New Orleans “Jazz” Fest proves my point.

By putting Lady Gaga and Elton John as headliners.

You know, after Lady Gaga worked with Tony Bennett, I could see it working. The girl can sing any-damn-thing, and if you hear her and Tony do Anything Goes, you’re likely to agree.

But that’s a minority of her repertoire.

Elton John’s booking elicited a mighty, “Are you fucking kidding me?!“, and I will confess myself an Elton John fan. I also think he has no business headlining a jazz festival, and while Lady Gaga can definitely pull off jazz, I’d like to see her to at least another full-jazz album before I’d see her at an event.

But wait! Keith Urban? No Doubt? Chicago? WTF is this?!  Okay, I’d buy Chicago, but No Doubt at a jazz festival?

OH. HELL NO.

I’ve said it before with the Jazz Fest West cancellation. I said it recently in my call for promoters to book new artists. I have no idea how much plainer my language has to be.

BOOK JAZZ ARTISTS AT A JAZZ EVENT, OR STOP CALLING IT A JAZZ FESTIVAL.

It’s really not fucking rocket science.

It’s really not that difficult to book jazz artists who are young and who appeal to a younger audience. Apparently, the promoters of NOJF have no idea who or what Postmodern Jukebox is, because likely, if they knew, they would see them as a great solution to the problem of seasoning up their aging demographic. Because PMJ has been turning young people on to old-school jazz and soul since they emerged, and if Dave Koz, Ariana Savalas, and Michael Lington see it fitting to collaborate with them – a dual benefit, where the partnership gives them PMJ’s younger fan base and in turn grants PMJ additional pedigree – then you know what? It wouldn’t kill a promoter or two to put them on a damn stage. Really.

Trombone Shorty is on the lineup – great – but what slot is he going to get? He’s a New Orleans native, FFS, and if you’ve seen him live, then you know what I mean when I say that he needs a headliner/evening slot. Not only is he a hell of a showman, but he’s under 40. Meaning he appeals to that age group.

Jazz has been very badly mislabeled and maligned as “easy listening” music. Don’t lie, you and I both know it. We’ve seen what Broadcast Architecture has done to contemporary (aka smooth) jazz radio stations, and it took me a good year or so to tolerate a soprano sax again after Kenny G. My 27-year-old poet/journalist best friend asked me about it this week and was hugely surprised when I showed her, a la Steve Cole, Nick Colionne, and some choice Youtube clips, that it’s absolutely, completely, the opposite of what she’s been led to believe. I told her, “you and the whole country have been misled like that”. And you know something? Elton John being booked at the New Orleans Jazz Fest is a direct confirmation that the promoters, namely those in charge of the festival, really did buy into that maligned image of jazz as “easy listening”, and are tossing in Elton John for everyone whom they really think will buy tix for that festival: the 55+ crowd, baby boomers, retirees, etc.

And Lady Gaga is their attempt to “draw younger people into jazz”? Like Christina Aguilera last year? That’s what it looks like.

This is the same thing as diluting a jazz festival with R&B without sequestering the genres on separate stages, just a much bigger slap in the face. At least R&B and jazz musicians can blend and work around each other; I’ve been to many a jam sesh aboard Capital Jazz Supercruise to see it, and again, Cap sequesters their genres and makes it possible for both sets of fans to enjoy it. But this particular headline booking is little more than an insult to the thousands of jazz artists worldwide who would’ve ripped it apart on that stage. It marks jazz as “easy listening” (when it’s fucking not) with Elton John’s performance – and come on, which stations play EJ’s music anymore? – and it makes it blatantly clear that the promoters have no idea how to draw in a younger crowd apart from booking someone who’s been on every chart and headline but jazz in her own right.

They think that if the young people stay for Lady Gaga, they’d hear everything else and grow to like jazz that way. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Just like if someone is a fan of Boyz II Men and New Edition, putting them into a jazz festival lineup would encourage them to check out Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, or Boney James because they share an event.

THIS DOES NOT WORK.

Just like with the R&B dilution, this move only serves to infuriate long-standing jazz fans who were counting on seeing an all-jazz event. This will piss off the non-jazz fans of the non-jazz headliners, who don’t want to wade through a day of music they are very likely to not like in order to see their chosen artist, because they’re coming for that artist, not the genre their artist shares a stage with. And moreover, the jazz fans who feel disenfranchised by a diluted lineup will not come to the festival in the first place, nor would they come back. And the reviews of the fest from those longtime jazz fans will be scathing

This is exactly why I, and many other fellow ‘smoothies’ stopped going to Newport Beach Jazz Fest. If I want to see the current Newport Beach lineup artists, I’d stay closer to home, because most of them play NYC and surrounding areas with a much cheaper cost of travel. This is exactly why those of us who love the music enough to fly for it are now staying put. And no young person got into jazz or has gone to a jazz fest because hey, while Lady Gaga is on stage, I’ll check out these people I never heard of! –no. It never, ever works that way.

If you want to get a new audience, you go to the new audience. Go to colleges, schools, put on a festival or series on a campus. Ask them how they get into music. Ask them how they discovered their next favorite artists. It’s basic market research 101. Know what happened when I got into Postmodern Jukebox? I got a college survey asking me how and where and why I like retro/jazz music.

I have no idea when common sense stopped being common, but really…come on now.

Capital Jazz has always been up front about their dual-genre lineup, and guess what: both genres get equal billing on the cruise, each has a separate stage, and neither is put over the other. The jazz stage was just as packed for Generation Next at the fest as the soul stage was packed for Algebra Blessett. Not difficult, and why? The genres. were. presented. separately. Every cruise, I get a survey that asks me whom I want to see, and more than once, I’ve seen direct results of my input presented live on a stage. They run an event the way I would run an event: sensibly.

And that is precisely why Capital Jazz will remain as my go-to event to attend: they give their separate genres equal billing, they never disappoint me with their jazz segment, their special performances have consistently been stellar, and both the cruise and the fest have been a bargain for my money.

If you’re going to insist on having a non-jazz headliner, then please counter them with someone who is solidly of the jazz world. Surely, the Brubeck Brothers would not have been a difficult choice? Randy Brecker? Stanley Clarke? A Return to Forever reunion? There are a million possibilities to counter Elton John.  Not one of them were considered. And No Doubt?! What year is this, anyway? There’s a time and a place for Gwen Stefani, but New Orleans Jazz Fest is not it.

It’s a slap in the face to all the artists I know, and to all the jazz fans who expect – gee, shock! – a jazz lineup at a jazz festival, and what’s worse, it’s a city that has overwhelming jazz history that’s delivering that slap.

New Orleans has been on my list of events to attend, but not anymore. I think I’d rather go to Mallorca or Jakarta for the jazz events there. Their lineups are 1. all jazz and 2. amazing.

Really. It’s not that fucking difficult. Good gods, if only to have a wealthy sponsor…I’d put on a fucking jazz event myself, no matter how much lost sleep and/or BS I’d have to put up with.

K.G.

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3 thoughts on “New Orleans “Jazz” Fest proves my point.

  1. Back in my days, one had to know their trade to work in it. Apparently, that’s old school thinking today (Yes, I’m looking at _you_, promoters!). Good finding, greatly delivered as usual, K.G.! (y)

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