Shout out: Smooth Jazz for Scholars

If you are a jazz fan and don’t know about Jay Rowe’s Smooth Jazz for Scholars, you probably should.

jay rowe
Jay Rowe, at last years Smooth Jazz for Scholars. Photo by yours truly.

Here’s the back story, kids.

Jay Rowe is the keyboardist for Special EFX, as well as a lot of other people. If I had to list his entire curriculum vitae, I’d probably be typing all night, so I’ll just spare you that and keep it at he’s really damn good at what he does and I’m sure you’ve seen him before. And for the past 13 years, he’s been holding an annual concert to benefit the music program in the public schools of Milford, CT.

 

Some not very many years ago, this event got so popular that it expanded to two nights. And the lineup just keeps getting better. Best part – you never know who will be invited until Jay Rowe announces it.

Well, here’s the deal this year, for the 14th anniversary event:

4/29/16
Peter White, Marion Meadows, Brian Simpson and Matt Marshak

4/30/16
Nick Colionne, Chieli Minucci, Eric Darius and Nelson Rangell.

Yes, you look at this and you think, “Well, it’s the same people as usual”. Yes, seems that way, but for this event – no. No it’s not.

Meadows, Minucci, and Rangell are the only people who can be counted on to return year in and year out, for multiple reasons. Marion Meadows is currently involved with Project Music in his hometown of Stamford, CT, which, among many things, provides kids with music lessons after school. Nelson Rangell – those of you who know, love, and remember his Turning Night Into Day album know just what he can do, and his current work is a continued credit to his style and ability, and he’s someone whom I only ever see at this event. I don’t see many Nelson Rangell performances advertised anymore, which is a crying shame, because truly…a sound like his is rare as all get-out. Chieli Minucci – if you don’t know who this guy is, I can’t help you. If you want to know, find out for yourself.

But everyone else rotates year to year. I don’t think I’ve yet seen Brian Simpson at that event just yet – to note, I started attending in 2011 – and Eric Darius is another new face, though I have a pretty clear memory of him at Berks in 2010 and he has only improved in his stage presence and sound since. You guys know I’m a major supporter of Matt Marshak, and this is Matt’s first go at Scholars that I can recall. Nick’s last go at this gig was 2014. And Nick and Eric together… party o’clock, people. Party the hell o’clock! in the best ways.

You probably remember my jaw being on the ground when Jackiem Joyner took the stage last year and completely blew everyone away. Well, that’s what this event is. You don’t know who’ll spontaneously combust. You don’t know who might walk out onstage as a surprise.

Here’s an even better perspective for you. A standard California two-day event, if you’re out of town, will cost you, inclusive of flight, hotel, meals, tix, and transit, close to $1,750.

Now consider this:
– You can fly into Bradley Airport in New Haven, or into NYC and take MetroNorth to Milford. Late April is still not tourist season, and you’re likely to get pretty decent flights.
– The local Hampton Inn in Milford offers a special rate for the event, and the special rate is more than reasonable.
– The venue, the Parsons Complex, sits within about three blocks’ walk from the Milford train station and on the opposite side of the train overpass, there’s a pretty hopping downtown area with plenty of restaurants for pre-game and after-party.
– And again… the tickets are $70 for both nights.

If you’re out of town or not on the East Coast altogether, you can, very very reasonably, attend the entire event for under a grand, depending on your flight costs.

Yes, I’m serious.

Think about it.

More info at: www.jayrowemusic.com/

General admission tix at: smoothjazzforscholars2016.eventbrite.com

Who knows? I just might see you there.

K.G.

 

I guess I have to say this again.

I’ve said it early last year with my post about needing new artists. 

I’m afraid I have to do the one thing I loathe: repeat myself.

We. Need. New. Artists. At. Jazz. Festivals. 

It’s really beginning to look like what happened with contemporary jazz stations is about to start happening with festivals, and I am really, really not okay with this.

If you’ve forgotten, in 2009-2010, we had a rash of closures that CD101.9 here in NYC has kicked off. It was a dark day for contemporary jazz, because this was only the beginning of a chain reaction that took too many of our stations off the air. As it is, I remember the old CD101.9 of pre-2005 and just before it went off the air, and the difference between the playlists was palpable. The station went from playing a mess of new music from great artists to circulating the same five people each time. It was enough to make me turn it off, even though it was a mainstay of my teen years and the reason why I love jazz in the first place.

But the same thing is happening, though in its own format, with the festivals. It’s been the same headliners time and again.

Look: I. Love. The headliners. I do. They’re great people and amazing musicians. I always enjoy their shows, I love their music, I love and adore capturing their shows on camera. And they’re awesome company to hang out with, and have beautiful families that are a privilege to spend time with.

However.

It’s becoming real repetitive to see the same people on the headliner spot. And it’s a major disservice to both the festivals, the fans, and the genre.

Festivals cannot sustain themselves on the same artists and the same audiences. If there’s no urgency to see an artist because he’s playing the same five fests in the same state within months of each other, why would people bother to buy tickets for it? They wouldn’t. Same thing if the lineups repeat themselves time after time. You will have your loyalists, but you will probably not be attracting new people to the event, because…it’s been the same lineup time and again. Why would people buy tickets for the same time over and over? They. Would. Not. Eventually even the loyalists will ask themselves, “Should I buy this? Same thing over and over.”

And you cannot expect a genre to sustain itself by lathering and rinsing and repeating the same thing and expecting different results. Per Einstein, that’s the definition of insanity.

In the absence of radio stations, barring the troopers who have continued to maintain stations and syndicated shows online, who have talk shows and listening parties – Terri and Michael of Talking Smooth Jazz, you get my hat-tip here for your longevity and your pioneering of new music – the onus of sustaining the genre goes to the promoters of the festivals and the shows nationwide. The way that we know now that someone is up-and-coming and is worth listening to is if they show up in a club in this city or another. The popular launchpads for talent are Spaghettini’s Seal Beach and the Houndstooth Pub. Or DC’s Blues Alley, the iconic locale. SOUTH in Philly is soon to make its way onto that list, I’m sure. But those should not be the only places willing to open their doors to new talent. The promoters now are the gatekeepers of the genre, and while I know their main job is to make a profit, in light of the fact that they’re pretty much the ones who determine the outlook of the genre right now, they should focus less on the short-term profit and a lot more on cultivating and expanding their audience for the long term.

Yes, this means losing money in the short run. But guess what: Better that than penny wise and pound foolish.

We’ve seen this with genre dilution already. West Coast events did their thing with R&B dilution, but they failed to sequester the genres and give them equal weight. This worked for the short-term and put bodies into chairs. OK – but what did it mean for long-term loyalists of the genre? It did not go over well. More than a few comments were left to the effect of, “R&B doesn’t belong at a jazz festival”. And you know what – they’re right! If it’s a tactic to put bodies into seats, it comes with a price: alienating longtime attendees. Not what you want.

I know, seeing as I’m a longtime attendee of Capital Jazz, I may not be one to talk. BUT – go to the fest. Seriously, go to the fest. And you will see two stages. One per genre. One jazz, one soul. And yeah, I am all at the jazz stage, and it’s awesome. And friends of mine are at the soul stage. And because it’s 25,000 people in the Pavilion, we don’t run into one another – which. is. fine. This is a dual-genre fest with no commingling. The cruises, of course, there is always some commingling, but done in such a way that you can have your pick and you do not come out of it disappointed.

Still. Few things infuriate me more than a jazz fest having a lot more of other genres than jazz and then bringing aboard one jazz artist to justify the name. I mean, come on. You’ve got to be kidding me. We’re not blind and we’re not fools. Do not put on an event with jazz in its name with very minimal jazz on the actual menu. Just. Do. Not. Do it.

But I digress.

The fact remains is that no genre of music can or will sustain itself with the same audience and the same offerings time after time after time. It just doesn’t work like that. You cannot expect people to continue coming to see the same show over and over again – eventually, they too will get tired of it. If you want to have a continued survival of any event series, you need variety: in the audience and on stage.

It’s common sense, you’d think, but sadly it isn’t common.

Here’s a hint: check out the sidemen of the headliners for an idea of whom to give a chance! Gail Jhonson has been Norman Brown’s keyboardist for years, but did you hear her band, Jazz in Pink? Probably not. I did, as part of the Getdown Club on the 2014 CapJazz Cruise, and it was great. And her bassist, Robin Bramlett, has a pretty spiffy album of her own. Her harpist – yes, a harpist – Mariea Antoinette. Because why not a jazz harp? And why not Smitty, from Boney James’s band, the bassist? He has a great collection of work. Jay Williams, drummer to everyone who comes through the East Coast. The Grainger brothers, Gary and Greg, who have the Maryland scene on point? Ethan Farmer has been on bass with Lionel Richie forever, but he’s got his own material, and it’s pretty amazing.

And what about the people who had a successful showing in their hometowns and in the launchpads? David P. Stevens. Lin Rountree. Phil Denny. Neamen Lyles needs to play outside of Arizona. Chase Huna is working with Steve Oliver on his debut album at 16 years old. Why not them?

Putting any one or three or four of these guys as openers for the major headliners will not only inject the event lineup with new blood, but it will attract those openers’ families, friends, and existing fanbases, which in turn injects new money and attendees into the events. And as a bonus, there are new careers launched. Who’s to say Generation Next won’t headline a festival in 2-3 years as opposed to them being on the ‘rising star’ showcase?

Right now, I’m waiting to see what will happen with Jazz Fest West. It got shut down, now it’s coming back up. Considering Newport Beach has been going back to an all-jazz or majority-jazz lineup the past few years, I can hope that Omega Events will have the same thing with the revival of JFW.

The point remains the same.

We need new artists. NOW. This isn’t just me railing against it. This is a matter of the entire genre surviving, and it’s a LOT bigger than just my voice and the voices of those who agree and/or do their part to keep it alive.

K.G.

Jazz Fest West is Coming Back

You may or may not have read about it when it went under in this post.

Well, kids, it’s back. 

Here’s the thing. I’m actually pretty happy that Omega has decided to give the fest another shot. Why? Because in light of the unbridled fiasco that was BTW Concerts, we definitely need more events. I don’t know very much about the way Omega Events operates, but I have received pretty good reports. My quibbles with their lineups aside – the whole jazz/R&B commingling – I’ve yet to hear anything about Omega that was overall disconcerting. No one got sold tickets for seats that didn’t exist, and so on. Artists are treated decently. The only quibble I hear about most commonly is that it’s outside on the hottest days in Cali – but then again, I’ve gotten roasted to a fine crisp in late May in Newport Beach before, so I’ll take it as par for the course.

After the fiasco that was the Arizona Jazz Fest collapse, we need to have more music in the West/Southwest area. There is a void in the market that was left by the collapse of AZ and the hiatus – I guess we can call it – of JFW.

My one concern is this: who will be on the lineup of Jazz Fest West?

The reason it didn’t happen that time was because of lousy ticket sales. Considering Robin Thicke was the headliner – gimme a damn break, seriously? He is not jazz! – I’m not surprised at all. I have seen the Omega festivals take a decidedly jazzier slant as of 2015, though, and have hopes that there will be a good representation of jazz artists in their comeback lineup.

But I really cannot say this enough: JFW and all of the West Coast events need to give new artists adequate representation. We all know Boney James puts butts into seats. We know. And we love him, here on the East Coast too. But there needs to be a little room for the new artists as well. You can’t expect a genre to survive if you’re recycling the same lineup over and over again. This is what made radio stations lose listeners after Broadcast Architecture had its way; there’s absolutely no need to have the same thing happen with festival lineups.

Berks is a great example. Yes, there’s a ton of established artists, but the locals definitely get their bite at the apple as well. The new kids get their bite too. There’s no losing lineup at Berks. Yes, sometimes they have a soul artist or two, but it is a 90% jazz festival and upholds the genre title. But above all – it. allows. new. artists. in.

And the West Coast events need to take a page out of the Berks book in that respect. Spaghettini’s cannot be the only stage where artists like David P. Stevens and Phil Denny get in front of the West Coast audience.

You can’t expect a genre to get new audiences without new artists. Nor can you expect it to retain its current audience without variety. Stagnation doesn’t work for any genre, and a genre as dynamic as jazz cannot be allowed to stagnate.

Speaking of BTW/Arizona Jazz Fest, there are some news on that respect too, but that’s for a separate blog post.

K.G.

And this, ladies and gents, pisses me off.

Jazz is tied with classical as the least popular genre in the US.

The sound you hear is my rising blood pressure, but I truly wish I could say anything but that this is not news to me.

Classical music has been enduring for over 400 years, and you know what, it still has an audience. Hell, it has an audience that I’m willing to bet is at least partially younger than jazz – and why? Because parents who understand the value of classical music teach it to their kids, and the kids carry that on.

Jazz is growing to have a similar situation in its New Audience acquisition. Parents, especially parents who themselves have grown up appreciating and knowing the value of jazz, pass it onto their kids, who grow up to be jazz lovers in turn.

Yes, that’s great, but it’s also a hugely dismaying thing to have. While jazz has always been a niche, this basically insulates it from outside fans coming in on their own. Lack of radio doesn’t help, but I’ve waxed analytical about that before. This is crippling.

Why? Because look at what doesn’t require enjoyment by inheritance. Look at the styles of music that are currently popular, and tell me that it doesn’t demonstrate something to you about the general population. What does it say about the audience when they’d rather listen to manufactured Autotune than they would listen to music that, let’s face it, doesn’t require Autotune? Right now, people get into music by having it pushed onto them ad nauseum, and if it takes five writers and three sound engineers to record Nicki Minaj singing “You’re a stupid hoe” or something similar and have that be a hit, but a jazz – oh, no, I’m sorry, instrumental pop as certain committees dubbed it – song can’t even get the time of day in the mainstream, what does that tell you about the state of music?

Let’s not wave it off with “This is the way it is”. It got this way. It didn’t have to get this way. Classical has endured, and jazz – the American classical – needs to endure too.

Perhaps this is my opinion, but I find that people’s ears have grown lazy with this manufactured sound-machine known as “pop music” of the day. They’re getting lazy and they’re getting complacent as a result. If they don’t have to think, they never will. Just like kids in school would ask the teacher, “What do you want me to say?” on an opinion essay, right now people are not even bothering to ask themselves, “What am I listening to?” Their ears are lazy. The music is manufactured and produced in such a way that they don’t have to listen to the message it sends as long as it’s catchy and has a rhythm (hence why music with absolutely despicable lyrics is popular), and they don’t listen into it to hear anything of the person singing it. Chances are the person singing it wouldn’t even come close to sounding like they do on the recording if they were to sing it in person, but that’s beside the point. The point is, people got used to not thinking about their music, and they hear it without actually listening to it.

And you know something? Jazz requires active listening! It doesn’t need “understanding”, or “the right notes”, as one particularly imbecilic video put it (sorry but not sorry), but it requires active listening. It requires someone to not just hear it, but to take some time and listen to it, listen into it, let it talk to the ear. Right notes have never once been a requirement of it, but some participation on the listener part is. It’s a music style that, much like classical, and much like instrumental rock, speaks without words. But you have to actually listen to it.

And when your listeners forget how to listen, then you see a sharp decline in popularity.

Doesn’t help that the advertisers who have previously invested copious funds in jazz stations have taken their money elsewhere because “it’s not popular” without thinking that the radio stations aren’t helping in the matter by homogenizing the lineup into an unpalatable mess, doesn’t help that the radio station formats have flipped en masse because “listenership has dropped” – when they themselves have engineered this drop in listenership – and certainly doesn’t help that too many people in the US don’t even know what jazz is. The video of “just play the right notes!” sums up the average view of jazz succinctly, and it’s the sort of viewpoint that drives me to drink.

Interestingly, if and when I introduce someone to jazz, the reaction is nearly always, without fail, “I had no idea this is what it’s like!”

At risk of sounding crass, no shit!!! This is what happens when you hear something without actually listening to it; you forget what it’s like to actually listen, and you’re amazed at what you hear when you re-discover it again.

Outside the US, we don’t see such an attitude with jazz music at all. Japan is a hugely popular market for American jazz. Eastern Europe is also jumping on the bandwagon. We’ve seen the massive popularity of Mallorca Jazz Fest and Smooth Jazz Augsburg. Don’t tell me there’s no market for jazz; there is. But then again, outside the US, people are taught to actively listen into music, and understand it.

Huge, massive difference in education and, even apart from education, in thinking.

And of course, the R&B dilution at events, to where it’s not even possible to call it a jazz event anymore, is not helping matters either.

Don’t even have to go too far for an example, too. San Diego Jazz Fest is unrolling its lineup, and you know something? My opinion of the promoter completely aside here, the lineup is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I wrote about Jazz Fest West’s collapse, and the importance of having new artists and *gasp* actual jazz musicians on stage at a jazz festival. San Diego “Jazz” Fest is pretty much a classic example of why jazz isn’t taken seriously. Sorry but not sorry, and not mincing words on this for a moment. Where Capital Jazz will separate out the stages and not commingle R&B and jazz, San Diego just throws in all R&B headliners and calls it a jazz event? That does not fly, kids.

Jazz is not “least popular” – certainly, it’s a niche and always has been, but it has never been this cloistered before, and it certainly did not get to this point without outside influences. I assure you of this: had CD 101.9 survived in NY, as well as all the other stations whom we lost in the Grand Shutdown of 2009, then articles like these wouldn’t exist. Nor would the mentality of “just play the right notes” in the general public. There’s more than enough new artists in jazz, more than enough new music all around. Know what there isn’t? The same consideration and PR machine as there is for pop, hip-hop, rap, soul, and R&B.

But, we soldier on. Because where would we be without Our Music?

This is why it’s hugely important to buy tickets to jazz events, buy CDs, finance Kickstarters, etc, so on, so forth. Because right now, jazz is depending on its people. And that means us.

K.G.

Follow-up to Maxwell & the Seven Seas

ETA: Since the original draft of this post, some people did succeed in getting refunds via dispute filing. That is encouraging news.

As usual, standard disclaimer for this being only and strictly my opinion.

—-

There have been several phone calls made to BTW Concerts, with no results. Per CruiseCritic – same thread as previous post – someone else was offered credit for a future event in lieu of a refund.

Really? Flights too? Because I’m confident people booked flights for this thing, and last I checked, those are nonrefundable! What I would like to know is how those future events are going to take place. Because frankly, I don’t see it.

See the prior post. See the Royal Caribbean terms of service. In the event of a cancellation, Royal will draw on the letter of guaranteed credit;  if that’s the case, then BTW is likely to be held liable for 5.6M less whatever was paid in so far, and seeing as the cancellation was their fault, squarely, they are definitely on the hook for the refunds as well. Any attorney will argue this. With this much debt leveraged on the company, how exactly will they ever put on another event? I’d like to know how Cancun Jazz Fest is going to happen.

Who will sponsor any future event by them after the fiasco that this cruise has turned out to be for consumers? I really want to know how they’re planning on continuing to stay in business with that sort of a liability. I have no idea.

I find the recalcitrance on refunds to be troubling, especially considering that the Cancun Jazz Fest is in the works.

You don’t leave people out of money and hanging. Just…no.

I remember, not long ago, when another event has gone under, and know what that promoter did? Talked to the people who bought tickets and advertising space individually and made sure to refund everyone, regardless of how long it took. He spoke to people, explained what was what, asked them to bear with him for time, but he made sure that everyone was square, even if it took months. That is integrity. Refunding people for an event in case of its cancellation is something the promoter should’ve thought of when they knew that this cruise wasn’t going to happen.

If I could see it from the outside, I’m confident that BTW saw it much earlier. And unrelated, but kinda related – thanks all for the activity on the original post on this entire fiasco; your sharing the post will help to ensure that others won’t be similarly burned.

Big thanks to the folks of CruiseCritic, who I’m sure found their way here too. Your help and resources have been invaluable.

K.G.

ETA: There was a story on NBC News in California about this. Link here: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/investigations/Cruise-Nightmare-for-Southern-California-Couple-294297501.html I will note that David Payne may or may not be the head of BTWConcerts, though my guess is that he’s an affiliate of Payne Pest Management, who is a major title sponsor to a lot of festivals and music events in the Southern CA area.

On Maxwell & the Seven Seas

Whew. Where to begin.

You may or may not know that the Maxwell and the Seven Seas cruise, originally conceived by BTW Concerts, LLC. is now canceled.

And I’ll be frank: we saw this coming. Those of us who have been on charter cruises before, those of us who know the basic considerations involved in putting this cruise together, saw this coming.

I will not be too harsh on the promoter in this case, but mind that I will definitely not be kind, especially considering that the missteps in the public relations aspect of this production have been appalling. However: said promoter has, prior to this, put on successful land-based events, and I will give benefit of the doubt that a successful land event may not always translate to a cruise event’s success as well. There is a lot more planning and a lot more money involved in a charter cruise, which BTW may not have been prepared to deal with, and likely didn’t realize until they dove into it.

But let me begin from the get-go, and you yourself judge best. This will get long, so brace yourselves. As I said: I will not be harsh, but I can’t be kind either.

Disclaimer: most of this is my own research, observation, and opinion. Take it as you see fit, but I’m protected by the 1st Amendment in expressing opinion, either way.

So. From the top. What have I seen and am sounding off on here?

Pricing
As I’ve said once before: if something’s not priced to sell, it won’t. Doubly so this goes for cruises, and triply for cruise charters. When Maxwell at Sea got announced, I quickly looked up one major thing: how much does it cost? The price was at $2,895 per person, inside cabin. Cheapest rate.

Except that’s what I paid for my single inside cabin, in full, with port taxes and all, with the Capital Jazz Cruise.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, the per-person pricing. Cruises like couples. Nearly all cruises are billed and priced at double occupancy first, and singles are at a disadvantage. So this price per person is to be paid double for someone going alone. This translates to roughly $5,700 for a single inside cabin on Maxwell at Sea.

Strike one.

How about no. That is entirely too expensive. The lineup for Maxwell at Sea was great, especially the jazz segment, but no matter how great the lineup, if I can get a similar experience for half the price with Capital Jazz, I’ll let my wallet do the talking where I get the bang for half the buck.

This begs the question of why, exactly, the promoter was pricing this cruise at that rate? Everything has a reason. Cruise charters are not cheap to put on, and the cabin bookings go to recoup the cost of renting the ship, insuring the event, and paying the artists. That? is a VERY hefty counterbalance, especially the ship.

Bringing me to…

Choice of ship
The choice for this endeavor was the Freedom of the Seas, by Royal Caribbean. See this link from Royal about their charter costs. Royal Caribbean is not cheap. If you look up the Freedom of the Seas, it costs $5.6M to rent it for a week’s sailing.

Five point six million dollars. If that sum doesn’t give you a gray hair, I envy you.

So, let’s look at the terms. 10% due at signing, then paid in chunks of 30%. With a letter of guaranteed credit, which will ensure that in the event of a cancellation, the cruise line can draw on it to square up their side of the contract. Which, mind you, leaves whoever is chartering the ship on the hook for the costs, one way or the other.

Think about what that implies. For Royal, a charter cruise is pure profit, even if it fails. For the promoter, a failing charter is a financial nightmare. In the event of cancellation, Royal will draw on the letter of guaranteed credit. I’m sure that there’s a provision in their contract that designates the amount, and I’m confident that it’s a 7-figure sum.

The Freedom of the Seas is a beautiful ship. No doubt. But if you’re just starting out, unless you’re a multimillionaire or a lottery winner, this particular choice is biting off more than you can chew. What about anything of the Carnival fleet? Celebrity? A smaller ship, like the Celebrity Century, would cost a lot less than anything in the Royal fleet. Carnival is likely the cheapest of the ‘big lines’ for charters, depending on the class of ship. If you’re just starting out, the smaller, compact Seabourn line may well be better. Or the Silversea.

Short version: the ship is the biggest expense. For an inaugural event, it’s prudent, if not common sense, to always choose a small ship; this way, even if you have the money to back up a bigger one, you will have a Rainy Day fund, and you will lose that much less. People come to a music charter for the music; bells and whistles can come later.

But, it’s Royal Caribbean… And this brings me to the grist of the entire situation, and one that I really cannot be nice about, all considered.

The Flow of Information/Public Relations.
Few things are more important in a music event than keeping the public informed. And that was botched rather badly. I will not mince words in this section at all. Sorry in advance if you get offended, there is really no nice way of saying it, but BTW fucked up, and fucked up big time.

When the cruise started to go under people got their information from everyone but the promoter. And that, really and verily, is not okay.

Buckle in, folks, because this is going to get LONG.

I originally began monitoring this cruise when someone brought it up as a possibility, and also expressed a concern that it may not take place. This was back in maybe July last year. The prices were, as I mentioned before, obscenely high. I could see no reason why I should pay $5,700 or thereabout for a bought-out inside cabin when that’s more than what I’ll ever need to go on the Capital Jazz Cruise. But, again, there’s people I know and adore on the lineup. So maybe the prices would drop, yes? I was hoping for that; if I could score a last-second booking discount, then you best believe I would’ve been on that boat.

Instead what I saw was the rollout of an onboard credit.

Example: Tim Bowman’s onboard credit here.

tim bowman onboard credit

That’s when I knew there was going to be trouble.

Let me explain one bit: no cruise company ever offers onboard credits unless they really, really want those cabins filled. $525 is basically one person’s drinking budget for the entire cruise, if you ballpark at 3 drinks a day for 7 days, $10 each, including buying other people drinks too. For a lot of people, that onboard credit is ALL their cruise spending. That’s a lot of credit for one sailing!

That’s what told me it wasn’t selling at all. At those prices, it wasn’t really unexpected, but the onboard credit was confirmation. I’d expect $100 onboard credit. Or a spa credit. You don’t give someone a credit of this magnitude  unless you want them to come flocking to you. This is more than enough for two people’s spending on board.

So how bad were the sales, really, if it takes that sort of an incentive to try and generate them?

November 2014: Royal Caribbean puts cabins back on sale.
That’s what got my other alarm bells ringing. Because in a full ship charter, it’s an impossibility. A full-ship charter means cabins can be booked only through the charter, maybe through travel agents, but never through the cruise line. The cruise company doesn’t take bookings, and there is no cruise-line booking number until the charter promoter or admin uploads the manifest, or hands over the passenger list, whichever is applicable. Bottom line: can’t get a charter cruise cabin through anyone but the charter.

Immediately, I thought something was wrong. Coupled with the onboard credit, I had a suspicion this thing was going under.

On the Facebook page for the event, now defunct, the promoter claimed that it’s an error on Royal Caribbean’s side, and they’re still taking bookings. This becomes relevant later, and unfortunately, I couldn’t get a screencap of that particular statement before the page got taken down.

December 2014: My first phone call to RC.
Yes, I went there. I wasn’t about to pay over $5K for a single, but if there was an alternative, I would’ve taken it. However, again: why the hell would Royal Caribbean begin taking bookings independently for something advertised as a full charter? Easy answer: it’s not a full charter. So I called up Royal to inquire about access to the gigs, as well as charter status, and they told me that nope, it’s not a full charter, but here’s a nice cabin for you at $1500 and change, all to yourself, if you still want to go.

(I didn’t book, but it was tempting)

Then cue a couple of Facebook posts from people on the event’s now-defunct FB page, saying that the Maxwell at Sea promoter was lying about it being a full-ship charter, and at that point, I agreed with the poster. If it were a full-ship charter, it would not have been sold via Royal, plain and simple. Maxwell at Sea earned its strike two.

CruiseCritic.com – never underestimate people’s determination.
For those unfamiliar with CruiseCritic, it’s a pretty handy resource for all things cruise-related, and it also has a pretty active forum.

In early January of this year, I was sharing my thoughts on the Maxwell at Sea cruise with a friend of mine, and he told me, “You really want to see the thread on CruiseCritic.”

And this is what I found. If you want to read it, go ahead; it’s long, though. VERY long.

The people of CruiseCritic were amazingly diligent and thorough in their discussion of this particular sailing. Hell, I learned a lot about cruises and groups aboard cruises just from that thread.

Cancellation – not via the promoter, mind.
Again, back to CruiseCritic.

After some time, I see this post right here. Trust me. Click on it and read it.

Remember how I said RC put the cabins back on sale in around November? That was why.

So then why was BTW Concerts still advertising this cruise as a full charter, until about…last week? Again, you won’t see it now, because they took their pages down.

Sanitizing Facebook.
Taking the above in mind, you’d imagine that if the cruise company is putting the cabins back on sale – at severely discounted prices to boot – and someone takes the time and effort to call the corporate offices and get the confirmation that it’s canceled, wouldn’t that be the time for the promoter to maybe, just possibly, come out and say it?

Believe me, I understand the old adage of “The show must go on”. But go on on what? The cruise company pulled the plug. Likely for nonpayment, because see price in the link above – I can’t imagine that money was easy to come by.

Instead, what happened was that every time someone would post something about Maxwell and the Seven Seas that wasn’t enthusiastic praise, it quickly got deleted. People were asking, “Is this still happening?” and were told “Yes it is!” – when the opposite was true.

After the above post on CruiseCritic, though, I had enough. I called them out on them chronically deleting their posts, and included a screencap of a prior post that called them out on cancellation (which they removed) before. It’s enclosed here, click to enlarge.

calling out The post vanished within 24 hours, and as a bonus, I got banned from posting to their page. And guess what else vanished? Their payment system.

Look, folks, y’all know me by now. I may be a cast-iron bitch on a good day, but when I criticize someone, it is always with improvement in mind. If I tell someone they messed up, I expect them not to repeat the error a second time. That is my goodwill in what I do. My goodwill walked out the door with that deletion.

But if you ban me for calling you out – especially when I’m right, and especially when there’s evidence, even if it’s circumstantial, to back me up, that’s when I get pissed off.

Strike three.

It’s very, very bad PR, and it shows that the promoter really has no damn idea about the court of public opinion, nor the public perception – and especially not social media. You may say, “Well, I don’t give a shit what the public thinks! Social media is crap anyway!” – WRONG. This is an industry wholly and completely powered by public opinion, and social media is what makes it go round, especially seeing as – hello, good morning – we don’t have jazz radio. What do people think if they see posts vanishing for the sake of image control? What do people think if they see multiple people calling you out repeatedly for something you know has happened, that they figured out independently, and instead of answering questions, you’re claiming that your system is down (screencap of that available as well) or just delete them and ban them altogether?

What this tactic does is it confirms that the people whom they are deleting are in the right.

When BTW began their tactic of sanitizing Facebook and covering up the cancellation, they as good as confirmed that this event has gone under, before they said it themselves. It’s the complete and direct opposite effect of what they intended, and it’s the same thing as Dolores Umbridge attempting to ban the Quibbler in the fifth Harry Potter book – instead of making the problem go away as she wanted to, she ensured that everyone would read it. Same effect with the sanitizing.

If you really want to prove your naysayers wrong, ignore their posts and let it go on as planned. If they’re wrong, they’ll see it rather than hear it, and the proof will be in the pudding, and out in public. But if you’re deleting them left and right, especially if they have a marked consistency in what they’re saying, then you just basically ensured that more people will pay attention to their posts, and ask, “Why are you deleting them? What are you so afraid of?”

This is an industry where transparency is paramount. People talk. Artists always talk amongst themselves. People behind the scenes – managers, booking agents, photographers, friends, roadies, sound guys – they will all talk. The last thing you want is the wrong kind of grist to fall into the mill.

When some of the people who did book the Maxwell cruise reached out to me, I was not surprised. Best I could do was direct them to the CruiseCritic thread.

image1This screencap is from me reaching out via private message to Royal Caribbean on FB. This was their reply.

That’s when I got pissed off but good.

That was earlier this week.

I originally began monitoring this cruise because I had a distinct feeling that this was going to happen, and also because it reminded me way, way too much of the fiasco known as the Oasis Jazz Awards. Do you remember that, back in March 2011? It was not going to take place, and no one found out about it until two days to go time. Two days, on a land event, is one thing, and that was fraud at its finest. No one at the Oasis offices took phone calls. And the promoters then had the balls to blame the fans for the cancellation.

If BTW was going to turn to the tack of blaming the fans, trust me, I wouldn’t be anywhere near as nice as I’ve been in this post so far.

The booking system for Maxwell at Sea didn’t go offline until after I put up the prior post on their page.  I put that post up mid-January. So between November 13th, which is when Royal Caribbean pulled the charter, and the time their booking system went offline, they were 1. advertising and 2. potentially taking payments. Two months’ worth of time.

For that alone, they could have gotten into, and could likely still get into, quite a heap of legal trouble. Point 1 comes out to false advertising, and 2 can count as fraud. It’s been a while since I delved into these sorts of particulars, so bear with me. Also bear in mind I’m not an attorney, and having been some years since I read a law textbook, I may have gotten rusty…

Now, I won’t delve into the fraud possibilities here. However, correct me if I’m wrong, but if an event gets canceled by the venue, the promoter legally cannot take any more money for said event, and cannot have any public medium representing that the event is still happening, because that would be misrepresenting the venue/vendor, never mind the promoter himself. Misappropriation of trademark at best, copyright infringement at worst in relation to the venue. I severely doubt that Royal Caribbean is the sort of a company that’s willing to let their image be attached to something that is, altogether, not taking place.

This will explain why, right now, after this screencap, the Facebook pages for MaxwellAtSea and BTWAtSea have summarily disappeared. You will find an identical message on what was once the cruise website.

image8This screencap stayed on their page for maybe, at best, a couple hours. Then they took down the page altogether.

Note the language they’re using: “unforeseen events and circumstances between the cruise line and the promoter. ”

That’s where I call bullshit. None of this was ‘unforeseen’, and of all the people involved in this, the last people to claim ‘unforeseen’ should be BTW Concerts.

BTW Concerts knew how much this ship was going to cost to rent. $5.6M is not a sum of money one quotes lightly. If they were hoping to roll the cabin bookings and the chartering payments – make a certain amount from cabin bookings, put that towards the payment to RC – then they should have definitely thought about how to get the cabins to sell first. How could they have possibly expected people to pay $2895 per person when other cruise charters can charge you just a hair over half of that for a similar lineup? Did BTW Concerts owners really think that what they were offering justified that price? Because honestly, no. It did not. What, exactly, made them believe that this price was justifiable to charge? The artist fees? Okay, potentially, but no one asked them to book Joe and Erykah Badu, and Chrisette Michelle, and Anthony Hamilton. They could have very, very easily taken different R&B/soul headliners at a lesser price. The ship? That’s their own fault; they knew the cost was astronomical, and booked it anyway. Did they not have the sponsors backing them to make this cruise happen? Seeing as I’m not their bookkeeper, I don’t know, but my guess is that they didn’t.

They knew exactly how much this all was going to cost. Their inability to meet their expenses is their poor planning. What’s that old saying again? Failure to plan on your part is not an emergency on anyone else’s part. And this is about as far from ‘unforeseen’ as you can possibly imagine it to be.

Educated guess is that they made the initial payment, which was enough to book the boat at signing, but couldn’t scrape together the next payment, which was well over $1.5M. They had three such payments to make.

So really, to claim that this was unforeseen is pure bullshit. It’s not like Royal called them up the day it’s due and said, “Oh hey, you owe us a mil and change.” The costs were known from. the. start. To claim that any of this is unforeseen is laughable.

So where is the blame due? Let me first tell you where it’s not due.
If we have to point fingers, then let’s first see where they shouldn’t be pointed. Already, there has been some kerfuffling about it being Royal’s fault.

Royal Caribbean is not at fault here. They had a contract. They had an agreement. They had terms of service in place for this exact thing happening, and they did their part of it.  If this means cancellation, then that’s what it is. Either way, remember that Letter of Credit? RC is drawing on that, of that I’m confident.

The naysayers are not at fault here. This includes me, and everyone else who had suspicions about this cruise; I assure you that I was not alone in thinking from the beginning that it was going to fail. There was no need whatsoever to delete their posts, but the first thing it did was make BTW Concerts look worse than it needed to for dragging out admitting that this thing has gone under.

I take no pleasure in being right about this, for reasons I’ll come to in a minute.

The fans are not at fault, and never will be.

If an event is not priced to sell, it won’t.

If you can’t motivate purchases, it’s not their fault for not buying.

If this was priced similarly to other charters, then believe me, the results would’ve been different. If the promoter had a different ship, it would’ve also produced a different result. In the music world, and especially in jazz, people vote with their wallets. That’s the way it’s always been for any public undertaking.

It is not the artists’ fault for not letting their fans know earlier.

Simple reason: they didn’t know either. Most of them have just found out today.

The people answering the phones at BTW are not completely at fault – and I’ll explain why.

Bear with me and let me explain why I say that. Even if staff was well and firmly aware of the situation, they can’t say anything unless they’re authorized to from higher up – otherwise, it’s their job and their professional rep on the line. They are bound by a nondisclosure agreement to the nitty-gritty of these events. I would know; I signed a couple, and input a NDA clause into most of my photography contracts. There’s a limit to what they can admit to from behind the scenes without authorization, and considering that all of us have to keep lights on, the people who are hired to answer phones and take bookings are basically taking on the extremely unenviable role of a shield between the promoter and the public as their livelihood. They do not control the promoter, and they do not control the outcome – and the most they can do is stave off until they get authorization to discuss it.

Despite the above paragraph, let me be clear: I am not absolving the staff of BTW of their responsibilities. By no means at ALL. If they knew that this was going under, they should have found a discreet way of letting people know. If they would have put up a post along the lines of, “Hey, guys, I know you’re excited, but we have a situation with Royal Caribbean right now; we’re trying to iron it out, we will let you know what comes of this” – note the verbiage I’m using; there’s nowhere a claim of cancellation, but this does let people know something is up – then it would’ve saved the entire production’s public image.

However: in my experience, people who don’t operate honestly – and face it, sanitizing social media is dishonest, like it as not – rarely makes for a good environment behind the scenes. I can’t speak for BTW as a workplace, since I am not an employee and safe to say never will be, but I cannot imagine that the past two months were easy on the staff in any iteration. Having worked for a very stressful workplace before, I can only sympathize with the staff, because I know very well the pressure they were under. I won’t absolve them of their responsibility in this, but I will think of them and, frankly put, hope that they will find a better place of employment than BTW.

The blame is very squarely with the owner(s) of BTW Concerts, LLC and none other.

Plain, simple, and to the point. No ifs, ands, or buts on the matter.

Regardless of whether or not BTW put on successful land events before – which they have, I will give credit where it’s due – a successful land event does not equal a successful cruising charter. This was poorly planned and poorly executed. The social media handling of this event was straight-up ridiculous, and that is wholly and completely BTW’s fault, and they are the ones who look worse for it. In deleting people’s posts and in banning them for posting things they don’t like or disagree with, BTW showed that they cannot handle criticism, and they do not get their information out in a timely manner, if people from outside forums take it upon themselves to reach third parties – Royal Caribbean in this case – to get the information they need. BTW showed that they don’t respect the fans, nor do they give a shit about the ticket holders who booked with them, seeing as they refused to respond to phone calls or emails (more screencaps to this effect available) and bearing in mind that they also deleted all demands for answers from Facebook.

All of this is a recipe for disaster for any business reputation that BTW Concerts has built up over the years. I really cannot imagine that the people who have been burned by this experience will book tickets with them for other events. I can’t think that Royal Caribbean won’t draw on the Letter of Credit that’s required at signing (linking the FAQ again for reference), which in turn makes me wonder about their future events as a whole. I can’t think that the sponsors and investors in productions such as these don’t have their own brand of conversations at the bar, either.

Worst of all, the owners are the ones who control what the staff allows the public to see or know. Whether or not the staff knew is moot. The owners knew, because they were the ones who got the letter of cancellation. They were aware of that from the beginning, and they were the ones who fucked up on the social media angle. They are, unequivocally and without contradiction, the ones who bear the responsibility for this event collapsing.

What This Means for Jazz.
The biggest concern I have, though, is for the genre, and what this implies.

Let’s put it simply: we the jazz people – musicians, fans, artists, photogs, journalists – cannot afford another Jazz Fest West. Not if we want this genre to 1. survive, 2. thrive, and 3. be taken seriously.

Already, jazz isn’t being taken seriously. Don’t believe me, look up Jazz in the Gardens in Miami, featuring R. Kelly and Run DMC. I’ll wait while you pick your jaws up from the floor. Remember the October lineup for the Arizona Jazz Fest (also a BTW production) which featured Boyz II Men? If that’s not a sign to you that jazz is being pushed by the wayside, then I question where you’re looking. Capital Jazz is a sole exception to this, because they make sure to balance both sides of the genre divide that they work with. However, after seeing the New Orleans festival roll out Elton John as a headliner, as well as No Doubt, this makes me wonder about the future of jazz.

This cancellation, though, especially by a promoter that has put on other jazz events in AZ, CA, and Las Vegas, is going to reverberate, and definitely not in a good way. Just like when Oasis went down there was a particularly smarmy article calling on contemp-jazz artists to “play real music” – makes my blood boil even typing this – and promoters began to shy away from new jazz artists in favor of R&B as a misguided and long-term-ineffective “way to bring people in”, this is going to have a continued effect on the genre as a whole. Jazz in the Gardens is proof positive that there are some promoters out there who have no idea what jazz even is. I shudder to think about what this will mean for people who will use the Maxwell and the Seven Seas – which had a lineup that was more jazz than R&B, regardless of the prominent R&B headliners it featured – as an excuse to further push jazz by the wayside.

Note that I’m not differentiating between the subgenres of jazz. They’re all affected by this, regardless of how indirectly.

There is one good thing about it all: BTW Concerts’ massive screw-up with this cruise leaves the door wide open for a better-equipped and more astute promoter to step in and show ’em how it’s done. Every void that opens up in the jazz show world gets filled; it’s a matter of time, opportunity, effort, and money. I wholly expect to see another full-ship charter on the horizon, headed by someone new, that’s better priced and better assembled, that will have a great inaugural sailing – not soon, mind you, but I know it can be done. After all, even the Smooth Jazz Cruise had to start somewhere.

And for those of y’all wondering why I am even writing this? Why I am writing about those events, observing them, pointing out the mess-ups? That’s what I do. Unlike a lot of folks, I’m not going to sit around and stay quiet when I see that shit isn’t right. I am a photographer, and my primary niche is jazz; this is my world too. If something impacts the genre, it impacts my clients, regardless of what role those clients occupy, and by extension, it impacts me as well. When I first got into the music world, I swore that I’d look out for my people – and I am doing just that. After all, I’ve had a lot of people looking out for me over the years; least I can do is return the favor.

K.G.

ETA: The promoter has a Ripoff Report complaint here, as I found. Breach of contract (surprise to no one, I’m certain).

If you were burned by BTW Concerts in any capacity, I strongly encourage filing a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General here: https://www.azag.gov/

Also put up a post on www.ripoffreport.com, please.

Remember: this is a very public industry, regardless of how ‘behind the scenes’ something is. Please speak up if you feel something is wrong. Don’t be afraid of retaliation. What you say may save another person – or thirty – from going through similar.

Another resource is Dave Cherry of CBS 5 Arizona: dave.cherry@cbs5az.com

ETA 2: Editing to include another Ripoff Report complaint. Also a ScamOrg.com report. And another Ripoff Report.

ETA 3: A story has run on NBC Los Angeles regarding this cruise cancellation. Pay close attention to the video; in it, you will hear Royal Caribbean’s side, which effectively confirms everything that has been surmised on CruiseCritic.com. Story at this link.

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.

New Artists – NOW!

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.

K.G.

 

In Memoriam: Jeff Golub

This is not the way anyone in the Jazz world thought that the New Year would begin.

I’m sitting here in Tucson Int’l Airport and it’s taking me a lot of strength to keep it together. I knew he was bad off, I knew it was terminal, but no way could anyone have imagined that it would have been this soon.

Jammin’ In Jamaica, 2009… This guy gets up and absolutely shreds it on guitar, and while I knew who he was, I didn’t expect to hear snarling power blues of that caliber at a jazz event. And the next day, at a Q&A, he runs in late in blue flannel pajamas, in an exuberant “I’m here!!!” gesture, and it’s not possible to look at him without a smile. And that was Jeff Golub. The guy who could bring any guitar fan to their knees, and make you laugh in the next second.

Really, there is no one like Jeff, no one with his style, his smile, and his very New Yorker sense of humor. You listen to Avenue Blue and there’s no mistaking his sound. You’ll remember it until the last, you will always know it there on in. Contemporary jazz with oldschool blues, and anything but smooth. Jeff is grit, pure grit.

The last time I saw him was Smooth Jazz for Scholars 2013. One of his last shows. He was already without sight for a while, but he mastered Braille and he could still play with the best of them. But I hugged him and it felt vastly different from Jamaica. He had lost weight to an alarming degree. My friend Kelly and I stayed with him through breakfast, got him back to his room, and all I could think of was, what was happening to our Jeff?

He’s family. All of us contemporary jazz folks are family. The photogs, radio people, artists – we are all a huge, close-knit family. Jeff is One Of Our Own. This is a loss that we will continue to feel on the Jazz cruises, at the festivals, at the events where he was a staple, when we go and see our mutual friends… This is a void that we will continue to feel when we hear Boom Boom on the radio or in shuffle mode on the music players. This is a pain that we will continue to feel for a while to come.

Like so many, I’m glad for having met him, for having photographed him, for having enjoyed his energy in live show, for having known him. I’m glad to have gotten a glimpse into his spirit from both his music and watching him take his condition head-on. May we all have the courage that Jeff showed us.

Rest well, dear friend. We love you. We miss you. Say hi to George Duke and Ricky Lawson for us at the big jam session up in the sky.

Kat G.

An Experienced Jazz Cruiser’s Guide to Jazz Cruising, Part 2

Yes, there’s more! so join me, ladies and gents of the jazzy-and-cruising persuasion, for some more inside info on jazz cruising. Or, at least, have a giggle at my trials and tribulations.

So I started packing for the Capital Jazz Supercruise already. 

“But wait!” you say. “It’s still September! You’re not leaving for another month!”

Yes, I know that, and I’m also an accountant who is running headfirst into deadlines, and my calendar contains other things as well. Whether or not I want to admit it, that cruise is literally around the corner, and it’s going to gobsmack me well before I’m ready for it. So hell yes, I’m getting ready now! I’d rather have only my camera left to pack after everything is said and done, as opposed to running around the day before I’m set to fly out, and end up forgetting stuff I actually need.

I’m set to shoot a Long Island fest, jaunt really quickly to Phoenix for a private event, shoot two back-to-back NYC shows the following week, and guess what! the cruise departs two weeks from the city shows. And another major work deadline is two days before my departure time! This is not counting the meetings I have scattered between those things. That cruise is a blink of an eye away, and I know it.

So what are the lessons du jour?

1. Don’t be afraid of the Second Checked Suitcase when you fly.

Believe me, I know how counterproductive it sounds. However, as I’m now discovering, I may not have a choice, and who’s to blame – none but my own self. 

How so?

Well, story goes like this. After three or so years of heavy duty travel, my Big Suitcase started coming apart. So I replaced it with a nice strong one of a similar size – key words – and brought it home. Until I actually dragged it out and began to pack, I didn’t realize that it’s actually smaller than the suitcase I had to dispose of. Expandable or not, it’s just of a smaller capacity.

Houston, we have a slight problem here. 

I’m efficient like nobody’s business when it comes to packing. If I had to push it, I could be ready for a trip like the Capital Jazz Cruise in 24 hours to departure. However, that is wildly counterproductive. Last-minute packing is a guaranteed way of forgetting something. This is why I pack in advance. This is also why I am glad like hell that I started packing a month ahead, because if I discovered this size disparity in my big suitcase any later, I’d be in a world of financial hurt.

In other words: airline overlimit baggage fees

I’ll wait for y’all to stop cringing. 

This is the thing for me this year: my flights are paid for by the airlines themselves. My return flight, with Delta, is paid for with my miles. My American Airlines’ disaster last year, where they tried to bump me off my flights, ended up in me being issued a $300 voucher, which has paid my flight to the pre-cruise hotel in full, with pre-boarding and extras, such as the coverage for the first checked bag. I still have a little left over from that certificate, and while I’m not too likely to use it, it’s still something that could come in very handy – such as, well, checking a second bag. However, I checked the terms of service, and nowhere did it indicate that the first-checked-bag fee makes the bag exempt from weight fees. That is a problem. Also, seeing as I tend to go over the weight limit when I pack, this creates A Problem, because those fees are from $75 to $125 each way. I speak from experience, that is to say, a very ouchy wallet. 

So I figured that I would do a lot better if I were to pack a smaller suitcase for a second bag. This way, neither of them will go over the weight limit, and instead of about $100 each way, the max I’d pay is….. $40. Each way. 

Better? Oh hell yes. 

Also, it’s more practical. Explanation as follows.

Think of the logistics of your trip. Just the basics of when, where, why, and how.

If you’re going on a music cruise, the common-sense thing to do is to arrive to the port city the day before your departure. I don’t say this idly: you have no idea what can happen to your flight on a good day, never mind in inclement weather. Most of the time, if you’re leaving out of Florida, the ship departs at 4pm. It may not be a problem for you, per se, but again: expect the unexpected. Suppose your flight gets delayed. Suppose you’re rerouted. Suppose you’re stuck on the tarmac waiting for someone to shovel snow (if your cruise leaves in January, this concern is valid). Whether or not you like it, the ship will leave at the suggested departure time, on the dot, regardless of whether or not you’re on it, and it’s in your best interest to be on that ship. And if you want to get aboard the ship early and you want to get there day of departure, guess what this means: 6am flight! Are you up for waking up at 3am for a cab call? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

So fly in the day before. One, you get to chill for a whole day before your big cruise, and believe me when I say, stock up on your sleep now, because if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on sleeping on the big trip. Too much music. 

Now, what does this mean in terms of your packing? 

Suppose you’re me for a second. You have your big suitcase, and it’s stuffed to the gills with all the Party Essentials for 8 days. Swimsuits, check. Cover-ups, check. Show attendance clothes, check. Comfy clothes for in-between, check. Toiletries to last, check. Sunscreen, check. Shoes, check. Hair dryer, check. Makeup and jewelry, check. All of that adds up to a LOT of stuff, and even if you take a tip out of How To Pack Like An Engineer, you would still have to dig into that case when you arrive to the hotel to make yourself comfortable, etc. And you know what that means? Repacking when you go to the pier.

What you may or may not know about the cruises, it’s this: on board the ship, delivery of your suitcases takes quite a bit of time. Think about it: 6,000 people all surrender their bags when they’re at the port, and this does not include the musicians’ instrument and gear cases. The ship has 12 decks total, of which 7-8 are strictly the residential decks. That is a lot of work for the crew. Last year, my suitcase didn’t arrive until about 6-7pm, which meant that I had no way of changing into gig clothes for the first show of the night – and I was lucky as hell that I chose early dining that year and just caught a quick meal while I waited, because I don’t know about y’all, but if I’m on a cruise, I don’t much like showing up to a main-theatre concert in my traveling clothes. Cargo pants and a tee are cool for airport and portside, but not cool in the front row of a show – at least that’s my opinion.

How does an extra bag help matters?

When you go on board the ship, a small wheelie will be your second carry-on – and if you set up your packing right, it’ll tide you over A-OK until your big bag is delivered to your cabin. 

So how to do this efficiently?

Well, first tip is to see the link above for the best Youtube video on the subject. 

Second: think. Think very carefully. Think of your clothing, think of what you’re taking, and think of what you’re most likely to use when you’re in layover at the pre-cruise hotel. Do you plan to sleep? Pack a set of comfy clothes to serve as pajamas (or if you’re me, pack flannels). Dressing up for dinner? A nice oufit; pants and top, or dress, and shoes, makeup as you like it. Lounging at hotel pool? Swimsuit, beach towel, sunscreen. Going to pier tomorrow? Pack another set of comfies. And pack a spare set of all the toiletries you’re putting into your Big Suitcase. 

Altogether, you’ll have just enough clothes for 2 days, and it’ll be just enough to fill up a small wheelie case and still leave packing room for souvenirs, shopping, and so on. And best of all: when you’re packing your suitcase back up at the end of the trip, that little tote for Night Before stuff I talked about in my last jazz cruising post? Goes right into your wheelie, which contains that spare set of travel clothes. 

And, you’re covered for your overflow. Ever had that moment where you ask yourself, “How the hell did I pack all this when I was departing?” I have. And rather than asking a friend to sit on your suitcase to get it to close, have a little extra room for overflow.

All of this talk about flying out, though, reminds me:

2. Watch your itineraries carefully!

I run into this dilemma routinely, I hate to say, and I’m not at fault this time. Unfortunately, I run into this because I do a lot of flying.

I think you know this, but if you don’t, I’ll happily reiterate: airlines often change their flight times, and depending on whom you fly with, you don’t get notified before you’re bumped off onto another flight. 

I am a creature of habit. I stay with the same hotels if the price is right and they treat me well. If I like a particular airline, I stick to them like glue until they do something that makes it difficult for me to stay their client (hasn’t happened yet). If I like a particular flight for how I can time my day, I’ll take that same flight year in and year out. So when I got the American Airlines voucher last year, I went with the same flight I always book when I fly American Airlines to Florida – which was a 10am NYC-MIA. Why Miami, when the cruise leaves from Ft. Lauderdale? 1. It’s a direct flight, while NYC-FLL isn’t for that particular airline, and 2. dirt-cheap. It’s an early wakeup call, but not too early, and I land in Florida at around 1pm, which means I can write, relax, sun myself, read a book, and enjoy the hotel for the rest of the day before vamoosing to the port the next morning.

You can imagine, then, the look on my face when I got an email from American Airlines, wherein they notified me that my new flight time was…wait for it…

6.35am. 

They changed the time again to 6:55am since, but to say I’m less than pleased is an understatement.

I took the 6am flight all of once, when I was leaving to Montego Bay in 2009 for Jammin’ in Jamaica. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t repeat the experience, even if sunrise in NYC is absolutely gorgeous, and reminds me of why I like window seats. I absolutely detest early wakeup calls enough as it is, and if you consider a half-hour to get to the airport, plus about the same time for security and check-in, plus having to be there at least another hour beforehand, I generally look at a 3:30am cab call with a 6-odd am departure time. Not happy. I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters in college, and even less of a fan of waking up at a time that I not-so-lovingly refer to as ass o’clock.

But nonetheless, it’s a flight that I paid nothing out of pocket for, and my bitching about the asscrack-of-dawn wakeup call will be limited. Plus, if I’m landing in Miami, I get to have papas rellenas for lunch, and there’s nothing I love more than good Cuban food when in Florida – which, in MIA, is easy to find. 

There is one  good thing about that sort of an early-morning flight: I can catch a long nap on the plane, and when I get to the hotel, I have most of the day ahead of me. So I can get some more sleep and more writing done this way.

 

One kind of similar incident about flight changes took place not a couple of days ago, and I have to hand it to the DeltaAssist twitter crew. (If you’re a Delta customer and have a problem, tweet @DeltaAssist and they help you in 15m or less).

Yep, it was another schedule change. The problem? It was such a change that made it impossible for me to make the connecting flight. My route was NYC – Tucson, two hours’ layover in Salt Lake City. Except the SLC-Tucson flight was now scheduled to leave a solid hour before I was scheduled to land in SLC. 

Problem.

Cue some tweets to the DeltaAssist account, and fifteen minutes later, I was rerouted through Atlanta instead, and set to land in AZ a whole three hours earlier than I planned. Good? Yes, but even better on Delta for notifying my schedule change with an alert of “Call customer assistance, for you may not make your connecting flight”. 

 

What are our take-aways from the day?

Plan ahead! If it means you have to spend money, then find a way to spend less of it. 

Oh, and make sure you have very good alarm clocks for the early flights. 

K.G.