by Katy Bourne
Well, here it is the New Year again. It seems I should have some inspiring personal missive or perhaps a bold, optimistic profundity to share. But the truth is people: I got nothing. Oh sure, I’m plenty excited for the January 20th inauguration. Even though the election was back in November, I still grapple to find the words to express how it feels to be alive during such an unprecedented moment in history. Trust me, it’s big stuff for me….for all of us. However in regards to 2009 overall, I don’t have much commentary, personal, political or otherwise.
But I’m here and you’re here, so I feel like I should come up with something. So, I am going to make a short but heartfelt plea to encourage you to make 2009 the Year of Live Music in our community.
Yes, times are hard, and there’s plenty to be gloomy about, especially on the economic front. This is precisely why, however, that we need live music.
Music is a living, breathing, burning entity. It is bigger than the cosmos but affects us on a cellular level. It is the tried and true magic that lifts us up and energizes us. It is the enduring comfort that reaches down to our most desolate places. It is everything in between.
Throughout all of history with wars and economic downturns, as well as men landing on the moon and people dancing in the streets, music has been there in one fashion or another. No matter what we or our ancestors have been through, we have always had a sound track. Musicians have always been around to shoot us to the heavens, funk us to the low down, swing us into delirium and soothe our wounded hearts. Musicians are the constant of history, and music is the one sure thing.
So I propose that we make this the Year of Live Music. I’m standing on my chair (OK, home alone at my desk….You can’t see me, but still…conjure up an image.) and asking you to commit to going out and supporting live music, whenever or wherever you can.
Drop into shows. Support restaurants and cafes that have live music. Better yet, ask your local noodle shack or pizza joint to start booking bands and musicians.
If you’re a musician, go out and hear your friends play. If you’re driving home from work, drop into your neighborhood coffee shop and throw a buck or two into the hat of the guy playing acoustic guitar. If you’re low on cash, there are plenty of places to catch music for free. If you have some bread, then squirrel a few bucks away to spend on a cover charge or two.
Think of this, for one month of basic cable, you could catch two or three really great live jazz performances. Make music part of your New Year’s resolution effort and reward yourself for putting down that donut with two or three (or five or ten or nineteen) nights a month out listening to music. Take your friends. Invite your mom. Get up your nerve and finally ask that special someone out on a date. Ride your bike. Hop on a bus. Saddle up a donkey. Carpool with your neighbors. Just go out and listen to live music! It’s not just about keeping musicians working, although that’s very important. It’s about keeping our collective selves alive, engaged and energized. It’s about making the place we live hip and wonderful.
Yes, things suck right now, but they don’t have to suck as badly. Live music can make the difference. So how about it? “2009-The Year of Live Music”. C’mon, let’s do it, people! As the Ellington tune so eloquently put it, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”
6 comments to “The Jazz Hang: 2009 – The Year of Live Music”
Twelve_Tones, January 29th, 2009 at 9:53 am:
It’s a nice sentiment except that I’m so blue and bummed about the lack of turnout for my gigs that I hardly give a shit about going to other people’s gigs at this point. I did a gig last week that I worked my butt off to prepare for and the music turned out great but there were 9 people there. I send out gig notices now so that my friends can reply back with reasons they won’t be there. I could also make you a list of all the people who’s gigs I’ve been to but have never ever come to one of mine. I make it point to get out at least once a week to hear music and support music in the smaller venues but I’m tired of it being a one way street. Economy aside, the attitudes coming from audiences, friends, presenters, venues and clients is making it really hard to keep the faith.
SJS, you want discourse…well here ya go.
aajseattle, January 29th, 2009 at 10:18 am:
12 Tones … I hear you and share your feelings. I think it is time to have a conversation about the “Value of Music.” I see venues whose sole business model is presenting music have little value in the musicians who take their stage … and I think that reverberates throughout the scene.
Hey 12 Tones,
I feel your pain. I really do. I know how hard it is to get people out to gigs. I understand how discouraging it is to work your ass off only to have a handful of bodies in the room when you play. I understand how it feels to attend gig after gig of your musical associates but to see few of them at your shows. Trust me, when I tell you that I get it. I also agree with AAJ about how the attitude of club owners reverberates throughout the scene. The pain and blues of the situation are not for one second lost on me.
But I guess for me, it does wind back around to the question that SJS raises, which is what is the value of music? I guess in my mind, it has to start with us, the musicians. If we don’t put a high premium on what we do, then we can’t expect that the restaurant & club owners and audiences necessarily will. Starting from that point, that’s why I think it is incumbent on us to support, nurture, create energy around and elevate our scene. For me, I guess it’s sort of like the old Gandhi saying, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” I go out to listen to other musicians because I want to support them and in doing so, support the greater scene in Seattle. Sure, it would be nice if some of these same people dropped into my shows, but in my view, it’s not an exact reciprocation like that. It’s about valuing live jazz in the place I live and showing up to listen to it. It’s about wanting to live in a city that has a thriving music and art scene and doing my part, albeit small perhaps, to keep that humming.
There are other ways to support the scene than just attending shows. I try to make a contribution through writing. I write about cool venues or about places that are just ramping up with live music. Sometimes I write about musicians and/or other individuals, who are doing something positive to impact our collective situation. The power of the pen is no small thing. Draw attention to the scene. Make some noise. Inform people as to what’s happening. Look for potential gig attendees outside of the usual circles. As nuts as it sounds, some of the social networking sites are great for this. Send a blast now and then, not only about your gig but maybe about a friend’s gig as well. There are still other ways to get people out. I recently played to a packed room at a club that, in the past, I’ve had difficulty drawing in. Prior to the gig, I talked up the gig to fellow parents at my son’s school. I explained to them that times were tough all around and that the clubs needed to see bigger crowds in order to continue. I was simply honest with them. And they came out. The room was pretty full. It wasn’t necessarily the crowd I would have automatically tapped to come out, but it was a full room all the same. There are countless other ways to help give the scene a boost. Volunteering for one of the local jazz festivals is one way. God knows, they need the help. Take tickets at the door. Work at the CD table. Finally, I think it is also helpful to have open dialogue with the club owners, who are booking live music. Sometimes, their hearts really are in the right spot, but they’re clueless. Other times, they need to be challenged. Kick around ideas with them. Talk to them. Sometimes, they have fiscal considerations that we need to try and understand. Maybe if we’re willing to listen and engage with them, they will be more open to us. Of course, some club owners are assholes. That’s true anywhere. But perhaps if we try to work in partnership with the people who run the clubs, then we can collectively get somewhere.
There’s no magical spell or immediate elixir for the state of live jazz today. I know how bleak it is out there. One peek at the daily headlines certainly confirms that. I do feel the pain and I’m as bummed out as anyone. But I think it starts with us. We determine the value of music. For whatever it’s worth, I’m here and I’m going to keep showing up. I value live music. I want to live in a community with a vibrant music scene. The economic picture is indeed dark, but we’ve lost enough already. Now more than ever, our collective spirit needs live music. I don’t know the solution. I’m not sure there’s any one solution. But I do know that we just have to keep trying, to keep banging away at it, to keep rallying the troops and to not take one note of live music for granted. If we musicians give up, well…… then what?
GREAT conversation. Thanks AAJ & Katy for raising the question.
I agree with the sentiment that it starts with us. But I also believe that it can’t end with us. Sure, I love supporting my fellow musicians and hope that they will support me too. But in the end, if we’re only playing for eachother, then what are we doing? AAJ does bring up the important question – what is the value of live music? But notice it doesn’t say “to us” at the end. That’s irrelevant. What matters is what value the general public puts on it. And we need to figure out the answer, and if it’s not what we were hoping to hear, figure out what to do about that. The fact that Katy got a bunch of people who are probably not jazz devotees into a jazz club is a huge success, and we should all take note. We need to expand our thinking about who are audience is and where to find them. Everyone is a potential audience member, if we can only figure out how to motivate them. Clearly Katy figured out a a way.
And back to supporting our fellow musicians. A local musician once told me a story that really hit home. I won’t tell the whole story, only the punch line. And that is that we should ask ourselves the question “what can I do to help others”, not “what can others do to help me”. If we put ourselves in the mindset of service, without any kind of thought of reciprocation, we’ll find that it comes back to us more than it ever would if we expected it. I have put this into practice and seen it work first-hand.
Let’s keep the dialog going!
Twelve_Tones, January 29th, 2009 at 9:43 pm:
I agree about being of service, volunteering, writing articles and reviews, being supportive, teaching and being a student, and being an active participant in the local scene as both a player and audience member. Anyone who knows me can attest to my belief in that. On most days, that is my mind set and it’s also the reason I still play/listen to/think about music every day after over 30 years.
This is not about money either. In the course of a year I can make from -$100 to +$500 on a gig. I’m not naive but when I do quantify music with a monetary figure, the perspective immediately gets screwed. I like to get paid but I don’t do it for the money.
As for the value that the general public puts on music…well, I’m completely perplexed. For some people it’s a spiritual soundtrack for their lives. For others, it is an annoying source of aural wallpaper. Sometimes it’s neither or both, often at the same time. Often it’s just an obligation to show up because you promised to be there!
For me, both as an audience member and as a performer, live music is a sense of community, psychology, history, spirituality, involvement, meditation, discipline…
Not sure what the point of all of this is. It has just been feeling hard to muster the enthusiasm lately, especially when faced with indifference, being overlooked or taken for granted, insulted or whatever other things make it more tempting to stay home, both as a performer and as an audience member.
There should be no argument as to how essential it is to support our fellow musicians. If the local musicians won’t support our scene, then we’re out of luck. But I would also like to believe that the onus should not be entirely on us to keep it healthy.
I’m not saying I’m giving up–just feeling a little demoralized after nobody showed up to my gig. The folks who went really seemed to dig it, though.
“For me, both as an audience member and as a performer, live music is a sense of community, psychology, history, spirituality, involvement, meditation, discipline…”
Yes! And this is exactly what we need to impress upon the people who don’t feel this yet. It’s more about being together and experiencing life and love and joy and pain than about any genre or musical choices. Art is about humanity, and it’s humanity that has been lacking in our culture. If we bring back the humanity, the arts will once again take their rightful place as a purveyor of culture and connection.