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.

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