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16 March 2007

Comments

James Hirschfeld
1.

Darcy--excellent points.

I have always thought of our scene in NYC as a bunch of really talented chickens running around with our collective heads cut off. I really like the story of Bang on a Can. They found that they had no audience for their music, so they got together and simply created an audience. Of course, it took many years to do so.

One thing that I currently notice is that much of the music that I check out, I hear about through word-of-mouth. There is no Village Voice write up or a NYTimes listing. Something as simple as a site that listed these concerts would do a lot. In fact, if there were a public google calendar, anyone could just add their concert and a website could simply aggregate the listings.

I don't have a real solution here. I just feel like if I try and make it on my own, I may have some success by the time I die. But if there is a coordinated effort to market this music and flood these grant offices with applications, then we all have a better shot. More questions than answers for sure. We can all play music in our basement for enjoyment, but we're talking about making money here (without sacrificing artistic integrity). More accurately, we are talking about reaching people with our music in a way that will allow us to make music our profession.

(By the way: Ironically, I am writing this from WORK! Ha!)

Andrew
2.

Thanks for this...

It might be a good thing if IAJE became more like SXSW... but I actually think I'd prefer to see SXSW open up its purview a little (or a lot) to include new music other than pop. The reason it hasn't gets at what I think is one of the deeper problems here -- audience development. You can have all the institutional support in the world, but if people aren't adequately supporting the music where it counts -- from the ground up, in the concert halls and clubs and record stores -- then you haven't really ensured that the music has some sort of organic longetivity. This is not to say that there isn't currently an audience for "new music," or whatever you want to call it -- just that the scale of that audience, in most cases, is not commensurate with what the artists need to survive. Yet I refuse to believe that the kids who now flock to U2 (et al) are uniformly incapable of enjoying stuff that's a little less "mainstream"...

Of course, I don't really know how to go about audience development... I just like the idea. (I think maybe it has something to do with dogged persistence / insistence, as James suggests when he mentions the Bang on a Can story.)

john doheny
3.

Some very good points here. Sitting down here in New Orleans, we're not always fully present to what a huge animal JALC is, although there are plenty of examples locally of the influence of Wynton, the most recent being Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and their 'residency' at Tulane university. My understanding is that they are Artists in Residence at Tulane largely because Wynton wanted it so. So far though, the benifits of the arrangement all seem to be flowing one way (towards NOJO) and they are not at all a presence on campus, spending much of their time on the road.

I'm old enough to remember when getting jazz a seat at the 'serious culture' table was very, very important, and so I can't raise much ire at the current state of institutionalization in the music, both in institutions like JALC and at 'jazz friendly' universities, where conservatory-style training can sometimes turn out musicians with all the cutting edge excitement of their classical counterparts. I do often wonder though, why the cultural avante guard no longer listen to jazz. How come all those indie-rock kids aren't digging Shonny Sharrock and James "Blood" Ulmer? You'd think it would be right up their alley.

DJA
4.

James,

What Bang on a Can have done is simply amazing. Some people (like Kyle Gann) are bitter that they absented themselves from the Downtown scene and created their own alternative scene, but obviously they were very successful at changing the public perception of their music, to the point where even indie rock bloggers get really excited about the annual BOAC marathon.

Of course, BOAC were also very quickly able to secure grants and other forms of institutional support that allows them to do all the great stuff that they do. There are individuals and foundations and grants etc out there -- we just have to get better at persuading the powers-that-be that what we are doing is just as worthy (if not more) than the stuff they're funding now. That can be a tough slog.

It would be great if there was an indie jazz version of Oh My Rockness. But would also be great if Oh My Rockness would list our shows! I always submit to them and they never list us, even when we're playing indie rock venues like Union Hall. (Maybe some creative double-bills with complimentary indie rock bands would help. Hmmm... )

DJA
5.

Andrew,

You are spot on about SXSW's limited scope. On paper, they may be open to "all genres" (I don't know), but obviously in practice it's another story.

As far as other big indie rock fests go, we submitted to CMJ last year, but didn't make the cut. We're submitting again this year, so we shall see... again, it's technically open to "all genres." Maybe if more of us made a point of submitting to SXSW and CMJ and the like, we'd have more of a chance of storming that barricade.

That said, I do think it's crazy that IAJE brings all these young hardcore jazz fans to town, and then pens them up in the Hilton. Part of what makes SXSW so buzz-worthy is that it takes over the city -- every club is doing a SXSW showcase, and even just walking around you're surrounded by musicians from all over the world.

Imagine if next year, instead of putting everything in the Toronto Fairmont, Sheraton, and Metro Convention Centre, IAJE took over all of T.O.'s clubs and concert calls for four days? (Not just the jazz clubs, either.) They could still have all the industry stuff during the day, but put all the concerts at night, all over the city, going well into the night. Make a virtue of the fact that you're bringing thousands of musicians to town to play, make it more of a festival than a conference.

Instead, IAJE make a virtue of walling themselves off from the host city -- everything is self-contained at the convention site. There's just no good reason for that.

DJA
6.

How come all those indie-rock kids aren't digging Shonny Sharrock and James "Blood" Ulmer? You'd think it would be right up their alley.

John,

Because someone has to tell them about it! But as it turns out, Blood Ulmer is playing Bonnaroo this year, which is an encouraging sign. It would also be great if we could have more creative connections between scenes -- like maybe Burnt Sugar opening for TV on the Radio?

Andrew
7.

IAJE as currently configured is surely a wasted opportunity, I agree.

I also think you're onto something about the concerted effort to storm the indie rock festivals... and maybe that's one of the objectives around which our "collective scene" can build a little more of a clear identity. We could organize, and turn it into a don't-discriminate-against-new-jazz campaign, and include some sort of petition with our press materials... hmmm...

Maybe that would just seem petulant, I dunno.

We actually played SXSW back in '02. They're like IAJE in at least one respect: no bread to bring the truly indie groups out, so you've got to make it on your own dime.

DJA
8.

Andrew,

I'd be curious to hear what your SXSW experience was like -- was there any effort to place you in a slot or showcase with complimentary bands? What kind of audience response did you get? Did you make any valuable contacts?

Andrew
9.

It's a nice thing to have on the resume, but SXSW wasn't all that I hoped it would be. That's at least in part because I was too inexperienced as the manager of my own group to have any sort of business plan going in. I wasn't sure how to work the opportunity for maximum effect.

The year we went (at five pieces, we were a kinder, gentler, more traditional precursor to the monstrosity we are now) was around the time that Norah Jones was breaking, and from what I understood there was a particularly strong effort to try and get more jazz presented at the festival that year (I think Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey was there too, though they were clearly in a different league from us). In retrospect, I think we were stymied by two things (in addition to my lack of knowledge about how to exploit the situation):

1. The club we played was not on 6th, the main music drag in Austin, where people generally just stroll around and window-shop the live performances.

2. We were put into the middle of a three-act bill that was certainly complimentary, but because it was all new jazz, it didn't expose us to any audiences that probably wouldn't have found out about us through some other means anyway (either on the radio, the web, or through word of mouth). In other words, it felt like an audience comprised of most of Austin's die-hard new-jazz folks. As in LA, that's a dedicated but small community.

Because of these things (and because of the very different vibe that I witnessed going on at other showcases), it ended up feeling like we were inhabiting some kind of indie-jazz ghetto. We did get a decent turnout, and the people there seemed to enjoy it, but I was angling for something more. We didn't have any labels or managers or industry people come to see us (on the other hand, we did end up getting a lot of music-biz spam in the months afterward). We did get a decent blurb in the Austin Chronicle before the show, but nothing that translated into a lasting impression afterward.

My philosophy since has been that I don't want to go back to SXSW until I feel like we have a bit more leverage -- i.e., enough "buzz" to be able to negotiate a better venue and a shared bill with some rock acts who are better known than we are. The whole point of a group like mine or yours doing the festival, or so I think now, is to really work the crossover potential, while simultaneously chipping away at rock/pop-oriented audiences' perceptions of what jazz is. But to do that you've got to get 'em to the show.

(And of course, if we were to do SXSW again, I'd want to build a tour around it, which I wasn't savvy enough to know how to do the first time.)

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