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JT Notes: The New Abnormal

Mac Randall opens the November 2020 issue discussing COVID-19's impact on jazz education, jazz clubs, and more

Trombones amid plexiglass (photo: Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University Photography)
Trombones amid plexiglass (photo: Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University Photography)

As I write these words, the United States is six months into the COVID-19 era, with no obvious end in sight. In his article “Welcome to the New Regime,” Marc Hopkins looks at how all the upheaval we’ve been living through has altered the world of jazz education. No teacher, student, or administrator is happy about it, but most of them appear to be learning to adapt to social distancing, online instruction, and other personal protective measures.

Of course, that isn’t the whole story. When Marc and I first discussed the concept for this feature on the phone, he made an important point: that jazz education doesn’t end when college does. It continues for years, for decades, in clubs and restaurants and hotel lounges. Which is why Marc’s story has a sidebar about live venues. And the picture it paints isn’t nearly as bright.

That a new virus, whose effects on humans are still being discovered and to which no one is immune, would have a negative impact on the performing arts is no surprise. But the often incomprehensible laws that authorities have put in place to regulate behavior aren’t helping.

For example, in late August, a new rule appeared without warning on the New York State Liquor Authority website. It states that although live music is permitted in bars and restaurants, those establishments cannot advertise or charge admission for performances. In theory, this keeps the size of gatherings from getting out of hand. In practice, it means musicians make less money.

The main problem with the rule, as concert promoter Rick Rispoli told the Staten Island Advance, is that “[h]aving a cover charge doesn’t say there will be 50 or 100 people in a bar. So this really doesn’t make sense … With a ticketed event you can actually control the number of people in a venue because you can limit the number of tickets.” But New York State doesn’t see things that way.

Okay, no bar or restaurant gigs. How about livestreaming from home, like so many are doing? Not so fast. Facebook recently announced that a new “guideline” will take effect on its platform as of October 1: “If you use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience for yourself or for others, your videos will be blocked and your page, profile or group may be deleted. This includes Live.” (A Facebook spokesperson later told the U.K.’s NME that this won’t affect artists’ abilities to share music via livestream. Let’s hope so.)

Are people who make art entitled to a greater level of government support than others? I’m sure we could have a long debate about that. But when governments and corporations come up with rules that actually make it harder for artists to get by, in already historically tough times—well, that’s when things really need to change. And soon.

Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.