I think this post has been a long time in the making, and in advance, I apologize for any profanity. Sorry but, as ever, not sorry, because someone really needs to say this.
I am growing more than a little bit annoyed at seeing the same lineups all over the country.
And I’m most certainly not alone in that. Certainly, I’m in the minority because I’m under 50, but if I’m hearing someone who’s in my mother’s age group consistently complain there’s nothing new in X festival and there’s no need to bother going, something is wrong with the picture.
This is 2015. It’s now about six years that we’ve been without a radio station, with some very few exceptions, but so far, the genre of contemporary jazz has been surviving well. However, there is a drastic shortage of new blood on the scene and I am growing exhausted with seeing lineup after lineup after lineup with the same people.
Rick Braun & Richard Elliot. Euge Groove. Boney James. Brian Culbertson. Now – I love all of these guys, and their music is fantastic, but it’s starting to seem that if there’s a major festival or event, they’re pretty much the standby choice for headliners.
Okay, yes, I get it – they bring in the attendees. And their music is awesome, I know that. You’ll find me a pretty major fan of their music. However, there are a lot more artists out there than just the Seasoned Crowd! Where does that standby-headliner choice leave the twenty-plus new artists per each of those headliners who would love a chance to bring their music out and be heard? For every Richard Elliot, there’s at least one David Davis (CT), or Chase Huna (CA), or Lebron Dennis (AZ). Why are those names rarely, if ever, on any rosters? OK, I get that Chase Huna is 15 and has yet to release his album, so probably not the best example, but if you’ve seen the kid play, then you know he has serious chops. What he needs is a place to develop those chops further. And Spags Seal Beach is not enough for him. I was happy as a clam to have seen him in AZ, but I wonder, how would he do at, say, the Copper Mountain festival in Colorado? Same for Neamen Lyles, another AZ performer with great chops. Would he do well at…I don’t know… Hartford Jazz? I think so, hell, I’m sure of it.
Promoters, this is squarely your conundrum to own. I am not mincing words here. This is your responsibility, first and foremost. There is no other way to put it. You’re the ones who book the acts. Because of this, you’re also the ones who set the standard for the genre in this non-radio genre and industry. So you’re bringing up the exact same people, year in and year out, and pepper in the lineup a little with funk or R&B, but what, precisely, are you doing for the new artists? You have no real way of knowing how well they will draw if you’re not putting them on stage.
I’ve said it before and said it again, Capital Jazz is probably the major exception to this, because every year, I see New People on the bill. The cruise saw Will Donato, who is pretty rarely seen outside the West Coast, and unlike pretty much 99% of the festivals and cruises, they poll attendees and pluck the new lineup right from the surveys. I very much enjoyed the Rick Braun’s NYE event, because – again – there. was. new. music. I never saw Neamen Lyles or Chase Huna live for myself, even if the videos are awesome. But what about Lin Rountree? What about David Davis, who’s local to CT and whom you probably never even heard of outside of CT? What about Ace Livingston, also of CT, but who isn’t likely to play outside of CT because no one wants to take a chance at a solo bass?
This is an audience that, regardless of how much it loves the current crop, is thirsting for new blood and new music. This genre, like any other, cannot survive without new blood, both on stage and in the audience. How exactly are you appealing to the new, young audience when all you are booking are the same artists? Short answer: you’re not. People whom you want to be into jazz to keep it alive for the future need to see artists who look like them, who are their age. What good are you doing for the long run by keeping these new artists and their younger audience out of your events? If you don’t get new people in your seats, you are shooting your own production in the foot for the long run; there’s only so often that your audience will come to your event if you get the same. people. every. time.
“But the new kids won’t draw as well!” – you don’t know that if you’re not putting them on stage. If you have the room for a double bill, you need to make sure that the second name on the bill is someone who the audience needs to get to know, as opposed to those whom they already know.
But what you are doing by keeping new kids off the stage is sending out a very erroneous message that there’s nothing new to have in jazz, and few things are further from the truth. You are also setting an expiration date for your own event, because you know as well as I do that the boomer generation ain’t getting younger, and eventually they’ll get tired of the same people on the same stages.
“But the new kids aren’t good!” Bullshit. Go and find them. They do exist. You just need to put in the legwork and LOOK. Ask for demos. Ask for recommendations from the Seasoned Crowd. Believe you me, you will find new artists.
And, musicians, there’s a little something in it for you as well. Listen up, because I won’t repeat myself, and I know y’all read this blog.
MENTOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF ARTISTS.
This is required. This is for your own survival, as well as the genre as a whole.
Think about it. How will there be new events if the same damn people are everywhere? You will most likely continue to have the headliner spots, but without the new generation, without the new crowd, there will be fewer platforms and less audience for you and for them to go and perform on. Do you really reasonably believe that people will settle for going to the same fests and the same lineups? Do you think the baby-boomers will continue coming out to these events in the coming years, especially when the variety is stilted? Of course not! Jazz Fest West closed for a reason, and y’all remember that too well. This won’t be the last festival that will close down, and this won’t be the last time the promoters will shrug, and in a direct and illogical response to each shutdown, and say, “There’s no one new, no one wants to buy tickets, so there’s no reason to put in the effort or to make the events.” Give them a reason – even if it means the reason isn’t you.
Your fans will listen to whomever you point them to, apart from yourself. They know you – but do they know the kid whom you’re teaching that lick? Do they know that girl who can sing like the next Sarah Vaughan whom you heard just by accident at someone’s amateur night? It’s your job too. It’s your genre. Its continued survival depends on whom you will teach and whom you will introduce. Because these kids you’re teaching will have something that you are after: new attendees, younger attendees, and that is what you need the most. Face it: your audience is of a certain age, and if you want the young people to get into jazz, the first step is – get them to look at someone who looks like them. Take a college kid, and you’ll see that college kid’s dorm floor come out to support him, and you know as well as I do that they’ll buy your CDs too.
And if you think the new crop isn’t good? TEACH THEM. They’re looking up to you for the pointers on how to sound good. You teach them what they need to know. You teach them about the business, about the production, what to do and not to do on tour, about the proper way to negotiate a contract… Whom do they have to look at in order to succeed in the music business in the genre of their choice? Really, no one. American Idol and all its like is a farce, and none of this can substitute real, honest experience and advice.
They need you. And if you want to keep being headliners, and if you want to keep your gigs, you need to have them around too, because again – how will there be events if the audience is getting heartily tired of seeing the same people?
Believe you me, guys, you’re not going anywhere, and new blood – especially new blood that you introduce – makes you look good too. People take very well to an in-person recommendation, and you look that much better in someone’s album credits as an ultimate mentor and inspiration.
Just some food for thought in the new year.