere in the world within a plane’s reach, will get a penny of mine. Capital Jazz continues to get my patronage because they had consistently put on an all-around balanced lineup and have been straight-up about their jazz-and-soul mix from the beginning – and continue to keep it balanced. I already see my friends, long-time jazz lovers all, stop attending regular festivals because the lineups have no appeal anymore. They’re doing no more and no less than what I’m doing already. What I’m doing is being vocal and vociferous as to the reasons why. I’ve already seen a swathe of radio stations die out. I don’t want to see a swathe of festival shutdowns to follow, but I will also not put a penny of my money to support something I don’t believe in.

K.G.

Again: let’s have a JAZZ festival.

So I wrote about Jazz Fest West

Today I checked out another CA festival that I remembered had an excellent balance of artists, most of whom were jazz. 

NOPE! Nearly 90% R&B/soul. 

…*HEADDESK*

This is exactly what I was talking about in my last post. If you’re going to have a majority R&B festival, call it as such. Call a spade a spade. If you get better numbers putting on an R&B fest, then call it an R&B fest, but don’t expect your regular jazz fans to show up there. They are not looking for mostly-R&B. They’re looking for jazz. 

Again, with feeling: If you want half-jazz and half-R&B, leave that to Capital Jazz Fest. That’s their signature brand, and they made it work, because that is what works for their listener base. But if you’re in jazz country, make it a jazz festival.

Before anyone starts saying how “jazz is dead”, let’s just stop and make sure that its not being actively killed in the first place. Because what I’m seeing, I’m starting to wonder if it’s deliberate.

We all saw what happened with the radio stations, but here’s a little-known fact: remember NYC’s CD101.9? No format that had followed the original smooth-jazz format ever made anywhere near as much money as CD101.9 had in its heyday (not the post-Chill 101.9; I refer to the real thing of the early 2000s, when the programming director knew what the hell needed to be done). Not one. The listener base was and remains loyal. Most people who listen to the right pieces in smooth jazz – and I am not referring to Kenny G here; sorry, Kenny – usually love it and stay with it. Even my rocker friend loves jazz, but I had to first introduce her to it. It would’ve been a lot easier if CD101.9 was still around, but, of course, Emmis Broadcasting had to try and “make a profit”. And CD101.9’s flip had directly led to the wholesale collapse of other jazz stations. Why? CD101.9 was one of the bigger players in the jazz radio game.

And know this: Broadcast Architecture wholly contributed to this disaster, especially since CD101.9 had hired them and the resulting “lineup” directly led to the collapse. When CD101.9 went chill, people quit listening to it. 

And now, the jazz festivals are doing the same thing: they’re flipping their formats to R&B, and driving away their loyal base. Then, dollars to donuts, they turn right around and say, “Jazz is dead” – well, here’s the thing: stop killing it!!!  Times will change anyway; and if jazz had endured a century since its inception, then trust me, it’ll endure for another hundred, but not unless every promoter and radio station – online, terrestrial, stream, upload, podcast, whatever – actually sustains it and actually appeals to the people who like it. And you’d be amazed at how many people love jazz, or can love jazz, if they are actually reached out to.

Guess what: just because people don’t have a terrestrial jazz radio station anymore doesn’t mean they ever stopped loving jazz. 

More to the point, CA actually has jazz radio. It’s more than what I can say for other parts of the country that were subjected to the flip. And radio does count for a lot. If you go to the Birmingham, AL jazz fests, the crowd turns out in force – because they have a jazz station, in part, and because they love a festival. Seabreeze Jazz Fest in Florida – packed every year, why? They have a station. Jacksonville Jazz Fest, Florida again – great turnout, each time. NYC’s vineyard series in Long Island, the Smooth Jazz New York cruises, the Midtown Groove series – guess who attends them? Anyone who’s ever heard CD101.9, and not just the baby boomers. Berks Jazz Fest? Their jazz station just made a comeback; next year will be packed to the rafters, and it’s already one of the biggest all-jazz fests of the East Coast. 

Oh, and while I’m at it? Let’s once and for all dispense with the ludicrous notion that only baby boomers can enjoy smooth jazz. Bullshit. I’m not yet 30 and I love this music – why? I had the great luck of listening to the early CD101.9. I see all ages of people attend the Blue Note gigs. Same for BB King’s. Same for the Smooth Jazz New York shows. Dave Brubeck’s shows had four generations’ worth of an age spectrum in the audience. Acoustic Alchemy – same thing. JJ Sansaverino brings in a mostly my-age crowd and I can promise that they will be looking up other jazz artists after one of his gigs. Don’t give me the crap of “young people can’t enjoy jazz”. If they could have a station where they could actually, you know, listen to it – well, then I’m sure you’ll see a lot more college-aged kids at your fests. 

Also while I’m at it: the next person who tells me there’s no new artists in jazz will be smacked upside the head. Is Phil Denny a ghost, then? Is Curtis Brooks imaginary? Will Donato? Chase Huna – granted, he’s a youngin and only local to CA, but the boy can play. So can Vincent Ingala, and he is barely old enough to drink. Generation Next isn’t a figment of my imagination, last I checked. There is plenty of new blood, and people not hearing them doesn’t make them any less real, nor does playing something slightly different make them less real.

So again: don’t ever, ever tell me that jazz is dead. Not as profitable as it was 15 years ago, possibly, but dead? Hell no. 

I have just had it up to here with the naysayers. Enough is enough is enough.

And folks, if you’re reading this and in agreement? Start writing letters, emails, make phone calls, whatever you need to do. Nothing is going to happen unless the people are told that something needs to happen. So start actually telling them. Because good gods, we all know this can’t continue.

K.G.

A Little Lesson in Photo Etiquette

So on my last shoot, I got into a quick chat with a bassist buddy of mine, who actually did me a major solid mid-show. I crept up by the gear cases near the stage to try and get a nice clean shot of the keyboardist, and, with absolutely no obligation on his part, the bassist stepped aside and waved me a bit forward to stand by his amp for a cleaner shot. I’m very grateful for that favor (and yes, the shots were fabulous), and as a result we got to talking about photographer etiquette at concerts.

I think it’s high time I did a comprehensive post about it.

Make no mistake, guys: being a photographer is a job. If you think that all it is is someone “taking pictures for a few hours”, you’re deluding yourself by even formulating that thought. Pictures require processing, which takes hours. And Photoshop? Not a cheap software at the best of times. Lightroom, if that’s all you need? Not free either. Photographers who are at the top of their game also invest thousands of thousands of dollars into their equipment, which has to be the best on the market. I recently bought a lens the price tag of which still makes me cringe – that’s after a discount – and it’s only one of three such lenses that I will need to invest in to have the gear bag that I require. I’m not even talking about the cam body that I am thinking about investing into; that alone is making my wallet ache. All of this adds up to a ton of money. It would, honest-to-all, add up to $20,000 if I want to buy the gear and software that would complete my “best of” gear bag, and that’s half my annual salary. This is what it takes to be a pro photographer, so next time your photog gives you a bill, you pay it and be glad it’s not double the amount.

And the thing about concert photography is that you have no idea what you’re walking into, far as lighting conditions go. So when you’re shooting a concert, if you’re lucky enough to have a vantage point that lets you capture all the good angles easily, you’re ahead of the game. But, if you’re like I was at my regular shoot, maneuvering around a stage, then you would need to get a little creative.

But, regardless of whether or not you’re front row at a theater or floating around on a boat-concert gig, here are some do’s and don’ts for my fellow concert photogs:

DON’T

- Use flash. Regardless of whether or not the venue allows it, it’s always distracting to the musicians. No one likes a flash going off in their faces. You know how everyone complains about someone blinking right at the shutter click? Well, this is what happens when the flash goes off; your brain wants to move to protect the retinas from flash burn. Because, as someone who had a flash of someone else’s camera go off right into my own eyes one time too many, I can tell you, flash burn is no picnic. Worse in dim lighting. So how do the musicians feel when that flash goes off?

Remember: if you go into Program (P on your camera) and tweak your flash compensation and ISO a little, you won’t need the flash in a concert shoot. If you worry about grain, then there’s an Exposure control adjustment in Photoshop where the Gamma slider will eliminate a lot of that grain. Or, conversely, you can go overboard on the grain and do a stylistic little thing with it. In my experience, in a well-lit stage (Blue Note as an example), grain is at a minimum even if my ISO is set to 6400 and I’m shooting with my f4 rather than my f2.8.

- Block someone’s view. Never, ever, ever get in people’s way. To be blunt, your ass isn’t transparent. The audience paid to watch the musicians play, not your behind trying to maneuver for a good angle. Mind the people around you. It’s plain and basic courtesy. If you want a closeup, pop on a telephoto lens; otherwise, down in front.

If you want to change positions, do so quickly. Dodge out of the way of the audience, get to a spot that will let you have your angle with the least amount of hassle from the people sitting close to where you want to be, get the frames you want, and vamoose. But under no circumstances are you to block people’s way.

- Cop an attitude with the musicians. The musicians are the one earning the money for everyone, including themselves, and indirectly, that includes you. They come first. Respect what they’re doing. As a courtesy, before the show, ask them if they’d like any particular frames shot of themselves. Don’t act like you’re all that and a bag of spicy Doritos because you have a camera. You’re working too, but so are the musicians: they’re the ones giving you material for the production, for your portfolio, for your practice, etc. They come first. Never forget that.

- Cop an attitude with the production. If they hired you, this goes triple. Never bite the hand that feeds you, under absolutely no circumstances. Productions, artists, fellow photographers – each and every one of them has a blacklist. You don’t want to find yourself on it, and the fastest way to find yourself blacklisted is to act like a jerk.

- Cop an attitude, period. You may be good, but there’s always room to improve. Never forget that photography is a learning process, like all art forms inevitably are. If you walk around like you’re all that and a bag of chips, then you better show that you have the portfolio that backs the attitude – and you still better take that down a notch.

- Expect anything”extra” as part of your photo gig. Usually, most hired photogs are treated as part of the band – discount drinks, food, comped admission, etc. – but this is definitely not the case universally. Many clubs or festivals will just give you an okay to shoot, but they’d expect you to pay your own admission, food, drink, etc. Bands can guest-list you, or photo-list you, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll be allowed to partake in the band discount on food and drink if they do so. Or that there even is a band discount. The important thing is: do not expect special treatment. Ever. If you get it, great, but never lose sight that unless you have a Staff lanyard, you’re another audience member with a camera.

- Get judgmental of other photographers, whether aspiring or seasoned. Fastest way to make a fool of yourself. Don’t ever get judgey of someone else’s gear. Don’t get snippy if someone else asks you about yours. See above about copping an attitude. Don’t do it. You will be the one looking like an ass at the end of the day.

Now that we got that out of the way…

DO

- Ask in advance about clearance. Never assume that just because you’ve shot somewhere once, twice, three times, you’d be allowed to keep going as you are. I made that mistake before; a club changed its management without me being aware of it, and the new manager wasn’t so keen on photos, even if the musician didn’t necessarily care either way. Awkward? Very. Since I’m a regular there for smooth-jazz gigs, the manager did relent on me shooting, after a point, but the lesson has been learned: ask ahead. You don’t want egg on your face later.

- Case your location and arrive early to do so. If you have the good luck of getting into the venue earlier than showtime, or even earlier than door time, you have the benefit of scoping our your vantage points in advance. This can make all the difference between a bad shoot and a good one. If you’re lucky enough to walk into the venue while they’re also testing out their lighting, and the house lights are down, it’s the perfect chance to tune your camera settings to the show’s lighting setup. If you have never been there before, you can ask politely to see if you can check it out. Whether they’d let you is another matter, of course, but preparation is a great advantage.

- Make friends with the “official” photographers if you, yourself, are not hired for a shoot gig. I cannot tell you how important that is. The best and easiest way to get your chops, grow your skills, or to later get your own gig, is to start out shooting as someone’s B-Reel. In other words, assist someone. They’ll teach you a few things. And the best recommendations and references will always come from the people for whom you’ve shot B-Reel in the past, especially if your B-Reel is as good as or better than their master reel. I’m always glad to tweak the settings on someone’s rig, lend them a lens, etc. Why? It pays it forward, because I had people teach me all of those things. No one ever got anywhere without a little encouragement. If I tweak the ISO and program settings on a guy’s rig and he gets the best photos possible as a result, then I can promise you that he’ll remember that when someone asks him to tune up their cameras too, some years down the line. Pay it forward.

One of the best experiences I had was in San Diego and once before on Capital Jazz’s cruise, when I let fellow photogs borrow my 70-300 f4 lens. Why? It was the first time they shot with that sort of a range on a lens. It changed their perspective, and made them think more about what they could get out of their rigs. I consider it a job well done on my part.

- Make friends with the musicians whom you shoot, and their management, if that’s possible. They will become your clients later. They will remember the way you treat them, and your professionalism. Key word is professionalism. How you present yourself is how you will be referenced.

- Make friends with the promoters, if possible. Same reason as musicians. Always be professional, courteous, and maintain your connections. You never know what may pan out later.

- Keep an eye on what’s behind the scenes. It’s actually pretty important to know the blow-by-blow of how a gig comes about, from a business perspective. Some musicians’ contracts may require that photos of a show are contained to only certain mediums – and if you’re shooting, then you really need to know what those mediums are. Never lose sight that showbiz is 1% show, 99% biz. When you get a contract to shoot a gig, ask ahead what happens to the photos: do you get to watermark them when you distribute? Does the artist want a hi-rez set before you make it public? Does their management? How do first-publication rights play? You need to know that.

Always have a sense of ethics. I can’t put enough of an emphasis on that. How you conduct yourself and your business is how people know you. The grapevine is very real, very swift, and above all, merciless. If your business ethics are beyond reproach, believe me, it is worth the reward. Integrity does pay in this business.

- Own up to your mistakes. You will make them. It’s called being human. But what marks you is how you deal with them. You own up and own them, and their consequences. Yes, it’ll suck, but know what? Welcome to being a businessperson. Welcome to being an adult. You made the mistake, deal with the fallout.

- Always be courteous. See all of above that I said about perception, professionalism, and presentation. Courtesy plays in a LOT of that.

 

I won’t lie, it took me a long while to get used to, well, everything that being a concert photog entails. And again: it’s still a learning process. I’m still figuring a lot of stuff out. I made quite a lot of behind-the-scenes connections, and learned about the business side of the music world the old-school way – trial and error – but never would I get so presumptuous as to say I know everything. I don’t. I don’t think I ever will.

But what I do know, I try to make the best of, and to pass some along to the next shutterbug ahead.

K.G.