What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker

(continued)

Shoemaker: Besides doing good, needed work, the organizations Willard cites also share another characteristic: They have all been around for decades. The times during which they incorporated, went through the process of receiving tax-exempt status (which allows donations to be deducted from the donors’ income taxes, be they individuals or for-profit companies and corporations), and endured their growing pains were by no measure idyllic; but, they faced lower hurdles than today’s start-ups. It now costs several thousand dollars in attorney’s fess to shepherd a fledgling non-profit through the IRS gauntlet. A decision on the 501(C) (3) tax-exempt status now takes up to two years, and the IRS now has an entrenched bias against arts organizations, so the chances of getting approval are much lower. Additionally, the IRS now audits non-profits more aggressively than ever. They yanked the status from the Baltimore Jazz Alliance because they produced and sold benefit CDs of their events and – horrors of horrors – paid the musicians, which, in the IRS’ view, reduced this community-based organization to the status of agents. So, even if a fledgling organization has the wherewithal to initiate the tax status process – which, it must be reiterated, is the whole ballgame when it comes to receiving support from public agencies and private sources – it’s not automatic that the organization can survive long enough even to get the status, let alone keep it long enough to get to the front of the funding queue.

By then, the venue this fledgling organization hoped to use may or may not be there. By now, readers know about the demise of Tonic due to the gentrification of the Lower East Side. This trend is not limited to venues presenting non-mainstream music, either. Zanzibar, an upscale mainstream venue in Philadelphia, has also recently closed down. A similar story that is unfolding this spring is the probable closing of the Smithsonian Jazz Café, the weekend alter-ego of the Museum of Natural History’s cafeteria. Despite funding from multiple Smithsonian offices, income flows from XM satellite radio, and a healthy paying audience, the Jazz Café, which is operated by the Smithsonian division that’s allegedly in the business of making money for the Institution, has a projected operations deficit this year of upwards towards 100,000USD. Despite the contextual differences between the two venues, there’s a common aspect in these two stories: These tents fold up quick. So, you have organizations that must book a year out or more for funding purposes, and you have grassroots situations that come together as little as 90 days out, with a venue squeeze in the middle. Sure, there are a few new venues like Firehouse 12 in Connecticut that are doing impressive work, but let’s check back in three years, because the obstacles for both emerging non-profits and venues aren’t going away – if anything, they’ll get worse if consumers quit driving the US economy as they do, currently.

So, new modalities of funding artists are indicated, and DIYers have part of the answer. And it’s not like DIYers don’t have institutional cred – such activities were undoubtedly part of the reason why musicians like Ken Vandermark and John Zorn received MacArthur Fellowships. I think it’s a matter of combining the respective and I would say complementary strengths of established non-profits and DIYers.

Jenkins: Joe’s suggestion of establishing a Travel Fund to go directly to artists is an excellent prospect, but I must caution you that if such a utopian fund were to be established the DIY artists would be subject to the same level of post-funding reporting scrutiny and paperwork that presenters in the not-for-profit realm are nauseatingly familiar with; and I’m not so sure artists wish to engage in that kind of documentation. But on the surface that strikes me as an excellent idea, particularly given the fact that travel costs are the biggest impediment to presenters desiring to present artists who do not live within reasonable distances from their venue(s) – mainly NYC-based. This country is so huge that travel is a daunting prospect on a figurative shoestring budget and stands in the way of many a potential creative booking/presentation. Let’s say Joe has a project he’s collaborating on with an artist(s) based in the west, and let’s say Tom Guralnick at Outpost Productions in Albuquerque is interested in presenting that project. The biggest hurdle is traveling the artists and bringing them together in Albuquerque, not exactly an airline hub city, but a quite viable creative music presenting opportunity. Travel stands in the way of a lot of creativity.

My suggestion to Joe and other artists, particularly those of the DIY mindset, is to make real efforts at meeting, forming collegial relationships with, and collaborating with not-for-profit presenting organizations. Keep them abreast of your ideas and interests. I know that in my work in that realm I most often work with those artists who are in touch in a collegial manner – as opposed to the usual pushy, give me a gig attitude – artists who keep me informed about their activities and nurture relationships. It may not happen overnight, but nurturing these relationships can pay off in opportunities. I’ll give you an example: Last year I served on a composer grants panel for Chamber Music America. One of my fellow panelists was the woodwind player-composer Marty Ehrlich. Marty, whose work I’ve always admired, and I struck up several conversations during panel meeting breaks and talked about our respective work. I’d never had what I considered the right forum for presenting Marty; at least I had supposed I didn’t, until those conversations. I appreciated Marty’s manner and his thinking, which aligned nicely with what I already knew about his artistry. The upshot of those conversations was that we subsequently engaged Marty and his quartet (Jerome Harris, James Weidman, Pheeroan ak Laff) for a residency at the just-completed 2007 (28th annual) Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, which I curate.

Besides giving clinics and workshops and otherwise providing educational services to the many high school students who come to our festival, we presented a very successful evening of Marty’s original music at Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a venue tailor-made for our more original music presentations. So that’s what I mean by the need for artists to do more than flood presenters with mail and telephone calls; strike real relationships, get to know the philosophies and needs of presenting organizations, better understand why they do the things they do and make the choices they make, establish real Artist & Presenter collegial relationships. I even have a direct referral for Joe, since he’s at NEC in Boston: get to know Arnie Malina at the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, VT; and while you’re at it ask him about the brilliant project he curated years ago (among other of his creative ideas) involving the late Don Pullen and Native American tribes (remember that record?).

Speaking also of collaborative possibilities, my friend and colleague Larry Simpson is right on the money when he suggests that jazz artists need to break out of that insular mindset and forge collaborations across disciplines. Multi-discipline presenting is of increasing interest in the not-for-profit presenting world (and Larry is on their cutting edge, having recently served as board chairman of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters organization, so he speaks with great authority about that world). And getting to know how things operate in other arts disciplines will be a real eye/ear opener for many DIY musicians; I’ve had substantive conversations with dancer-choreographers – to site one discipline – who have been quite puzzled by the expectations and demands, much less the moans & groans, of jazz and creative music artists. Compared to their respective plight, musicians often lead plum lives – even those who consider themselves scuffling. But returning for a moment to Joe’s expressed concerns about the lack of direct funding to individual artists, sorry Joe but that’s like seeking the return of $.89 a gallon gasoline – its just not going to happen in today’s world in this country and conservative atmosphere, sad to say. So a partial answer is collaboration, whether that’s cooperative efforts amongst musicians or cross/multi-discipline collaborations.

Regarding Bill’s comments about particularly the Baltimore Jazz Alliance’s plight, as far as their policy of paying musicians, WE ALL PAY MUSICIANS, and at rates commensurate with the marketplace, let me assure you of that. I suspect there are other, perhaps subterfuge matters you are not privy to, that would/could explain why their status was “yanked” as you characterized it. Just speculation but perhaps it had to do with such reporting requirements as proper audits, etc. However let me assure you they weren’t “yanked” purely because they paid musicians; that’s integral to doing business in the not-for-profit realm. As for the Smithsonian Jazz Café, being a frequent patron there (going there this very evening to catch Nasar Abadey & Supernova), they are unfortunately beset by voodoo economics (mis)calculated by the bean counters at the ominously named Smithsonian Business Ventures office. I doubt seriously if they derive any REAL income in the form of cash from their XM Satellite Radio affiliation; such media affiliations are purely trade-offs with no cash changing hands. That Smithsonian Jazz Café matter is not a done deal… Stay tuned… robust community support for that very successful jazz policy may yet stave off the bean counters. If you’ve ever been there on a Friday evening and witnessed that lively scene and packed houses, you KNOW there’s some fishy institutional bookkeeping going on! And let’s not forget the scandalous behavior at the Smithsonian – particularly regarding their now-disgraced and removed CEO – that’s been recently uncovered by the Washington Post and others. Stay tuned…

A question for Joe Morris and perhaps Lewis as well: What’s your take on a creative music presenting entity such as the DC-based Transparent Productions? They’ve presented Joe and Lewis on separate occasions, along with a raft of exceptional creators. For those not familiar, Transparent Productions is a co-op that was started and largely spearheaded by a couple of longtime radio programmers at WPFW in Washington, Bobby Hill (recently named WPFW program director) and Larry Appelbaum (yes, the same Library of Congress engineer who “uncovered” the lost Monk/Coltrane tapes), and their policy (which will be detailed in the next issue of my online quarterly The Independent Ear) is quite simple: the band takes all the proceeds… completely… PERIOD. And they’ve presented a raft of excellent improvisers, including a significant number of AACM and edgy Euro artists. What’s the sense among our panelists of such an entity?

Morris: Willard, with all due respect, I’ve been doing this since 1975. Do you really think I need to be coached on how to connect with the tiny group of presenters who cover the kind of music I play in the US? Does anyone really think it’s worthwhile to travel 2000 miles to play one gig every 32 years? Remember I am one of the fortunate few among thousands of musicians. I get gigs here and in Europe and I have work teaching. What about the rest? Is this exchange going to be the tales of a few successful artist/presenter relationships? I could tell my own. Like everyone else (including Marty) we all make contact and nurture relationships with the people who present us. The problem is not that or that we are helpless or lazy or clueless. The problem is not that nice people who are presenters aren’t doing their best. One problem is that there are too many musicians and not enough venues with the money to pay us. The other problem is that more money goes to Classical Music. These problems won’t be fixed if I adjust my method of contact, or accept the harsh realities of the present economy. They will be fixed by more money being put to better use. Period

Transparent Productions – Bobby, Thomas (Stanley), Larry – are wonderful people and friends. They do their best with no funding! None. Their concerts are door gigs. They hustle and fill the room so the gigs pay pretty well. They have a track record as DIYers. Why hasn’t someone reached out to them and given them some money? They are like the vast majority of presenters who are not in New Mexico where the Outpost has little competition for funds for new music. In most cities there is heavy competition for these funds. In Metro D.C. Transparent has to compete with huge organizations that gobble up the funds to cover their overhead and have no interest in supporting the type of edgy artists Transparent presents.

I was the curator of the very first series at Firehouse 12 in New Haven CT two years ago. It is the most beautiful and professional privately owned venue in America. Nick Lloyd, the owner runs it as a business. He’s a DIYer. The place has a separate bar and a recording studio. Nick presents about 15-20 concerts a year. He pays real fees. He is unusual in many ways but especially in that he seems to be prepared to protect his business and do what is right for the musicians who play there. I’ve heard that the good folks here at Jazz Haven were offering to help Nick get some State funds. However, Connecticut just slashed its arts funding budget, so we’ll have to see what happens with that. Firehouse 12 is unique in the whole country. Thanks to Nick I could take a break from presenting concerts in the Public Libraries in Downtown New Haven and in Branford CT. I actually got some Meet the Composer money for the Branford series. After paying all the musicians with the short money I received I couldn’t pay myself for my performance or for the months of work I put into it. The library lost money too. I did it again though in New Haven with some fees and space rent for the space coming from Jazz Haven. In Boston where I lived before I moved back home I presented concerts starting in 1977 on and off until 2001 when I left, always out of pocket. You see I have a track record as a presenter too.

Asking us to “stay tuned” is nothing new. Some of the greatest musicians this country has ever produced waited until the very end. I’m sorry Willard, I know you mean well, but the examples you give really only serve to illustrate how pathetic the situation really is. Keep telling me it isn’t going to happen and I’ll keep demanding that it happens. Next question please.

Barnes: Joe hit the nail on the head.

Simpson: As I see Willard and Joe go back and forth I am reminded of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1973 composition, “Winter in America” where he says, “frozen progress, frozen ideas, frozen aspirations and inspirations.” In many ways, the winter in America today is colder and bitterer than in 1973. It is not an either/or question regarding artists becoming more not-for-profit savvy or there needing to be more viable places for jazz musicians to perform and get paid decent wages. The answer is both things need to happen simultaneously. In the current climate, the more successful artists will be those that have the skills to navigate the not-for-profit presenting world, so taking advantage of those connections is important. And we should continue to support those few brave entrepreneurs and coops that put a stake in the ground for jazz and art. Both tracks must be pursued simultaneously. Until there is a thaw in this American cultural winter, we have few options. In the meantime, artists need to continue creating uncompromising art and we on the presenting and producing side need to continue finding ways to expose these artists and their work to broader audiences. It is not easy, but what other choices do we have at this time?

Shoemaker: To a considerable degree, our choices going forward will be determined by jazz education programs. For better or worse, jazz is now largely taught in the classroom. What are jazz education programs doing right, and where can they improve?

Morris: I teach at New England Conservatory (and at Longy School of Music which offers a Graduate only Program). The program at NEC offers students just about everything they would need to know to play any existing version of jazz. My end is mainly about the technique of playing “free Jazz” in all of its manifestations. My students play compositions by Ornette, Ayler, Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Braxton, Dolphy, Sun Ra and learn all of the technical and aesthetic specifics therein. That part is covered. The rest of the jazz method and repertory is taught the same way by other faculty. There is a very healthy balance and respect for the full view of the music and a lot of cross-over at NEC. I might be one of the “free” guys there but my students also play a lot of music by composers who are not associated with “free” per se. The reverse is true as well.

NEC also has a Contemporary Improvisation Department, which covers just about all of the things the jazz department might not offer, such as ethnic music, folk forms, conceptual things. It was the Third Stream department run by Ran Blake since the 70’s. Allan Chase is the chair there now. Anthony Coleman joined the faculty this past year. NEC is pretty healthy and the students are open, able and creative. The only big problem is that the student body is not diverse enough. We need to improve that and soon. Otherwise I think we do a very good job of covering all of the music, presenting it with the emphasis on technique and encouraging our students to find their own voice in the process.

In much of Jazz education there is too much emphasis on interpreting what is considered “the tradition.” Too often, the academic version of that is exclusive or even narrow-minded. On the other side there is a trend now to have students learn to improvise by giving them only conceptual ideas and no history or technical information. Not enough either way as far as I’m concerned.

Jazz programs do it right when they offer ALL of the music, teach it with exact technical explanations specific to the concept the composer created, respect the value of the aesthetics implied in the work they teach, and respect the rights of their students to use what they learn however they want to.

The things that can’t be taught in music school are the drive, passion and imagination you need to be a creative musician. People can learn to have those things, but I don’t think they can be taught except by example, and you don’t need a school to learn by example. You can get that by hanging out, listening to records, reading about the lives of musicians, touching a loved one, or looking up at the sky.

Jenkins: Let me first say that my previous posts were not necessarily directed specifically at Joe Morris where that artist/presenter equation is concerned (of course you know what time it is Joe!). Whatever I say in this dialogue is not specifically directed towards one or another of my fellow panelists, but more in a holistic sense in full consideration that this online 'zine is read by legions of people. So we're not dialoguing in a vacuum here.

Where jazz education is concerned I'd like to re-direct the questions and issues to a couple neglected places. There are any number of highly proficient jazz education programs for aspiring musicians, ala both NEC and their Boston neighbor Berklee, in several parts of the globe. And these include some which, as Joe characterizes, endeavor to teach a well-rounded sense of the totality of the so-called jazz tradition. However I think far too few are properly equipping their students with a real cutting edge sense of the business of music in the 21st century world. Even in 2007 I still encounter quite skilled musicians who haven't a clue about good business sense and managing (or properly overseeing the management of) their career.

However, perhaps the biggest shortcoming is in the failure of jazz education to reach the non-music students, the lay persons, with a real sense of jazz, how to listen to jazz, a cursory knowledge of breaking down the styles and forms of jazz, informing about important artists across stylistic boundaries, etc. We need to do a far better job of growing the jazz audience, increasing the numbers of consumers of jazz music. Our jazz education side is doing a credible job for the most part of educating aspiring artists save for those glaring disparities Joe Morris rightly points out; there are more than enough qualified artists and records. But those artists and records need audience, they need jazz consumers.

Sounds simplistic in 2007 but still true, I teach a course titled Jazz Imagines Africa for Kent State University (alma mater). I'm beyond being surprised at the professed total jazz naiveté of my students and their subsequent enthusiasm almost across the board once they've been exposed to the relatively few grains a one semester course can offer (stylistically well beyond bebop in this instance). We've gotta do more to educate non-music students about jazz to grow our audience. There needs to be an audience to hear the music Joe and Lewis -- and beyond -- are making.

Simpson: Jazz education programs are doing a number of things right. For starters, they are teaching jazz and that in and of itself is positive. And the music is being taught in places remote and far away from city life, the accustomed setting for experiencing the music. Technology has helped immeasurably in spreading the teaching of jazz through videos, DVDs, Internet transmission, in addition to the more traditional modes of in-classroom teaching. The music is being taught on the college level as well as in primary and secondary schools.

The lament one hears most often regarding the academic teaching of jazz is with the quality of the experience. “All of the kids sound alike,” the refrain goes. In many respects that is true and frankly, I am less bothered by a thousand kids sounding like John Coltrane than only 3 sounding like Trane or worse, having no sound at all. Through recordings, You Tube, My Space, available transcriptions, young people far and wide are exposed to the best the music has to offer and large numbers of them are indeed exposed to it. My lament is with the lack of instruction available to young people in our large urban areas where so much of the live presentation of the music takes place. There are valiant programs that attempt to redress this problem, but they are far and few between and lack the funding to have a significant impact in the various districts.

Speaking of jazz education, Berklee College of Music was founded on jazz and the music of the African cultural Diaspora. It is the world’s largest contemporary music college with approximately 4,000 students. Even though the college focuses on contemporary music in its broadest context, jazz remains critical to the identity of Berklee. We consciously seek to hire the best jazz performers and educators in the world for our faculty. The list is impressive and a perusal of the website will confirm what I am saying. Berklee, through its formal relationships with 15 international partner educational institutions, and its national audition program seeks to identify the best jazz players. Through its private lesson, ensemble and performing opportunities, students are provided the space to explore their own creative impulses.

The music business; however, is brutal and in serious transition. CD sales have plummeted more than 20% in the past year. As a result, I am not surprised that Music Business/Management is the largest major at Berklee with nearly 700 majors. These students are not naïve and understand that having a solid understanding of music business is essential to success. We endeavor to expose them to industry leaders and mavericks so that they get the information before it appears in the New York Times or other industry publications. An effective internship program is also key to student success in the business.

But what about the music you may ask? We hope to create an environment where those with talent and ambition are able to realize their potential. Terri Lyne Carrington, for example, takes students each semester to the Blue Note and Iridium to perform, in order to expose them to the joys and vagaries of performing in such venues. You never know who will be in the audience. We send student bands around the world in order to give them experience and expose them to other cultures.

What is wrong with these programs? I point the finger not at those programs that attempt to carry the jazz torch to the next generation of jazz musicians. I heartily applaud them. I am more dismayed by the lack of a national embrace of the arts. If there were a greater appreciation for the performing, visual, literary and media arts, then jazz would certainly benefit with its unique and stylish absorption of all things American and worldly.

Barnes: There are many fine aspects to the Jazz education programs out there. The main aspects to these programs that I would like to see enhanced are, in no particular order, more of an emphasis on achieving your own sound as a goal, a better understanding of music as a business, and the inclusion of a wider variety jazz styles in these programs.

The inclusion of jazz, and the arts in general, must be brought back to our educational institutions at the grade school levels. Jazz as a music cannot reach its full potential if it is not watered at the roots, in this case the grade school levels.

> back to contents