Top 10

Top Ten

I remember when I first started going to jazz festivals as a fan and eventually as a participant. I was in my late teens and early twenties when I made the observation that, each year, the same personalities and groups were appearing on all of the festivals. I’m talking late 70s and early 80s. The lineups would then consist of maybe Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, the MJQ, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson and others that I, being a young (and impatient) up-and-comer who was eager to hear things a bit more modern, inspiring and less nostalgic, had absolutely no interest in seeing and hearing – especially year after year. It was a formula that only got even worse. There was no variety and I didn’t feel as if my interests or tastes were being considered where the programming was concerned.

Throughout the 80s the lineups steadily became a bit lighter, audience-friendly and more pop-oriented. Artist like Al Jarreau, George Benson, Spyro Gyra, etc. were in heavy rotation. Many “serious” artists were displaced in order to make room for these “guaranteed seat fillers”. I was annoyed that I couldn’t see Joe Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Woody Shaw, McCoy Tyner, etc, or any of what I considered truly innovative and inspiring artists at any of the big festivals. All they seemed to book were crowd pleasers, Grammy winners and artists who topped in the annual magazine music polls. Later on, it got even worse to the point that these days, pop artists completely dominate the bookings, along with the jazz “top 10” artists who appear on ALL of the festivals. I won’t post any names or acts because it is in poor taste to do so, not to mention that most of them are friends of mine. In fact, I don’t blame the artists for this deterioration of variety in programming. I blame the booking agents and festival promoters for their failure to provide the public with a broader presentation of the richness that the jazz scene offers.

So, there is a very real problem which should be addressed, which is that the representation of the entire creative music world has been reduced to the output represented by a handful of artists who have, and never will change or modify their music for fear of alienating the fickle tastes of the people who booked them in the first place. Unfortunately, the promoters don’t have any real idea of what is truly progressive or provocative “on the street” because their information is solely gotten from the content of magazines and polls. I never see any of the festival promoters in the clubs scouting for the “next” new artist. I do, however, see musicians pop up all of a sudden on every festival every summer – and I wonder where in the world they came from, and how did they emerge from total obscurity to getting major bookings without having “paid dues” or having cut their teeth with an established veteran? This phenomenon continues to weaken the ranks and cheapen the integrity of the scene as a whole and unfortunately, I see no end to it.

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2 Responses to Top 10

  1. Yup… I hear you Greg… It is one of the many reasons why I chose early on not to pursue a career in jazz where there is no more room or money for that matter, and even though I don’t play jazz, I still do play the jazz festivals circuit today… funny, isn’t it ?
    On a serious note, it is true that I have been hearing the same names over and over from one festival to an other, years after years… And I have to say, it is very discouraging for the young generation of devoted jazz musicians…
    Initially, jazz used to be a dance music, a “crowd pleasers” music (isn’t it one of the main reasons why we play music in the first place, to please the crowd ?)… I believe that it is important, in order to keep jazz music alive, that we (the musicians) stop playing for ourselves and give jazz back to the people, the crowd, the listeners, the dancers… Just my opinion…

  2. Lou Flute says:

    Greg I agree. I studied flute with Bill Green and Buddy Colett in Los Angeles back in 1982 and played with Marvin Gaye and Stevie in 1979. I said all of that to say that I hear exactly what you are saying about the bookings and I too loved to go and see Gerald Wilson’s big band and Nelson Riddle. Frank Wes, Eric Dophy, Dizzy were my favorites growing up. Nothing in the way of new exploratory jazz is burgeoning. True jazz compositions are that of the past except for a few innovators who are still around. Quincy, Pat Metheny etc.

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