The future of live jazz. I have no idea whether anyone has conducted an in-depth study of jazz-club attendance and live-jazz revenue trends over the past five years. I suppose it's safe to assume that if the newspaper business and CD industry are drowning, the effort to put warm bodies in seats at clubs concerts and festivals can't be far behind. [Photo of girl transfixed by jazz by Bob Willoughby, 1951]
The deck certainly is stacked against concert producers, club owners and musicians alike. Real estate leases remain prohibitively high, insurance premiums are up, the comforts of home are increasingly seductive, discretionary income is tight, the jazz legend pool is shrinking, and the promotional dollars needed to spread the word never seems to be enough.
And that's the good news. The bigger dragon here is technology. Dramatic shifts occur every time this beast swishes its tail. Have you noticed that virtually everything you can hold in your hands these days is disappearing? Gizmo screens have become so clear and Internet bandwidth so wide that increasing amounts of our culture are being consumed through pixels and digital bites.
Dig this: Music downloads now represent the only slice of the record business that's growing. Amazon's Kindle has rendered books (the kind with spines and dust jackets) almost meaningless. Movie downloads have already begun to overcome DVDs. And once wall-sized computer screens are developed and affordable, it's easy to imagine that we'll be able to download Caribbean and European travel experiences without leaving home.
Back to jazz. You don't have to be a Facebook founder to know that the CD's days are numbered and that live music is under fire. Let's face it, going out to clubs isn't as easy as it used to be. You have to get it together, arrive early to win a favorable seat, pay a fortune for admission, fork over more for small drinks and then travel home early before your chin hits your chest. Personally, I don't know how people went clubbing all week long in the 1940s and 1950s. Didn't they have to get up early for work the next day? Or hadn't jobs been invented yet? [Photo by Dave E. Scherman, 1942, for Life]
It's anyone's guess how many clubs and festivals will exist five or ten years from now or how many musicians will be able to afford to play jazz at a high enough level to leave an impression. Let's assume the number will be less than now. After all, the trend is clear and it's entirely possible that live jazz will go the way of the manual transmission and TV antennas. The challenge for jazz producers, club owners and musicians will be to find a way to make money using the Web to keep live jazz ticking. Newspapers stubbornly ignored the digital trend for years and learned a terrible lesson the hard way.
Paul Slaughter. I've long been a fan of photographer Paul
Slaughter's work. Over the past year, Paul has graciously allowed me to use his photos (with credit, of course) to
illustrate JazzWax posts. Paul has captured a large number of the jazz greats. So I asked if he would select one of his favorite images and tell JazzWax readers a little about how the photo came to be:
"The Saturday afternoon before Sonny's Sunday night concert in Santa Fe in July of 2007, A.B. Spellman, a retired Deputy Chair of National Endowment of the Arts, interviewed Sonny before an audience at the Lensic Theater, an old movie house renovated into a beautiful legit theater. A.B. got the Jazz Master's Program going at NEA, and Sonny had received an NEA Jazz Masters Award in 1983.
"After A.B.'s interview, I gave Sonny a photo I took of him in 1971
at the Monterey Jazz Festival.
"The next day I was hoping for a dressing room photo of Sonny, so I brought him photos of his interview with A.B. Upon arrival at the Lensic, I heard Sonny playing his horn in his dressing room. When there was a lull in Sonny's playing I knocked on his door. He said, "Come in." There was Sonny dressed in a red shirt, blue pants, wearing a process cap and holding his tenor sax. What a terrific image I thought.
"I gave Sonny the photos I had brought with me. He politely thanked me. I asked if I could take his photo with his horn. He replied, "I always think part my soul is being captured when I am photographed." I replied, "No, Sonny, this will merely be a reflection of your soul." He smiled warmly and allowed me to take one photograph. The split-second result is the image you see above."
You can learn more about Paul at his site here. His current exhibition, People of Our Times, featuring celebrities and jazz greats, is at the Verve Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, N.M., until May 2.
Doug Ramsey. Last week, author, jazz critic and Rifftides blogger Doug Ramsey featured two wonderful YouTube clips featuring singer Sue Raney [pictured]. One is of Raney singing Henry Mancini's Dreamsville in 2008. The other is a campy Scopitone from the mid-1960s of Raney singing Before the Rain. Scopitone was an early video jukebox featurng 16mm film loops and soundtracks.
Carol Sloane. After viewing Bret Primack's video interview of me, legendary singer Carol Sloane sent along the following e-mail:
"Of course, I was hooked. I even sent a fan letter written on the diagonal (to be arty and to insure he would be obliged to read it) in purple ink. Well, hell: I was 13 or 14 years old at the time. Never mind: it worked. One night I turned on the program and he was reading my letter on the air!!!
"Fortunately I had the opportunity to tell him many years later how thrilling that moment had been for me, and that I recorded My One And Only Love with him in mind because it was his theme song.
CD discovery of the week. Back in 2006, Swiss trumpeter Peter Scharli and Brazilian vocalist Ithamara Koorax came together in Zurich to record a beautiful album called Obrigado, Dom Um Romao. The result is a tender tribute to Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Romao. ("Obrigado" is Portuguese for "thank you.")
Romao had introduced Scharli to Ithamara, who became so excited by the sound of Scharli's trumpet that she agreed to record and tour Europe with both artists. But before the tour began, Romao died at age 82. So Scharli and Ithamara decided to dedicate the CD to him.
On the album, Scharli [pictured] and Ithamara perform a series of duets, with Ithamara singing in Portuguese on 8 of the 10 tracks. On two tracks (Love for Sale and I Fall in Love Too Easily), Ithamara sings in English. But perhaps the most fascinating songs feature Ithamara singing vocalese in Portuguese. On Vocaliste and Miniature IV, she uses Swingle Single-like tones to match Scharli's trumpet tones, note for note. The result is quite fascinating as the pair come together or joust in counterpoint.
Ithamara's voice throughout is passionate, and her phrasing is soft and caressing. Scharli's trumpet is pinpoint sharp without being too strong or loud. Joining Ithamara [pictured] and Scharli are Markus Stalder on guitar and Thomas Durst on bass. Romao plays berimbao on one track, Manha de Carnaval.
You can sample tracks here, where you'll also find the imported CD.
Oddball album cover of the week. Released in 1959 on Cub Records and arranged by Sammy Lowe, Take Off in Sound was singer Marla Smith's only known recording. It's unclear why Smith is pictured with an American Airlines 707 jet, since the songs are rather land-locked (Speak Low, Boy on the Beach, Wild Fire, etc.). What's even more puzzling is the art direction: Here, Smith is depicted either as a ghost serenading mid-flight passengers. Or she just detached herself from the tail and is singing while trying to fly. Either way, Smith's up at 35,000 feet, surfing the heavens in an evening gown. And even though Smith seems to have only a cloud for support, she had the good fashion sense to extend her left leg for the photographer (who must have broken free from the tail moments before her).