I swear, I love bass solos! (When they're good.)
—Looking Sharp: The importance of being well-dressed on stage is occasionally taken up as a Cause Worth Advocating by jazz artists and fans. Saxophonist Greg Osby, who is occasionally blogging now for Indaba Music, is the most recent advocate of proper grooming: his latest entry takes sloppy artists to task for contributing "to the devaluation of the music in terms of visual presentation and a steadily increasing lack of respect for an art form whose very participants sometimes don't appear to have much respect for anything other than subjecting their audiences to 10 chorus length solos and songs that last 30 minutes each — AND looking like derelicts while doing it!" Damn, Sam.
Osby also links to trumpeter Sean Jones' discussion thread on the subject on Facebook. Willard Jenkins pointed me to all this — he's also written about wardrobe and stage presence in similar terms. You may recall that earlier this year, Ramsey Lewis wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal mentioning this same thing too. All seem to agree that investing some stock into appearances leads to better audience reception.
There is certainly something to this.
Two shows I've seen recently featured performers who took the stage in athletic shorts or Adidas warm-up pants, as if coming directly from the gym. They were casual performances, sure. But for someone who doesn't see a relative lot of jazz shows — someone for whom any jazz concert is representative of an entire genre — I can see how that would be a turnoff. You pays your money, you wants a real show, not a staged rehearsal.
However, I might also point out how a guy like Darcy James Argue conducts most of his gigs in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers — and has built up buzz that is reaching new audiences — in some part because his attitude is that jazz doesn't have to be performed by squares in suits. And of course, it depends on the venue and type of gig: three-piece suits might seem a bit out of place for dive bars. So I think all this talk about looking sharp is really talk about having stage presence and communicating with your audience. Rock stars invest effort into their casual chic, but they still come out on stage in flannel and sneakers and reach people with their music. Perhaps it's less about the clothes and more about how you wear them.
One more thing: of the four discussions I've linked to, all the musicians or advocates are African American, and they tend to skew older. There was a time not terribly long ago when men wore suits everywhere — I mean, watch Mad Men — and when jazz musicians still had to implicitly argue for their craft as a Serious Art Music. Fashions have changed, as have public opinions of jazz — if anything, young people today are scared of jazz because it appears to be a Serious Art Music. What hasn't changed in America, via Greg Osby: "let me just offer this to any of you who happen NOT to be a Black man who is always followed and eyed suspiciously whenever he decides to peruse the items in any retail establishment..if this was a constant part of your life that went back as far as you could remember, then you would understand why it is imperative to appear in public at all times as if you mean business." Could it be that there's a double standard on the bandstand too — that there's more implicit pressure for a black jazz musician to appear presentable on stage than there is for a white jazz musician?
—The Struggles Of Fresh Sound: Peter Hum wrote yesterday on the business difficulties of Fresh Sound, a family of record labels. The company is run out of Spain by Jordi Pujol, who says he's having trouble staying afloat in the new economy for recorded music. And it does make me sad that a label which consistently puts out music by interesting artists — especially its New Talent series, which focuses on up-and-coming musicians — may not make it. But I am in no way surprised by this. In a world where nobody buys any records, and where it's easier than ever to self-release music or even start your own label, more artists are choosing to keep the copyrights to their music and avoid paying back advances, and avoiding buying back their own product at a discount rate. And with the right independent publicity agents, you can generate buzz these days without record label PR infrastructure — which Fresh Sound doesn't have anyway. Don't get me wrong: I admire the catalog that Pujol has put out. But "new talent" these days has so many more appealing options by which to put out recordings.
—Shake Them Haters Off: Wanna get angry about people writing bizarrely stupid things about jazz in widely-circulated newspapers? This book review was written by someone who won the Pulitzer Prize. She hates jazz, but "perversely, [loves] the idea of jazz." I got nothing against people who don't listen to jazz, but I do have problems with people who propagate misleading stereotypes and other nonsense about that which they clearly misapprehend.
—Pencil Drawings Of Classic Jazz Album Covers: A lot of them. No further description needed.