[Dixielandjazz] Jazz Must Die

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet@earthlink.net
Mon, 12 Aug 2002 22:00:52 -0400

Ron Gable posted an interesting site on the problems of jazz and it's
declining audience. Pat Cooke took a different tack pointing to the
amount of "Festivals" out there. Here is my "short" two cents.

I think a little of both is true. I don't remember exactly when the OKOM
festival scene took hold but probably around 1970. Why not before?
Because before, you could go the a thousand clubs in the USA and hear
OKOM. When the club scene disappeared for OKOM, the Festivals flourished
and the trad jazz societies grew like weeds, all over the place. Because
there was an aging audience, with a few bucks of disposable income that
still wanted to hear the music. However, the total audience was bigger
during the "club days".

Today, the aging audience is almost dead. Perhaps there are 10,000 fans
that make the OKOM festival circuit. The same folks go to several
festivals a year. But since they are declining, festivals are shrinking
from 3 days to 1 day. Or going out of business. Or including more and
more non-OKOM music to their programs because OKOM no longer attracts an
economically viable audience. Sacramento is a case in point. Used to be
Sacramento Dixieland (or Trad Jazz?) Festival. Now it is Sacramento
Jubilee with 50% non-jazz.

That is a fact of life and it is happening all over the USA.

Does that mean Jazz will Die? Not if jazz musicians figure out how to
get to the young people who make up the "new" audience. There are bands
such as mine that have figured this out. When we play a "Jazz" Festival,
we draw better than Ike Turner, as well as most other performers there.
Typically, when we play in a public park, we draw better than the other
30 bands that appear there over the summer. We constantly get new gigs
from our public performances. We get lots of dancers when we perform. We
do club dates in bars and restaurants where young people come to see us.
We get press and TV coverage. Etc., etc., etc. We do about 160 gigs a
year, stopping there by choice because like Pat Cooke, we are old.

It is a plain simple fact of any business endeavor that you must get new
accounts each year if you expect your business to survive. You must
search for them. You must sell them. Because every year you will lose
20% of your customer base. Some will die, some will move, some will get
pissed at you, some will go bankrupt etc. Music is no damn different
than any other business. In fact it is a bit simpler.

Like Pat, we don't play gigs where we don't have fun. And, we don't play
for people we don't like. Those are our limits. But we find that if the
joint ain't jumpin when we get there, it will be very soon after we get
there. And we are having so much fun that we'll play till 2 or 3 in the
morning and love every bit of it. Our record so far? 12 hours of playing
during a jazz festival, from 12 PM Saturday till 6 PM Sunday. For those
who are math challenged, that's 12 playing hours out of 36.

Rest of the time we spent chasing women, who BTW tell us we're awesome.

Why, because even at our advanced ages (70 on average) we love it so
much we get our endorphins flowing. It is a natural high. I actually
think it helps us stay younger than our chronological ages. Sweet young
things tell me they thought I was about 50 when I tell them that I am

Hopefully, there will be more bands who have it figured it and can carry
the torch when we pull up for the hand-off.

Simply stated: Jazz as "listening only" music has come full circle. Now
it's time to get them dancing. Hey you festivals out there, put the
dance floor up front and go after all those swing dancers out there.
Hire some "Condon Style" Bands. Let the music blast forth. Let the good
times roll. Hire bands that get the audiences involved. Even if they
can't dance, they can still jump around.

Can't you just see it? A mosh pit filled with 80 year olds?  :-)

Steve Barbone