For those of you who don’t live in Minnesota, let me fill you in:
The Artists’ Quarter, the Twin Cities’ oldest and “purest” jazz club, is closing at the end of this year. The AQ has been a safe-haven for creative music, and due to raising rent costs and an ornery landlord, they will be closing their doors.
The main concern with the AQ closing is that there is no longer an audience for jazz music. Particularly a young audience. The same argument has been made about Classical music for many years. (How many times can an orchestra play the Nutcracker Suite for only gray haired audience members and still keep a straight face?)
We’re so caught up in easy conclusions that we’re missing the point, here. We’re too quickly making the jump from “AQ closing” to “there is no longer an audience for jazz”. Those two things are related, but only indirectly.
There is no audience for jazz because the musicians have lost their way.
Yes that’s right. It’s our fault. It’s not the AQ’s fault that no one was in there listening to so and so play on a Tuesday night. OK, maybe it’s a little bit the AQ’s fault, but the majority of the blame should land on us, and here is why.
We’ve gotten lazy. Plain and simple. Over the last few decades we’ve gotten lazy. Playing a jazz gig turned in to being at a jam session, except without letting anyone else sit in. For you non-musicians, that means that many times when you’ve heard jazz, it’s been musicians who’ve maybe never played together before. Maybe never rehearsed once in their lives in that configuration (our dirty little secret).
Who would want to listen to that?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Until recently, that kind of playing was reserved for after hours jam sessions. Musicians hangs. That kind of stuff was supposed to only happen as an extra. We’ve made it the golden gig standard. Can’t find anyone to play this Tuesday night down at the club? Well lets just throw together a band and play some tunes.
No matter who you are, I don’t really want to hear that. Seriously. Even the best players in the world won’t sound as tight as a band that’s been rehearsing and working shit out. Musically, it certainly won’t be as interesting.
If we’re going to call it art music, then let’s make it good enough to be called art.
It’s not just the music, though. It’s also the way we present the music. In fact, I’d say the primary reason we’ve had diminishing audiences is because of how we present the music. Even if we’re going about it in the right way: it’s all composed, rehearsed, and ready to go but we forget to promote the show. We play too many shows. We don’t talk to the audience (but not in a cool way, like Miles used to do). We don’t engage the audience at all. There is some kind of screwed up idea that has seeped in to our minds that tells us that it’s un-cool to promote your music. It’s un-cool to be good at the business side of music. It’s like our cross to bear or something. “Jazz is not cool, but we need to keep it alive by playing shitty tunes for no one and then going home and crying ourselves to sleep” <—- seriously, people act this way.
The truth is, if we properly promote our shows, and if we have a product that is worth the ears, then people will listen to the music we’re making.
Let me throw this at you: How much more likely is each member of the band to promote the show if you’ve rehearsed four times for four hours starting two weeks before the hit? Every rock band I’ve every played with rehearses this way…
Get with the times. Young people don’t want to hear the Nutcracker Suite anymore, just like young people don’t want to hear Take the A Train anymore. Music evolves. Why would we not evolve with it? This doesn’t mean we have to abandon what we know as jazz all together. It doesn’t even mean we have to stop playing Take The A Train. It means we have to have vision, and work ethic. We have to promote and promote and promote. We have to think about things like show times, what we’re wearing, what tunes we’re playing and how all of that will flow in to a well-oiled machine. How about adding some multi-media to your next show? Compose music to new abstract video? Paintings? Silent Films? Video Games? Live action improvisation to people playing Call of Duty? Comics? The possibilities are endless.
Musicians are public speakers. Literally and figuratively. If you’re not comfortable on the microphone, find someone who is and let them talk. Engage the audience. Tell them about the process. Tell them the story. Put on a show.
I know I have friends in the business rolling their eyes at me right now, but people come to see live music to be entertained. That’s it. If we’re not entertaining them, musically and/or otherwise, they’re gone. For many years we relied on the fact that people could dance to our music, and that’s why the audience kept coming back. Well, they can’t dance in 7/8, so we have to compensate somehow. The artist has to figure this out. It’s a new age. There are no longer record labels to do this stuff for us anymore. It’s the age of DIY and you can do almost all of it from your cell phone.
Get with it, or die without it.
The required track for the Carmine Caruso Jazz Trumpet Competition. Just submitted materials a few days ago. Fingers crossed!
Here is one of Dan’s tunes called Fragile being played at the same Jazz Central gig last month. Brian Courage on Bass, Evan Montgomery on Guitar, Zach Schmidt on drums, and special guest, Chicago saxophonist Dan Meinhardt.
Here’s my tune Pittsburgh’s Song being played at a show with guest Chicago saxophonist Dan Meinhardt last month. Me, Dan, Evan Montgomery, Brian Courage and Zach Schmidt in the band. It was a fun night. Might post one more from the night in a bit…