FEED THE KITTY

I feel bicoastal gloom at the cancelling of the Sweet and Hot Music Festival, the closing of the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel.  Both of these sad events can be understood in economic terms, but these news stories are not new. 

I was speaking to a jazz musician two nights ago about his arrival in new York City in the mid-Eighties, and invariably our conversation became a litany of jazz clubs and restaurants that featured live music — all gone now.  Another musician reminded me of the magical decade of Fifty-Second Street: a block full of jazz clubs and nightspots that are now office buildings and chain pharmacies.  A few months ago I asked a young musician how she was faring and she told me of taking a job in Whole Foods to be able to get by.   

I understand that the “hospitality” business — restaurants, clubs, and other sites providing entertainment, food, and drink in return for profit — cannot be philanthropic.  When a club owner hires musicians, (s)he will want to see more money in the cash register (archaic terms these days) to offset the expense of the music.  In an era when bar patrons turn to their iPhones and to the multiple television screens for their entertainment, does live music, creative improvised music, stand a chance? 

The other factor is the machine we are all utilizing at the moment, and I acknowledge my responsibility in the problem.  “Why get dressed up in the cold to travel to a jazz club when there is so much to see and hear online?  Who needs to leave the monitor?  Besides, there’s that wall of CDs my spouse says I hardly ever listen to.” 

But I am talking about art and individuals that have more depth — and more fragility — than the moving images on the computer.  Jazz musicians are more than mp3s. 

One can find true community from listening to living people create art for other living people: like minds assembled to share joy.   

But too often, jazz listeners think they are supporting the music by having a bumper sticker or a seat cushion that proclaims their allegiance to jazz.  Writing BIRD LIVES on a wall won’t bring him back, and wearing a sparkly hat that says I LOVE DIXIELAND doesn’t help any player to pay the rent.  Buying another CD is always a good thing, but ask any musician how much money (s)he has received from the sale. 

Jazz Studies Programs have their place, as do vast online collections of “free” music, but do any of these activities benefit the musicians and their families?     

So I propose, not for the first time, an individual, active commitment to the art form.  If you are financially able and physically healthy, why not pay your debt to jazz by visiting a place where live jazz musicians are playing?  Buy a drink or a meal.  Listen attentively.  Put something in the tip jar.  Tell the manager / owner that you have made a special trip to this restaurant or club to hear ______ and her Hooligans (invent your own appropriate name).

Yes, I know that (in my father’s words) things are tough all over.  Sometimes the situation seems so bleak that one wants to retreat from those people — real and figurative — who have their hands outstretched to us.  What I am proposing costs money, takes time, is occasionally inconvenient.  But offering support to the people and music we love is a better use of our energies than mourning the losses after the sad news has registered.  And being generous to jazz may help insure that we can hear and see it, live, in the future.       

The generous people I know write checks to worthy charities, institutions that do good.   

What have you done for jazz this month?  It has done so much for you.

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10 responses to “FEED THE KITTY

  1. Michael…so thoughtful and on the mark. This one is universal and gets a reprint in our Potomac River Jazz Club bulletin. We who play (but mostly listen & patronize) could not agree more with the idea that, if one loves it, one should be ” generous to jazz” rather than just mourn losses. Keep preaching to more than the choir.

  2. VERY WELL WRITTEN & THOUGHT OUT! WOULD THAT THIS COUNTRY WOULD APPRECIATE, ENCOURAGE & SUPPORT THE ARTS AS EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS DO! PARENTS – PLAY SOME OF YOUR RECORDS FOR YOUR CHILDREN, LET THEM HEAR WHAT A SENSITIVE SOLOIST CAN DO WITH A BEAUTIFUL MELODY. INTRODUCE THEM TO VOCALISTS WHO SING LYRICS THAT YOU CAN SCTUALLY UNDERSTAND! TAKE THEM TO A CONCERT WHERE THEY CAN LISTEN TO THE EXCITEMENT GENERATED BY A LIVE BIG BAND. YOU CAN FIND ALL THE GREAT OLD BIG BANDS ON YOUTUBE, BUT YOU’LL NEVER APPROXIMATE THEIR SOUND WITH THE 3″ SPEAKERS ON YOUR TV SET! ALSO, DON’T FORGET TO ENCOURAGE & SUPPORT MUSIC IN YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEM OR IN A DECADE ALL LIVE MUSIC WILL BE GONE!

  3. Music is also very good for your health. Research has found that people who listen to music regularly and dance live longer. Plus I think music relaxes and “soothes the soul”.

  4. There’s always a time and place to mourn what is lost and gone forever, but how joyous it is to celebrate what is still here.

  5. Well said as always, Michael, and sad news indeed about the Sweet & Hot. I feel a little sorry for those people who only listen to music (of any kind!) on record or online. They are missing out on an essential dynamic, that of being part of an audience, with all the possibilities of that wonderful group euphoria that grabs you when a session is really going well: how many standing ovations in front of a computer screen? But lights flicker amidst the gloom: we’ve just passed the 200 mark this weekend in sales for the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (max capacity is 280, so with seven months to go I think another sell-out is guaranteed, and anyone contemplating joining us in October would be well advised to make that decision sooner rather than later – end of commercial)! Seats for Daryl Sherman’s Cole Porter concert here at our state-of-the-art Sage concert centre in July are selling strongly (carrying Coles to Newcastle?), as is the case for Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Billie Holiday tribute. All this and 100% capacity audiences at the last four events I’ve played – a classic jazz weekend in the Lake District, a swing session with Steve Andrews at Saltburn Jazz and two nights in a row last weekend with George Huxley’s Bechet show at the Customs House theatre and Trinity Gosforth – all during one of the coldest winters we’ve had in a decade. And we continue to wonder (via your posts) at the availability of so much great live music in the USA: all this and a Grammy for Vince! To quote U.S. Grant at Shiloh – “Not beat yet, by God!”

  6. I echo the sentiments of others here in appreciation of your efforts with this blog.

    In my recent travels in the northern 2/3 of New Jersey I was delighted to find over 200 high school programs with instruction specifically for jazz along with a working jazz band or ensemble in each school. Most feature You Tube performances, a Facebook page and a supportive booster club. Also, we have never had 45 jazz studies programs in major colleges across the country like we do now.

    The problem is that among the general population, the knowledge of and audience for jazz is ever-dwindling. Sports programs still rule our schools and campuses. The remaining audience for jazz is largely made up of the musicians themselves, their friends and families, and Us.

  7. i heard Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton together last week. The venue was first class, the service spot on, the music top shelf. But a burger and two beers
    made it a $90 evening!

    i don’t mind spending that much money for three sets of superb jazz. But
    at those prices it won’t happen very often.

  8. Dear Bob,

    I can’t take anything away from Feinstein’s — a lovely place. But there are less expensive jazz spots in NYC. And — not to be too jaded — have you gone out to dinner in New York City recently? Things are expensive all over. I wasn’t trying to push my readership into splurging on jazz as opposed to dental work or fruits and vegetables: that you saw some live jazz is more than many readers can say. Cheers, Michael

  9. Pingback: “FEED THE KITTY,” CONTINUED | JAZZ LIVES

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