Archive for August, 2009

RIP Chris Connor (1927-2009)

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I’m in Heaven Tonight on Top 50 Jazz Weekly Radio Chart – Roots Music Report

Monday, August 24th, 2009

For the week of August 20, 2009 I’m in Heaven Tonight was #25 on the Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Jazz Weekly Radio Chart.  Apparently last week the CD was #14!!

http://www.rootsmusicreport.com/index.php?page=charts&name=jazz

Interview in Barnard Magazine

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I am so honored to be featured as “The Salon Music” interview in the recent issue of Barnard Magazine.  Here is a link to the interview:

http://www.sarahdeleo.com/media/SarahDeLeoBarnard.pdf

Karen quoted a comment I made about watching Melissa Sue Anderson singing “Witchcraft” on The Love Boat.  I couldn’t make up something this ridiculous, and thanks to the endless supply of random stuff online, I was able to find the clip.  Watching it now, it’s hard to see what I liked about.  I suppose I just love standards so much, that I would find something redeemable about it:

 

Can Jazz Be Saved? – Comments on Wall Street Journal article by Terry Teachout

Sunday, August 16th, 2009
Last weekend while looking for a movie review, I came across this
article in the Wall Street Journal by Terry Teachout.  Those of you who
have been kind enough to read this blog know that the business side of
music is a topic I think about and comment on from time to time.  The
challenges to expanding the audience for jazz and standards are both
specific to the genre, but also reflect of the state of the music
business in general and the changing role of music in our culture.  For
the sake of brevity I will just address the issues Teachout mentions in
his article.  Although that’s a joke because I have so much to say on
this topic, it’s impossible for me to be brief!!  Also, when I talk
about “jazz”, I’m talking about both instrumental and vocal jazz, and I
also include traditional pop/standards in my thinking as well.

As
someone who started singing standards and listening to jazz in the
1980s when it had yet to become re-emerge as a fashionable trend, I am
very aware of the challenges this genre faces, because I have been
living it my whole life.  Most people born in 1956-57 going forward are
not familiar with standards or jazz.  (I use these dates, because these
are the years during which Elvis Presley started appearing on national
television.)  When I started in the 1980s, this group consisted of
people aged 30 and under.  Two decades on this group is now aged 50 and
under.  Given this observation, data demonstrating that the jazz
audience is aging, and increasingly similar to the generational
demographics of other fine arts audiences, is not in the least bit
surprising. 

As
much as I am happy to see an article about this topic in a major
publication, I have some issues with this article.  Teachout seems to
accept the idea of jazz as “fine art,” whereas I have very mixed
feelings about it.  Unfortunately in this country we do not place much
emphasis on cultural history, so thinking of jazz as a “fine art”
benefits the music somewhat.  It establishes the idea that the music is
worthy of respect, study, and a certain stature.  Institutionalizing
jazz through the types of organizations found in classical music -
concert halls (Jazz at Lincoln Center, comes to mind here) and
conservatories – builds the genre’s legitimacy and gives it a physical
presence.  “Fine art” suggests a certain level of seriousness, and I
believe that it is only natural for those within this genre to want to
be taken seriously. 

On
the flip side the idea of jazz as a “fine art” only compounds the
notorious insularity of both jazz musicians and jazz audiences.  This
trend of course gathered steam in the 1960s among jazz musicians
rejecting the showmanship of an earlier era, represented by artists
such as Cab Calloway.  Nowadays I am no longer shocked, but I am
disappointed, when I read interviews of jazz artists who openly disdain
today’s popular culture.  It’s just not the way to make new friends.  I
understand what it is like to be passionate about something of which
most of your peers and the society at large are ignorant.  I know that
musicians by and large are anti-social nerds who love to practice,
because I am one of them.  However, I think that insularity, as a
defense mechanism, is really counter-productive.

I
disagree with Teachout’s acceptance of jazz musicians as artists in a
sophisticated art form, but not entertainers.  Ultimately, audiences
want to be entertained, and that’s no different whether its a rock
concert or a jazz concert or a classical music concert.  I accept the
fact that I am both an entertainer and an artist, and consider the
entertainment part of what I do to be like audience outreach.  I don’t
think that considering oneself an entertainer devalues the music.  On
the contrary I think that being an entertainer involves the audience
more and makes them more interested in the music.  I suppose that I am
lucky, because my work is very accessible.  What I do has a broad
appeal, yet I don’t feel like I am compromising my creativity.  In my
opinion though thinking of yourself as an artist alone, regardless of the kind of music you make, will only limit
your audience, not expand it. 

Returning
to the topic of the music itself, I get the impression that when
Teachout talks about “jazz” he is referring to the more traditional,
straight-ahead forms of jazz and maybe some of the stuff considered
more avant-garde.  Based on my experience, I just don’t think that this
segment of the genre will turn the uninitiated/previously uninterested
into regular audience members.  Teachout justly acknowledges that the
kids who were more interested in “California Girls” and “The Tracks of
My Tears” than “A Love Supreme” in 1965, still probably have the same
musical preferences.  Coincidentally, the New York Times published an article
during this past week referencing a Pew Research Center study which
found that, “Every age group from 16 through 64 listens to rock ‘n’
roll more than any other format.”  As I have previously written, “It’s
just unreasonable to expect someone who grew up listening to rock or
r&b or hip-hop or world music to readily take to bebop or retro
standards.” 

 
Based on my experience as a both a singer and a listener/audience
member, I am convinced that more younger people would be interested in
the hybrid forms of jazz played by musicians today – neo-soul jazz,
jazz ambient, jazz folk – which incorporate the kinds of music which have
been mainstream during our lifetimes.  Hopefully some of the people
introduced to jazz/standards through these sub-genres will then develop
interest in the more traditional, and possibly more avant-garde, forms
of the genre.   Repertoire is also critical in attracting younger
audiences, who don’t know “Our Love is Here to Stay” or “Stella by
Starlight,” but definitely know “Hound Dog” and ”Love Me Do.”  I think
that if younger people were aware that musicians sang and played songs
that they know, and not just the standards that they don’t know, it
would attract more people.  Hopefully, while listening to the songs
that they do know, they will hear and become familiar with the
previously unfamiliar standards.   
 
Another critical element I have cited in the past is the need for
more younger people “to be involved on the business side in every
capacity–booking managers and club owners, radio DJs and program
managers, editors and reviewers, event organizers, personal managers,
publicists, etc.”  Based on my experience, many people on the business
side are men, and an occasional woman, aged 50 to 70+.  Needless to
say, what is cool to a 70-year-old man is usually not cool to a
35-year-old man or woman.  For jazz to reach a younger audience, the
emissaries on the business side must reflect the demographics of the
younger audience.  Maybe this is the wrong assumption, but I think that
younger business people would instinctively know what would appeal
to audiences of their own age.  That said, there are older people on
the business side who are genuinely interested in the work of younger
artists.  However, in my experience the generation gap is very keenly
felt on the business side. 
 

A few months back I was doing an interview and I commented to the
interviewer that I am more enthusiastic about my own future than the
future of the genre in general, because I understand the generational
reality and I am creating work that reflects my own musical background and
experience.  I agree
with Teachout that jazz will probably never attain the popularity that
it did during the Big Band Era, however I don’t believe that precludes
the possibility that the audience could be larger than it is today. 
I am genuinely of the opinion that younger audiences would be more
interested in jazz, if they were familiar with the sub-genres, which reference the music of their own
time.  Teachout writes about musicians ”pitching” the music to new
audiences, but I don’t think that any verbal or written pitch could
suffice.  The music itself is what does the talking.  The road ahead as
Teachout notes is daunting, but there are also many dedicated
independent artists around committed to making generationally relevant
music, who will one way or another
keep this music alive.

“Sometimes I’m Happy” on KAJX Jazztime – Podcast Available

Monday, August 3rd, 2009
“Sometimes I’m Happy” was included on the June 25th broadcast of
Jazztime on KAJZ (91.5 FM – Aspen, CO).  Thanks again to Don Voltmer
for the spin!!  He split this program, titled Jazz Milestones Part 5,
into two parts.  The first half featured music from the late 50s into
the early 70s by some of my favorite vocalists and
instrumentalists – Anita O’Day, Joe Williams, Ben Webster.  The second
half featured contemporary recordings.  “Sometimes I’m Happy” starts at
about 143:15 in this broadcast, but I hope you will take the
opportunity to listen to the entire broadcast: