The New Roaring Twenties

AT LAST. Finished! Emailed it to Peter Boehi of SmoothVibes.com by reference of the illustrious Jonathan Widran. Cross your fingers.
Also, if you are a jazzer, if you are a blogger on jazz, link this post out, please. I would like this to be seen. If you are a musician and would like to contribute a direct quote, let me know. If you’re a musician that I haven’t quoted or mentioned – I will correct that in the shortest possible order.

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The New Roaring Twenties

By Katherine Gilraine

As the key lights are turned up around the stage setup, I can’t help but look around the audience of the concert, if only to see if they’re as excited as I am. Little snippets of conversation waft up as Euge Groove gets ready for his set in Montego Bay, Jamaica – conversations about grown children in college, retirement funds, employees and comparisons to days of yesteryear.

Right about then I realize that, being in my midtwenties, I’m the youngest person to attend the inaugural Jammin’ in Jamaica event.

Hello. I am Katherine Gilraine, I’m 25 years of age, and I love smooth jazz.

So, there I was in Montego Bay, about to see Euge Groove and Bobby Lyle get their jam on, the first thing I started thinking about is this age discrepancy. Where are all the people my age? I wondered. This music is fantastic. It’s original, creative, incredibly varying. Why don’t more young people like smooth jazz?

The older fans and the musicians alike know that part of the reason is the lack of exposure. In this climate of dwindling public smooth-jazz radio stations, the level of public exposure to smooth jazz is nowhere near the same as it was ten years ago, so of course, the younger people do not hear it anywhere near as much as they should. The rhetoric behind the closing of the smooth jazz radio stations is that there’s no listener base for smooth jazz anymore.

Really now?

Let’s see. Berks Jazz Fest of Reading, PA draws audiences from far and wide, as far out as California, Arizona, and North Carolina. The Smooth Jazz Cruise, put on by Jazz Cruises LLC and owned by Michael Lazaroff, sold out so quickly for 2010 and 2011 that the franchise added on a second sailing for 2011, which is now the basis for 2012. While Haven Entertainment no longer puts on the All-Star Cruises after the 2009 sailing, the Capital Jazz SuperCruise started up and has a great success with sales. And, in just a handful of months, the Facebook group Smooth Jazz Spot all but exploded to what is now over eight thousand members, from what originally started as a group to share experiences on music cruises.

However, the marketing of these destination music getaways, and even of more local jazz club shows, is hardly ever geared towards the younger crowd. The lack of public exposure in radio echoes out into college campuses, where students of music, theater arts and literature usually are keen to ask, “What’s a good thing to listen to?”

The popular genre is always evolving and as people eschew the popular artists and go towards independent music, they just don’t look at smooth jazz. Lack of exposure? Maybe. Preconceived notions? Likely.

As keyboardist Alan Hewitt mentioned in the All Star Cruise 2009 artists’ panel, smooth jazz is a misnomer for the style, mostly on the account that every musician has his or her own flavor to add. The listener base has the quintessential paragon of smooth jazz: Dave Koz. But then there’s Boney James, who serves up his saxophones with a side  dish of R&B, to great effect. Rick Braun on the trumpet and flugelhorn with a style and a versatility to play anything from bluesy overtones to classic renditions. Nick Colionne, who takes to the stylings of the late, great Wes Montgomery. There is Jeff Golub, who is more New Orleans old-school blues than he is jazz. Newcomer Jessy J shows off her versatility with bossa nova and Latin flavors. It most certainly isn’t, as one person sneeringly told me, “elevator music.”

That isn’t to say that young blood never hears it – this music is heard nevertheless. As the parents take their kids to the shows, these same kids will come back on their own once they have the means and opportunity to do so.  The college grads that hear a show that catches their interest will come back to another, and stay in for the occasional improvisational jam session..

The youngins are there – and they are also on stage.

In a far more recent concert experience at Berks Jazz Fest, the cornucopia of the tried-and-true talent was seasoned by Eric Darius, then 26, Oli Silk at his 31, Jessy J at 29 and Jackiem Joyner, at 30. The new blood proved that they had more than enough gumption to match the existing innovators of the smooth jazz scene with their own (yes, I’ll say it) youthful enthusiasm.

Now, consider this: I’m the token youngin in the audience, so to speak, and after hearing more than one artists’ panel and getting into more than one talk on this alleged genre demise, I called up a friend of mine, an engineer who loves the alto saxophone and practices it often. “Dead? I don’t know who says that,” she told me over brunch. “I have teenagers on my sax forum and they’re getting into the classics like Miles, Coltrane… It’ll never be dead.”

Indeed. Dave Koz mentioned that rather than complain about the changes going on in the scene, we ought to enjoy it for what it is now – and I’m in agreement. The times, they are a-changing; the artists are seeing new blood on stage as well as in the audience and as more and more of the world goes digital, so does music. In conversation with Gerald Veasley while I was at Berks Jazz Fest, this realization hit me fairly out of the blue: radio may well be going the same way that TV has gone.

This is actually a good situation. The more one person is online, which is increasing, the proper embedding of a certain song somewhere can catch the ears of more and more people – especially the younger crowd. Dave Koz’s Bada Bing in all its tenor-sax and kicky-beat infectious glory, if embedded in a website targeted to a certain group – blog, campus page, reference to a Youtube link – may catch a whole new set of ears. But let us not stop there! A workshop such as Sam Ash’s drum clinics done by a musician with a strong base within smooth jazz can both pass on the knowledge to people with a love of music and to perhaps attract an influx of new audience members to shows.

So, what can the new blood do? Keep at it. Join the groups, go to the shows, download the music from iTunes, check out CDBaby.com for up-and-coming new artists. And of course, get friends involved. Euge Groove and Bobby Lyle both mentioned at the first Jammin’ that the best way to get people into the music is word of mouth: keep telling about it, keep dragging people along.

And, of course, if they like it and are dancing in their seat by the end of the night, color it a success – and invite them to chase the music.

I am Katherine Gilraine, I am 25 years of age, I love smooth jazz, and I will see you at Jammin’ in Jamaica 2010. Arrivederci.

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