My "Jerry McGuire" letter to the Jazz community: Why does Jazz continue to be the “Buggy Whip” of the Music industry?

A little teamwork can go a LONG way and NOW is the time!

There was a time when horses provided the main mode of transportation. Whether on saddle, pulling a stage coach or other contraption for hauling general goods, horses helped get people and materials to the destination faster and more efficiently than the prevailing mode of the day: walking. An industry that thrived during this time was the buggy whip manufacturers who supplied many kinds of tools that helped the horse based business thrive. Drivers of horse-drawn buggies used these devices to slap the horses’ hind quarters encouraging them to begin or speed up their work of pulling the cargo to which they were hitched. Ah, to be a buggy whip builder in those days! Great demand, seemingly unlimited market. The time saved by having the horse move faster easily paid for the buggy whip via increased productivity. Any business with a measurable return on investment is bound to be successful right?

So what happened? Where did all the buggy whip business folks go? With invention of the automobile, buggy whip makers were slow to adapt and reinvent themselves. Hindsight shows they were easily replaced by the gas pedal. Buggy whips had no impact propelling automobiles the same way they did horses. The short-sighted buggy whip makers kept making the same product for the same market which evaporated before they knew what happened.

What is the parallel to Jazz?

As a student, fan, supporter and promoter of Jazz and for over 30 years, it is clearly understood here that jazz by its nature has been and will always be steeped in an ever evolving, re-invention process that is the basis of the art form. It can be comfortably argued that “if you have seen one jazz performance, (wait on it…) all you can say that you have seen “one” jazz performance. That is the lure for the true jazz fan. The fans instinctively beg “do it again” because of the fact that the music is never played exactly the same way twice. So why is the music this way but the way it markets itself, with few exceptions not changed in 60 years?

With all due respect to the top shelf jazz clubs around the world who continue to be prominent and seem to survive and in many cases thrive, will the art form called Jazz accept being relegated to Museums and be emphatically labeled HISTORIC Music? Or instead can/will it grab its collective bootstraps and re-invent how it brands, promotes, packages, presents and most importantly ENGAGES itself to the masses as a music that is a true expression of creativity. If it can and commits itself holistically, this music can be a powerful, impactful alternative for those starving to escape the confines of the MASS proliferation of today’s perpetuated mediocre music. Want to argue? I simply present the 2012 Grammy performances and the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show as argumentative evidence.

So the questions (the elephant in the room so often ignored) are:

1) Will the club owners take more if an initiative to promote themselves and their calendar of events with the artists?

2) Will the artists work with the club owners to ensure their Facebook and Twitter fan bases are part of a coordinated effort to spread the word in a timely, systematic approach leading to a “win-win” event? This work will yield a bigger target market for the musicians and more food/beverage sales for the club.

3) Will the Jazz Radio stations (most of which are commercial free but somehow keep an agenda of asking clubs and artists to pay underwriting fees to announce events on air) join in? How about a Friday on-air interview segment that talks to an artist performing locally that weekend and be a passionate part of the local solution. Monster threats like Pandora, Spotify and others are “real” and can easily replace the local and dated format of the self-determined “Playlisting” which is another modern day “buggy whip.” What harm is done to show a little love to the jazz artist and local business venue supporting the live music that you can only play as ‘recorded’ music?

4) Will more atrists fully embrace the grass roots value of social media? You can easily message your performances and become accessible to a community of interested music lovers. The math is simple: if 10 friends tell 10 friends who tell 10 friends who tell 10 friends, you have reached 10,000 people. If you get 1% of them to attend a show, you have an audience of 100 that fill most jazz clubs anywhere. If you get 100 people to attend your show at a local club and you connect with this audience, you WILL be booked again by the club owner. Virtually guaranteed!

Bottom Line:

There is a huge opportunity for a musical genre “land grab.” With the disoriented, directionless and disorganized state of the music industry today, if each and every member of the jazz community could put creative, business and “what’s in it for me” differences aside and work together with a focus on inclusion, who knows where this might take everyone. The bet here is that it would certainly move us forward and be a more relevant art from to a larger audience.

Call to Action:

Let’s take the tired, negative, victim toned commentary of the way jazz is and put that wasted energy into action and work together.

Okay, let’s “giddy up” horsey and get moving. Who’s in?

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Bruce Pulver