[JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do Radio

Jae Sinnett jaejazz at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 17 11:55:10 EST 2009

Jeff, I guess if you think I'm talking about a "jazz lecture" then you've missed my point. To the contrary. I've been doing this a long time too and I"m considerably a better programmer than what you think I'm suggesting. That's another disadvantage someone would have in bringing this subject up...that there will be those that think I'm talking about going on the air and ranting about what it is they're listening to. You're not hearing what I'm saying. Here it is in my detail...From my perspective there are two fundamental problems with jazz....

1.Many don't understand it (main problem) and 2. How to get people to believe it's something worth checking out. From my perspective the problem is a musical one as I've said before. For example, consider that jazz is the only music that is swung(we do have jazz "hybirds" that are played with straighter eighth note variations but contain a high level of musicianship)...this means that any music people are confronted with other that jazz they will have a straight eighth note concept to pop their fingers to. American music was structured on rhythm so we can't underestimate the significance of this. Knowing that there are few places to hear jazz... once many do for the first time it sounds strange to them. The first two musical "abnormalities" are the rhythm and the fact that it's usually instrumental. Then you have the improvisation and most of the music...if not ALL of what they listen to doesn't have improvisation.  

Lets look at some history...Many of the major record companies dropped their jazz divisions. Most of the "jazz festivals" don't have much jazz. Jazz record sales are basically a flat line and most musicians...at least those not able to tour...are going into debt recording their CD's because they can't sell them. Heck, even the ones touring don't sell as much as they use to and it's going to get worse. If folks are "getting" this music would any of this be happening? Most of the jazz names people are familiar with are gone which adds to the downward spiral. The dead continue to out sell the living. Jeez. More and more "jazz" formats are disappearing or cutting back. How often have we seen those notifications here on the JPL? Go into any high school and talk about jazz. See the response. They don't hear it in the world they live in. Why should they? It's not written about in the publications they read. It's not in movies they watch or on the TV shows they
 usually tune in for so there is no reason to for them to want to investigate it...as I said in my second reason. Trust me this situation with jazz is not just with younger folks. 

Now lets look at a couple of the main "remedies" many have suggested over the years...1. Varied programming. Well if we play so and so it would bring more into jazz. Nope, Hasn't happened...at least at a noticeable level. Usually those being suggested have little to do with jazz anyway...MMD...Bad Plus...etc...but when you go down that road in public radio you can also say goodbye to your meaningful fundraising dollars. One example of an exception is Garaj Mahal. The difference is these guys groove and the music "feels" good and the CD works well in a "jazz" format. Not frantic and confused sounding like this latest Bad Plus nonsense. Most young colleges formats play this stuff and they barely have any money. Most are volunteers so how is this helping jazz? They obviously aren't breaking the bank by playing them and if they are helping anyone it's the groups they play...not jazz. 

Then you have some folks working in jazz that really don't understand it. Whoa! Oh yea. Presenters, writers, etc. I can go on with this but for another time. 

Number 2: We can do the spoon feeding route. The radio research guideline method of programming. You know, the standard flare or something that sounds like that...med tempos...minimal improvisation...fairly short in length...little or no big band...no Latin jazz....lots of vocals...TINY repetitive playlists...yada, yada, yada. Now is this method helping jazz or helping to keep the station afloat? In my view it does little to help jazz. It might sell lets say a few hundred more records in the bigger picture...of those artists playing jazz that way but in general it's not helping the music. In fact it's hurting it because now most artists playing and recording jazz...outside of vocalists...aren't playing the music that way. It's helping the station stay afloat by keeping everything safe but the music goes nowhere. I like how some say that's smart programming. No it isn't. I'm an example of someone not programming that way and I'm having tremendous success
 so it can be done. My playlists are light years more expansive than what the "research" says it should be.

The bottom line here is if we don't figure out a way to get folks to believe jazz is something worth their time and help them to understand it we'll continue to see more disappearing formats. That's a fact so whatever remedies that have been brought up in the past...they aren't working. My point is that we need to bump heads to figure out how we can change this for the better. Jazz is thriving in it's creativity folks but most of the artists recording jazz can't get in front of an audience consistently to perform their music. It's a ridiculous struggle for them and now for jazz radio. I've shared some of my examples...like with food. I connected jazz to food on my Sunday show and it's increased my audience two fold and my dollar's to staggering amounts on Sunday afternoons. Many of these folks weren't listening to jazz before until I made them believe it was something cool to check out and have on when you're eating good food. They get it now and this is
 what we have to do. This is what we have to do and can do as programmers. It's just finding a way and it can be done. At this point it can only help in my view. 

Jae Sinnett        

--- On Sat, 1/17/09, Jeff Turton <jturton at comcast.net> wrote:

> From: Jeff Turton <jturton at comcast.net>
> Subject: Re: [JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do Radio
> To: jazzproglist at jazzweek.com
> Date: Saturday, January 17, 2009, 9:53 AM
> Sponsored by: JazzWeek Summit 2009
>              http://summit.jazzweek.com/
> -----
> Jae,
> While I agree that there needs to be some aspect of
> programming that informs the newer listener I disagree that
> it necessarily needs to be part of ones day to day
> presentation. One of the biggest complaints I've had
> over the years from listeners, newbies and otherwise is that
> they are not turning on their radios for a Jazz lecture.
> They want to turn on their radio to listen and enjoy what
> they hear, So I think the challenge then becomes providing
> music that they can be entertained by and to some small
> extent be challenged by while they are entertained. When I
> first began learning and programming in the 70's there
> was a guy on the radio in Boston, Steve Elman. Steve did a
> normal show during the week, playing the music but on Sunday
> nights the show became a learning experience. He would pick
> an artist or a concept and over the 4 hours expand on that
> in a way that you could learn more about what you were
> listening to. I've always liked that idea and I think
> would love that kind of show to be more interactive with
> Live musicians, but I don't think you can do that
> throught the normal listening week. Eric Jackson also does a
> similar thing with his Monday night specials and that is
> exactly what it is, a special. It happens once a week and
> that's part of the motivation for tuning in. Most of us
> do shows once a week or maybe a couple of times a week and I
> think it's impratical for us to assume a listener wants
> this kind of programming day in and day out. There's no
> way on Sunday morning when I'm on the air my listeners
> give a damn about being educated, they want to be
> entertained while they get their day started. Personally I
> like the idea of producing podcasts for listeners. Given
> that most stations stream and post podcasts, it would be
> very easy to produce the kind of show you have described
> with Live musicians and explanations of how the music is
> played and how different players approach their music and
> post those on the website for easy access any time. Then
> those who want to learn can do that and then apply that
> knowledge to the music they hear day to day on the station.
> I work with a group in Boston called JazzBoston and this is
> currently what we are working on, how to bring more people
> to the music and change their perceptions that Jazz is
> difficult and unapproachable. So this is an ongoing
> discussion. One of the biggest problems we've found is
> the intimidation factor most new listeners face, which is
> obviously where this discussion started but it's more
> than an intimidation factor related to hearing music on the
> radio, what we've found is that it's a Jazz cultural
> issue. This is from a letter recently received from someone
> who is actually produces Swing events around town and was
> queried as a relative new listener how to change
> people's perceptions of Jazz:
> >> To reiterate the point I was trying to make the
> other day at lunch:
> >> 
> >> 1)      You mention “changing people’s
> perception of Jazz”.  I wonder what exactly that
> perception is (could be many different as well).  In order
> to change a perception, identifying it is of course key.
> >> 2)      That said—using myself as a potential
> example--a perception I have, as a jazz novice and having
> only witnessed a few shows, is that it appears to be sort of
> a “stuffy, contrived scene”.  As I said, the Jazz
> experts at a show seem to be completely entranced in the
> subtleties of the music, and while I’m sure they are, it
> seems very gratuitous to me.  Note that I’m not asking
> anyone to defend that since it’s just an observation, not
> a judgment.  Rather, the point is as a novice, I don’t
> find myself enjoying the music at that level, and I thus
> somehow feel like I’m, perhaps, “a jazz idiot who’s
> not getting it” and thus sense that I don’t belong
> there.  Hence, there is a bridge that needs to be crossed.
> >> 
> >> More than anything, people come to things where
> they feel they belong, know people, and are comfortable. 
> It’s about building community.
> >> 
> >> Lastly, from my experience in these matters,
> it’s important to realize that the perceptions are of the
> people you are trying to reach are their realities, even if
> their perceptions are totally misguided.
> After 30 years or programming I don't find these
> feelings unique among new listeners. So it's a huge task
> to overcome and it's more than just how we program
> radio. I think the bottom line is that we need to make
> people feel welcome and feel as though they can enjoy
> themselves. Getting overly academic is not always the best
> way to do this. I really like the podcast approach that
> allows people to access the information on their own terms
> Jeff Turton
> WFNX Jazz Brunch
> >> 
> > 
> > -----
> > 
> > You are right Bobby and that's certainly one
> approach. I think...to my disadvantage in talking about
> these sort of things about radio is that most simply view me
> as a musician instead of a programmer. So consequently when
> I talk about radio the presumption could be that I'm
> approaching it from the musicians perspective. In my example
> from the previous note that would be true. However, the core
> of this issue has little to do with that.
> > 
> > I think every programmer on this list with a few years
> under their belt..as you and I have as a jazz host and
> programmer...can tap into the my thinking with this and give
> the listeners something more to latch on to in terms of
> comprehending what they're hearing. The history is cool
> and helpful but truthfully it misses the point of the
> problem...which is a musical one from my perspective.
> Everywhere I go as a performer there are always questions
> about the musical applications of the music. People are
> practically begging to "get it" but many
> don't. That's the problem with jazz and too often
> those of us in it consciously assume because we get it
> everyone else should or does. I rarely get asked questions
> about the history unless someone wants to ask my view on a
> particular artist or recording. That's usually the
> extent of wanting to know the history but the thing they are
> most interested in is how the music works. Many are afraid
> to ask with fear of sounding
> > ignorant but that's what they want to know.
> > 
> > I think we're missing a great opportunity here to
> help folks with this and you don't have to be a musician
> necessarily to help them. There are "points' and
> such that many pocess in radio that can help the listeners
> but the focus and intentions have to be different. If we
> don't do something and start talking about this
> we're going to see fewer and fewer hours of jazz being
> broadcast. Then that will hurt live jazz. It's the
> domino affect really. I see it working here and I know it
> can else were but few seem to be interested in talking about
> it.
> > 
> > Jae Sinnett
> > 
> > 
> > --- On Fri, 1/16/09, Jackson, Bobby
> <Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org> wrote:
> > 
> >> From: Jackson, Bobby
> <Bobby.Jackson at ideastream.org>
> >> Subject: RE: [JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do
> Radio
> >> To: jazzproglist at jazzweek.com
> >> Date: Friday, January 16, 2009, 4:45 PM
> >> Sponsored by: JazzWeek Summit 2009
> >>              http://summit.jazzweek.com/
> >> 
> >> -----
> >> 
> >> Aloha Jae and fellow JPL'ers,
> >> 
> >> To quote Duke Ellington in his book, "Music
> Is My
> >> Mistress" and it's one
> >> of my favorite quotes about jazz....
> >> 
> >> "To not know the history of this music, is to
> miss
> >> much of its charm."
> >> 
> >> It is a beautiful and telling quote!  That being
> said, I
> >> believe you
> >> don't have to be a musician, to share what you
> know
> >> about this music to
> >> get people appreciate and get closer to the music.
>  You can
> >> get "behind"
> >> the music and share stories that you know about
> the songs,
> >> the people;
> >> the times it was created in to get people to
> listen in a
> >> different way.
> >> For example....
> >> 
> >> During the 60's we all know about the bombing
> of that
> >> church in
> >> Birmingham, AL that claimed the lives of 4 little
> girls.  I
> >> could play
> >> "Alabama" by John Coltrane and not give
> that
> >> particular background.
> >> I've heard hosts back announce the players and
> the year
> >> it came out.
> >> How boring and insider is that approach!!  It
> would sound
> >> like a dirge
> >> because of its somber tone and the uninitiated
> would
> >> probably tune it
> >> out.  OR, I could talk about that incident and
> lead it up
> >> to the John
> >> Coltrane song "Alabama" and the set up
> would give
> >> listeners a chance to
> >> listen with an intent based on the history of why
> it was
> >> written in the
> >> first place.  I might even tell them how the song
> makes me
> >> feel.  Now
> >> that's getting personal, showing a little
> vulnerability
> >> and above all,
> >> being human!  This kind of set up gives listeners
> a chance
> >> to use their
> >> own aural imagery creating that tragic moment. 
> This kind
> >> of set up has
> >> the potential to move from their heads to their
> hearts.
> >> The context the
> >> song is presented in makes all the difference in
> the world
> >> to how you
> >> will listen to it.
> >> 
> >> I had a conversation with my Mom just last night
> about Sam
> >> Cooke's "A
> >> Change Is Gonna Come."  She knew the song
> because it
> >> was popular but she
> >> didn't connect it to what was happening at the
> time it
> >> was created.  I
> >> gave her the background of Bob Dylan's
> >> "Blowin' In The Wind and his
> >> connection to Woody Guthrie through Alan Lomax and
> all of
> >> these
> >> connections through the Civil Rights struggle. 
> Now she
> >> listens with a
> >> different intensity to all of this music.
> >> 
> >> As programmer's we should always look for ways
> to
> >> connect the music back
> >> through our culture.  Like Charlie Parker once
> said,
> >> "If you don't live
> >> it, it won't come out of your horn." 
> Music truly
> >> is a reflection of the
> >> times it's created in.  As programmer's
> there is a
> >> need to be more
> >> intimate with the music that we serve our
> audiences.  Not
> >> only will we
> >> grow our audiences we will grow ourselves.
> >> 
> >> Keep A Light In The Window,
> >> 
> >> Bobby Jackson
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com
> >> [mailto:jazzproglist-bounces at jazzweek.com] On
> Behalf Of Jae
> >> Sinnett
> >> Sent: Friday, January 16, 2009 3:36 PM
> >> To: jazzproglist at jazzweek.com
> >> Subject: [JPL] Time To Re-Think How We Do Radio
> >> 
> >> Sponsored by: JazzWeek Summit 2009
> >>              http://summit.jazzweek.com/
> >> 
> >> -----
> >> 
> >> I've been thinking about this for a while now
> and what
> >> brought it to a
> >> head with me was a show I did this past Monday
> evening. My
> >> bigger point
> >> will be made later in this note.
> >> 
> >> I had a few "local" musicians on the
> show with me
> >> and we performed. One
> >> section of the performance was educational in that
> I was
> >> able to explain
> >> to our listeners...to a degree...and
> demonstrate...how jazz
> >> works. I
> >> asked the guys what questions do listeners of
> their music
> >> ask the most.
> >> "How does the rest of the band know when to
> come back
> >> in after the drum
> >> breaks?" " How do you know what to play
> for your
> >> solo?" "I get lost when
> >> the solos start so how do I learn to follow
> along?"
> >> "It just sounds
> >> muddled to me so how can I learn to hear the music
> more
> >> clearly?" "I
> >> have a heard time with the rhythm of jazz...can
> you help me
> >> to
> >> understand?" These are just a few of many but
> what it
> >> clearly shows is
> >> that many that listen to jazz...don't really
> understand
> >> it. Now think
> >> about those that don't listen...they don't
> because
> >> I would bet they
> >> simply don't understand the music and most
> that
> >> don't understand don't
> >> have much positive to say about it and won't
> give it a
> >> shot.
> >> 
> >> The response to that section of the show was
> amazing.
> >> Ninety percent of
> >> the responses where about that portion of the
> show. What
> >> this tells me
> >> is that clearly many...probably the majority of
> our
> >> listeners... don't
> >> know much about what they are hearing and
> two...they want
> >> to learn. It's
> >> simple to me, for jazz to find a bigger and more
> supportive
> >> audience we
> >> must find a way to get them to understand what it
> is they
> >> are hearing
> >> with the music and making them believe it is
> something
> >> worth listening
> >> to.
> >> 
> >> Most programmers for years simply play the music
> and tell
> >> the listeners
> >> who it was they've heard and give out bits of
> >> historical shorts
> >> occasionally. This is the way most have been
> taught. The
> >> reality is this
> >> method of programming is not helping us build an
> audience.
> >> It's going
> >> nowhere fast. I'm just one that is sticking my
> neck out
> >> here and saying
> >> it.
> >> 
> >> We've all heard that we're not on air to
> >> "teach" the listeners. I've
> >> always disagreed with that assessment. I've
> always felt
> >> the mission of
> >> public radio was education first. To inform and
> most
> >> importantly and
> >> ironically, every bit of research I've
> conducted for
> >> our jazz
> >> programming continues to tell me that what the
> folks
> >> appreciate about my
> >> show the most is what they learn. It's not
> what or who
> >> I play that gets
> >> the most interest...it's what they learn. So
> why do we
> >> keep saying we
> >> shouldn't be teaching on air?
> >> 
> >> When I say "re-think" I'm referring
> to coming
> >> up with concepts that do
> >> teach listeners about the music without
> sacrificing the
> >> musical
> >> presentation but more enhancing it. We need more
> ideas here
> >> and unless
> >> we do more and more formats will disappear and our
> audience
> >> will not
> >> grow in my view. Methods so far in keeping an
> audience like
> >> simplifying
> >> the music works to a degree in helping to maintain
> a strong
> >> audience
> >> base but it also treats the music like a relic and
> >> doesn't help any
> >> artist doing material other than the familiar or
> something
> >> that sounds
> >> like such.
> >> 
> >> I belive we can make this situation better. If
> anyone else
> >> feels the
> >> same way and would like to develop or start and
> objective
> >> dialog about
> >> this my hat is in.
> >> 
> >> Jae Sinnett
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> 
> >> --
> >> 
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> >> 
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> > 
> > 
> > 
> > --
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