Where we're celebrating like it's 1959.
—It's The Economy, Stupid: In gearing up for the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival here in Washington, D.C., I came across this headline from a preview in the Washington Times (the city's second daily, after the Post). It really is a blessing that this metropolitan area can support both a smooth jazz and a "mainstream" jazz festival at the same time in this age; interestingly, the article chalks it up in large part to the high concentration of relatively wealthy people in the area, including African Americans. (And at least for the Duke Ellington Fest, it must also help a little to be in D.C., where the planners probably rub shoulders with those in charge of dispensing government money — the NEA is a Silver Level sponsor.)
It may also be that both festivals
don't rely on gigantic private sponsors[Well, I suppose Nationwide Insurance, which is backing the Capital Jazz Fest, is somewhat large, but it's no Chrysler. —Ed.] The ambition of Festival Network may have killed many summer jazz events, but the company also lost the backing of main sponsor JVC, and George Wein hasn't picked it up for his own Newport event either. (Related: Howard Mandel points out that this probably had a trickle-down effect on the rumored demise of JazzTimes too.) And while a scan of newspapers still reveals a smattering of jazz festivals just this weekend throughout the country (Red Bank, N.J.; Telluride, Colo.; Madison, Wis.; Belleville, Ill.), Toledo, Ohio's Art Tatum Heritage Jazz Festival has been cancelled after losing corporate money. Its main sponsor was Chrysler, and we all know how well the U.S. automotive industry is doing these days.
But make sure you read that whole article: the Toledo Jazz Society is still putting on "jazz parties," billing 24 acts in one upcoming June weekend. Perhaps that's a testament to the power of jazz enthusiasts finding a way to produce meaningful events in smaller scenes (cough, Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsman's Guild) even when the bread dries up — is this rare cause for optimism about our friend, jazz music?
—Ronnie Scott's At 50: The London jazz club, modeled after the great New York jazz rooms of its day, celebrates 50 years of business this year. To put that in perspective, Ronnie Scott's was founded around the time of Kind of Blue and Giant Steps. The venue has played host to talents as diverse as Art Blakey and Sun Ra, says British groove music impresario Gilles Peterson, and it remains, in the words of managing director Simon Cooke, "a bloody good jazz club." Anyone out there ever made the journey and want to report back?
—Miles Davis On MySpace: One wonders if a musician of his stature and occasional public reticence would have bothered to create a MySpace page were he still alive. But it hasn't stopped someone (Sony?) from creating a profile for the great trumpeter. It serves largely as a promotional tool for reissues (wait, advertising another edition of Kind of Blue ... no way!) and isn't the easiest thing in the world to navigate (which was always MySpace's fault in the first place). But it's actually pretty cool: you can stream a great many of his albums as a leader and compilations online — the count was 171 when I played around with it, including duplicates. (The New York Times has the full scoop, to put it in music industry perspective. Billie Holiday is now online too.) Lingering distaste for overt capitalism aside, is it not awesome that this small handful of seminal documents of jazz is easier to access than ever?
—Jazz Ambassadors In Algeria: The day before Barack Obama addressed a Cairo crowd with his "new beginning" speech, this interesting little article about soft diplomacy came through the newswires. The idea of sending jazz musicians as cultural ambassadors is over 50 years old now, but still quite popular around the world, ostensibly. I wouldn't imagine a small town in today's Algeria would embrace a semi-obscure Minneapolis bluesman quite like they would have for Dizzy Gillespie in 1956 — seeing the many varieties of pop that are currently our primary musical exports — but it would appear there's still a hankering for this stuff. Thankfully, the U.S. keeps sending out musicians too. And if any of this piques your interest, keep your eyes peeled: we're soon to be working with NPR's wonderful The Picture Show on a fun multimedia feature on this subject.
—Musicians: How Much Do You Make Per Gig?: Peter Hum is asking, trying to determine what a respectable gig pays these days. I wish him luck; from my impressions, that's not really ever been a public discussion — not that it shouldn't be. I would help you, Peter, but I've made a grand total of $75 in my life as a professional pianist, all accounted for by two different gigs during high school. (Dave Hartsman, if you're out there, trust me that my ill-fated attempt to solo over the bridge of "Oleo" remains far more traumatic for me than it was for you.)