Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Aug 28 18:52:35 EDT 2006

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 08/27/06

My column two weeks ago provoked a strong response from readers, all of 
whom agreed that more needed to be done to promote high-quality jazz 
locally. Several pointed to the "green" effect: The best intentions fail 
when faced with the twin challenges of small audiences and large overhead.

Jazz is and always will be a small-audience art form. The stadium salad 
days of Spyro Gyra and Weather Report are gone, daddy, gone — and good 
riddance. Who wants to be part of a 20,000-head human herd only to watch 
little men play loud solos through a PA? Much better to sit in a space that 
holds only a few dozen and hear — I mean really hear — an upright bass 
intertwine with a drummer and low tenor sax, to be where an artist's 
nuance, imagination and technique are front and center and loud fashion 
gets shown the door.

When the players are good, the little world of the club is a slice of 
heaven. That's where jazz lives.

What many readers pointed out is sadly true: The majority of people in our 
towns just don't know about jazz. They don't. And what they don't know 
about is easy for them to ignore. But if, as producers and leaders of the 
cultural community, we fail in our mission to bring them that culture, they 
will never know. And the culture will die, choked off by the sturdy weeds 
of mass marketable mediocrity. More than one writer has pointed out that 
failure to attract audiences to new music is a self-fulfilling prophecy. To 
build an audience for good, intimate jazz, you have to offer it.

Smaller settings work

Despite these obstacles, big theaters have the resources to be strong 
participants in this genre by making programming flexibility a priority 
with their boards and in discussions with local union leaders. McCarter 
Theatre addressed head-on by building a smaller theater that seats only a 
few hundred people and can book its own season of events completely 
separate from the main theater. Access to that smaller space is what gave 
the New Jersey Opera Theater an edge, facilitating its rapid rise to become 
an emerging powerhouse of regional operatic theater.

Just a few weeks ago, the NJOT announced it has received a Certificate of 
Excellence from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, an 
acknowledgement of its ability to both showcase high-quality artistry and 
serve a vital community need. Without access to a small but highly visible 
space, the group would never have gotten off the ground. Would jazz succeed 
equally well, given the opportunity? Hard to say, but attempts are being made.

The State Theater in New Brunswick is scheduling outdoor jazz concerts, 
allowing low-overhead performances of high-quality small ensembles. Other 
theaters choose to opening only part of their facility — placing both 
audience and ensemble on the stage, for instance, or in a large lobby area, 
allowing them to avoid the costs of lighting the entire building.

Still others partner with local businesses and clubs, using the theater's 
marketing muscle to cultivate audiences and a community recognition for 
this type of music in smaller settings where costs can be more easily 
controlled. The possibilities are there to be explored and the need is great.

What's available now

Several readers also wrote to point out places I haven't mentioned where 
listeners can hear or find out more about jazz in our area. There's not 
much, but in light of the difficulties any group faces mounting jazz 
performances in this area, they all do deserve some attention. If you don't 
see these in the cultural listings of your favorite magazine or Web site, 
please contact them and find out why.

The State Theatre in New Brunswick is offering free outdoor jazz 
performances beginning in September. These include the Cindy Blackman 
Quartet on Sept. 6 and the Valery Ponomarev Quartet on Sept. 13. For more 
information, call (732) 246-7469 or go to www.statetheatrenj.org and choose 
"Jazz" from the pulldown menu.

Based in Red Bank, the Jazz Arts Project has just concluded its inaugural 
season of events, including a concert series at Two River Theater and 
participation in the fundraiser "A Taste of Red Bank, A Taste of Jazz." You 
can find out more about this organization and its plans at (732) 939-6507 
or www.jazzartsproject.org.

St. Augustine Episcopal Church, Prospect and Atlantic avenues in Asbury 
Park, offers a jazz mass on the fifth Sunday of any month that has five 
Sundays. The next one will be Oct. 29. Call (732) 774-3069 or visit 

Ocean County College offers a MidWeek Jazz series featuring tributes to 
older styles of swing, big band, Dixieland and ragtime. All concerts are 8 
p.m. Wednesdays. Tickets are $13 in advance, available at (732) 255-0500, 
or $15 at the door. Visit www.njjs.org/ocean.html.

The host of the Web site just cited is the New Jersey Jazz Society, 
offering a newsletter, monthly meetings and other services. Go to www.njjs.org.

E-mail Carlton Wilkinson at cjw at slackave.com.

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99 

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