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THE "JAZZ ANTI-CHRIST"
WALKS AMONG US
Editorial Statement by J.O. Spaak, Web Co-Editor
Who is the "Jazz Anti-Christ"? From whence did it arise, and what does it
seek? Can this Evil One be turned back? The "Jazz Anti-Christ" is merely the
collective name I choose to apply to various individuals involved directly and
peripherally in jazz programming on public radio stations, who seek to render
jazz music "palatable" to a certain Demographically Desirable
Listener/Consumer (hereafter simply designated DDLC). They are consultants who offer their
services to radio, and station managements who are signing on to the notion that wild,
scary jazz must be domesticated, toned down, edited for length--in a word: eviscerated--in
order to attract, or at least not frighten
away, these DDLCs.
This is being done in the name of increasing revenue flow to the radio
station. This Listener/Consumer is deemed Desirable because s/he is perceived
as having a high income, some of which can perhaps be pryed loose and
contributed to the coffers of public radio--PROVIDED the poor dears aren't
startled by a vigorous drum solo, taxed to the breaking point of attention
span (as they cruise in their Porsches and "Beamers", cell phones glued to
ears) by a music selection exceeding five minutes, or offended by politically
conscious lyrics (out the window go "Original Fables of Faubus" [doubly
offensive, because it runs 11 minutes!], Gil Scott-Heron, Oscar Brown, Jr.,
etc.). [Perhaps "Strange Fruit" can stay, because everybody seems to love Lady
Day?] As I understand it, these consultants will provide a list of
"acceptable" selections, their "ideal" sequence in a program,
for selections deemed appealing but "too long" or ending in an offensive drum
solo ("Fade at 4 minute 22 second mark"), and so on. "But," they
reassure us, "at least it's not 'Smooth Jazz'." Really? I think the line
they're drawing is dangerously thin on that count.
We are all aware of the fact that government funding to public radio has been
slashed annually for some time now, and is slated to disappear altogether, to
mollify extreme right-wing elements in the U.S. Congress. While pitching to
the listening public is done more and more frequently (or does it just seem
that way?), corporate America [hmm...is there even a need these days to apply
that first word; shouldn't it be understood that America IS the corporations?]
has been tapped into as a stopgap source of funding to keep these stations on
the air. In exchange for this financial support, the corporations get to bring
to the listener's ear "underwriting announcements" that sound increasingly
like...of all things!...commercials. And THAT is why the DDLC must not be
frightened into turning the tuning knob elsewhere: They simply MUST be exposed to
corporate coaxing to patronize the sponsors'...oops, I mean
underwriters'...products and services.
And so, you see, this is why we find panel discussions that were scheduled
for the International Association of Jazz Educators conference (January 2000)
bearing titles and descriptions such as (sponsored by National Public Radio):
Effective On-Air Imaging and Promotion ("This panel looks at how public radio
stations with a jazz/news format can effectively attract the much sought-after
NPR news listener...") and What Music Will Attract Listeners and
Dollars--Developing a Larger Core ("...will discuss the evolving science of
format and research issues and how that translates into financial support from
existing membership and potential radio patrons.") Let's break the code. In
the preceding quotes, for "much sought-after NPR news listener", substitute
DDLC. For "evolving science of format and research issues", substitute: the
evisceration of music so as to render it inoffensive, not overly
stimulating...perhaps as bland as oleomargarine? [Note: Your author did not
attend IAJE 2000. Any readers of this editorial who did and sat in on any of
these NPR sessions are encouraged to submit your impressions and opinions of what
actually transpired there.]
Think of the pantheon of modern jazz, and some of their greatest works. It's
not difficult to figure out that the great bulk of this material is going to
fail to make it through one or more of the "filters" constructed by these
self-proclaimed "scientific" programming geniuses. Perhaps Charlie Parker is
mostly OK; his early recordings sound quaint, technologically, these days, and
had to be short enough for 78rpm discs--but no extended jams from the LP era! Think of the
output of Charles Mingus, of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Nina Simone's
or Abbey Lincoln's socially conscious numbers, Max Roach, ad infinitum. (And, gosh, that
Art Blakey fella banged those drums just too darned loudly to make the grade!) Think of
John Coltrane. What of Trane's output will be considered "acceptable"? The
ballads project with Johnny Hartman, perhaps edited for length? You say you "weren't
expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition"? It should be clear that the Index of
Proscribed Works maintained by THIS church--The Church of Maximizing Donations from
DDLCs--will be far, far more voluminous than the list of "acceptable" material.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that personally, I would play a 30 minute cut from
Coltrane Live In Japan maybe once in five years, on average. But the very idea that a
station management might adopt a policy that would, in essence, permanently ban such
material from the airwaves is repugnant...indeed, it is simply unacceptable. Oh, and did I
mention Pharoah Sanders' magnificent "The Creator Has A Master Plan"?!? I guess,
at 34 minutes, some DDLCs could have a problem with it. If Coltrane is taken to symbolize
Freedom of Expression, then these "scientists" with adding machines for hearts
represent Suppression of Expression, of human emotion. We should perhaps call them, for
brevity's sake, simply..."The Anti-Trane".
Fortunately, I program jazz at a radio station that grants complete freedom
to the show host in selecting what artists and material s/he airs. Listener
financial support keeps us on the air; we don't subscribe to the $600
thousand-a-year "All Things Considered", etc., so our budget is more modest
than that of NPR stations. I am not aware of any plans to adopt this new
"science" of programming jazz by either of the NPR stations in my geographical
listening range which feature significant amounts of jazz in their schedules.
But the very fact that this "movement" is afoot in the land is alarming, not
to mention aggravating. At NPR stations, show hosts are employees, and station management
is the boss. Bosses have this funny tendency to be looking at "the bottom line"
and seeking ways to grow it. Let us speak in hypothetical terms. IF I was a jazz
programmer at a radio station whose management was
contemplating adopting this policy of "palatable jazz only", I would put up
whatever resistance I could...if I may be so bold as to assume management even sought the
employees' input on such a decision. If I was a LISTENER to such a station, I would raise
"holy Hell" with management, and withdraw whatever financial support I had
personally been giving such a station if they went through with putting this
thrice-accursed policy into actual practice. Any
visitor reading this editorial who is presently on the front lines of such a
struggle is strongly encouraged to share your experiences with us.
Noncommercial radio, the last and only bastion of real jazz on the airwaves,
must not be allowed to fall into the hands of "The Anti-Trane"!!!
THOUGHTS ON FURTHER CONSOLIDATION
IN THE RECORDED MUSIC INDUSTRY
|by J.O. Spaak
In January, rumors circulated on Wall Street that BMG,
the German media
conglomerate which owns the RCA catalog, was interested in purchasing the
music operations of Sony Corporation, no less. Rumors on Wall Street, unlike
the idle chatter around other offices' watercoolers, are often founded on
fact. However, as of this writing (late February), this talk has been
officially pooh-poohed, and no such move seems to be underway (it's not likely
BMG could put up enough cash/stock to make Sony purr like a kitten). If such a merger were
to transpire, though, AND Time/Warner's acquisition of EMI (which includes the Blue Note
operations) came to pass, and then America On Line was to swallow Time/Warner as planned
(this deal, announced with great fanfare, is looking shaky in the current stock market
climate)...guess what? The world would then be down to only THREE major music operations:
BMG, Universal Group (via Seagram, they now own Polygram Jazz/Verve as well as Impulse!
Records), and...AOL! Even if the BMG/Sony deal never happens, it's likely we'll soon be
looking at only four major label operations. When these consolidations happen, the first
result is that X% of the employees are shown the Exit door to make for more efficient
office operations. Wall Street normally cheers enthusiastically as these folks make their
way to the Unemployment Office.
The new behemoths will also tighten their control over distribution channels
and space in retail outlets. Obviously, this will make an already exceedingly
difficult situation for independent jazz labels (hereafter, simply "indies")
more difficult still. Even now, indies are announcing reductions in their
activities (number of scheduled new releases for the year)...the next step is
obvious: extinction. Can this be good for jazz? I think not. It portends of a
future where there are but two options for a jazz artist seeking to record:
You either manage to slip into one of the limited slots for new artists at the
majors (good luck), or you press a limited number of discs and sell them on
your gigs. Having a reasonably secure "day job" has never been more advisable
It is all too easy to imagine a meeting of the AOL board of directors in the
not too distant future. Corporate Chieftain: "Now, explain to us again, Mr.
Blue Note Executive, the profitability level of the classic catalog sales
versus these young artists you're trying to break in..." Blue Note Exec:
"Well, sir, to be perfectly frank about it, we're damned lucky to break even
on the new kids, whereas the Lee Morgan, Bud Powell, Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, etc., etc.,
etc. catalogs just keep consistently selling, with no additional outlay on our part."
AOL Chieftain: "Hmm...very interesting. Thank you, Mr. Blue Note Executive. This has
been most enlightening. I don't think we require your presence here any longer--and I
don't mean just here in the boardroom. Security will meet you at your office in one hour.
See that your desk is cleaned out by then. Oh, and--Have A Nice Day!"
Can anything be done to halt these Juggernauts? Here in the Age of Unfettered
Capitalism, so-called regulatory bodies tend to wink and look the other way as
already huge near-monopolies bulk up some more. And with jazz enthusiasts
constituting such a tiny percentage of the general population, we can't look
to government for help in seeking diversity in the music business, that's for
sure! I do have one proposal to make, however, for radio programmers who still have
freedom to choose what they send over the airwaves. Won't you please, PLEASE give as much
exposure as possible to indie jazz recordings?!?! Not to boast too much personally, I'll
just offer as an example...myself. I recently analyzed my playlists from my radio shows
back in November, before I started giving extra thought to this issue, and found that more
than 2/3 of the new releases I was airing were on indie labels. There is much great music
to be found on these labels, but no one's going to purchase them at retail, and give them
a chance for survival, if the jazz public isn't exposed to the product. Enough said?
(posted 21 March 00)
|BIG LABELS, SMALL LABELS, AND GOOD RADIO
PROGRAMMING contributed by Laurie Gypson, host of "The
Classic Jazz Brunch" on WHCN-FM, Hartford, CT
|Hi! Congratulations on getting the new website up and running. I visited
yesterday for the first time, and wrote this long treatise on life and radio
and jazz. Of course, the #*$%& computer lost the entire thing, so the
following comments are but a poor abridged version of what I had intended to
Re mega-merger corporate labels: I don't know about WWUH, but at WHCN, most of the CD's I
receive are from the smaller labels, such as SteepleChase and Criss Cross, rather than the
big guys. Consequently, the CD's which receive the most air-play and on-air
promotion are these products from the little folks, not the big corporations. To the
extent that airplay helps gain a release some recognition and sales, the smaller labels
are going to benefit
much more than the mega companies, at least on my show.
Re programming restrictions: The trend you describe sounds alarming, and I
certainly deplore any efforts to homogenize and dilute jazz. On the other
hand, I think good programming sense goes a long way, regardless of whether
the show is on public, college, or commercial radio. Radio is still a medium
for the masses, however small the masses might be. In other words, doing a
radio show is not the same as playing CD's at home on your audio system.
With the incredible power which radio represents comes an equally great
responsibility to the listeners. There is always the temptation to
unintentionally abuse that power and become too self-indulgent. I, too, have
complete freedom to program my show as I choose, but I am always mindful of
my listeners. How are most people listening to the radio? Are they sitting
in a quiet room, in rapt attention, for several hours? That would be nice,
but it is not realistic. Most people have the radio on while they are doing
something else: getting dressed, driving to work, making dinner, washing the
dishes, paying the bills. That's life. Given this context, it might not make
sense to play a 35-minute track, even if it's great music. Should you spend
an hour or two playing pieces featuring intense drum solos? You could, but
would your listeners appreciate it? Some would, but many of them would tire
of it well before you did. I think most jazz listeners are willing to try
something they haven't heard before, and may not even particularly like, but
only for a track or two. After that, you start to lose them. Of course this
is not good from a sales/sponsorship point of view, but more importantly, it
represents a failure in communications (and this is what radio is all
about). It might be a better idea to vary the mix a little. I certainly
don't mean you should "dumb down" the music you play, but rather, use some
common sense. I think we all share this responsibility to the listeners,
whenever we're on the air.
Well, again, thanks for providing this forum. Take care, Laurie(Gypson),
(posted 23 May 00)
|WHERE'S THE GIG??? contributed by Cheryl
K, WMUA-FM, Amherst, MA
Where's the gig?
For thousands of our listeners, we as jazz (or whatever term suits you)
broadcasters are the source for "gig" information. Some may clip out a
listing from their favorite read and stick it on their refrigerator as a
reminder, or hear about a performance from an acquaintance. We have the
opportunity to give them an aural prelude to what might be the most
enlightening experience of their lives. No print advertisement can do for
the music what we can do collectively.
To me, spinning the disc is one-third of the deal. The other two-thirds
are enticing my audience into purchasing something by the artists (CD, sheet music,etc.)
and taking in a performance, clapping madly after each solo (I personally prefer clapping
at the end of a piece so as to sop up the whole
stew). Seeing a live performance takes care of one's obligations to
financially support a presenting venue, become an involved member of the jazz (again,
whatever term is acceptable) community, and contribute to the economical and emotional
well-being of the artists (nobody likes playing to an empty house).
Don't ever underestimate your audience. Just when you believe all have
tuned you out at the end of their coffee break, an ear lifts itself from
its blotter, fixates on your voice (and yours alone) and the content of your
message and jots it down; plans are then made between friends to go check this scene
out... The best laid plans are made in the ether. Like I said, don't
underestimate your audience.
I remember one colleague who said to me: " Oh, no one really listens to
those calendar listings. They're a waste of time." Well, guess what?
is now "wasting his time"... reading calendar listings! Why? I don't
To this broadcaster, there is value in sharing information with friends.
Length of a calendar listing? Over the past five years at WMUA 91.1 FM
(Amherst, MA), I've whittled it down to ten minutes and under. The pace I've set
feels good-- I'm not winded by the end, and I haven't bored myself into a deep sleep.
Read to your audience what is accessible to them. Not many are going to
travel that evening over two time zones to hear a performance that you just read about
that day. Read what is relevant to your audience. Give them what they need to know.
Offer your station's listener line number so that they may call with questions.
Remember, brevity is a virtue.
Never let it be said that whining and badgering don't pay off. Local
musicians are finally sending in their gig schedules to WMUA! I applaud
those who have realized the value of free publicity. If
difficulty gathering schedules from artists who say that they've no time,
lay down one fact to them: no one is gonna come to hear them play if they
don't know where they're playing! Don't ever feel that you've
because you missed reading so-and-so's gig. It is impossible to get it all
in. This is the disclaimer I say at the end of my concert calendar:
"As you know, kids, my list is never, never all-inclusive. You need to
check your local read, get out there and support live music in, out, and
about the Pioneer Valley."
Reading a concert schedule, I believe, is another service we extend to our
listeners. As it has been said: It's about the music.
[Editor's Comment: But still, there will be those who say that ten minutes is way
too long for such a program segment, especially in "drive time". Would anyone
care to present a passionate argument on behalf of that school of thought?
--J.O. Spaak, Web Co-editor]
(posted 06 June 00)
| MY DECLARATION OF (SEMI-)INDEPENDENCE
FROM THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
by J.O. Spaak, Web Co-editor
|04 July 2000
Today is a special day. Hell, I think I'll designate it a
Holiday! For the past 11 years, I have been serving as Jazz Department Coordinator
(sometimes called "Jazz Director"--kind of like being a general with no troops
to order around) at two college-based noncommercial radio stations here in Connecticut. At
my present post--WWUH-FM, at The University of Hartford--I have devoted my airtime
virtually 100% to playing New Releases. This year, The Industry pushed me to the breaking
point! Instead of the traditional lull following New Year's, the floodgates burst open and
we were swamped with more "product" than ever. There's just no way to try to do
justice to all these recordings in a three-hour airshift. So, I started thinking...if I
can't please everyone, why should I go out of my way trying to please anyone?
Therefore, from this day forward, my on-air mission is simply to present the best jazz
show I can. I will still devote nearly half the show to New Releases, for two
straightforward reasons (thus my reference in the headline to semi-independence):
1.) I recognize the legitimate game of "tit-for-tat" whereby record companies
send us their products free with the understanding that we will expose the music
to the listening public; 2.) I feel a genuine obligation to the individuals creating this
music to help them gain public awareness of their existence. Even those musicians who
aren't getting "squat" in royalties from the labels they're on can still benefit
from the exposure--if their careers flourish, they'll be in stronger positions to
negotiate future deals. Even before this "official declaration", I tended to
give more than 2/3 of New Release airtime to artists on independent labels, and
that will continue to be my policy.
The handful of jazzers who have received the blessing of major labels, and actually
move a lot of units at retail (I could name names, but I'll refrain), are the best
candidates for me to jettison when choosing what I'm going to spin on the airwaves.
They'll have to come out with something that really impresses me for me to air
their projects! Nothing personal, y'understand, but there are only 180 minutes in three
hours, and for me, they really fly on by. Long live the independents!!
(posted 04 July 00)
|A PAUCITY OF OPINION? WHAT UP
by J.O. Spaak, Bad-Dude-In-Chief
On the second weekend in September, in an effort to drum up some input
for this space, I sent special email invitations to about 15 "big wigs" on the
jazz scene. The lucky recipients were invited to peruse the NEJRC
Website and submit comments or contribute opinions on matters discussed
here in The Maelstrom, and to offer input on the Pronunciation Guide. To
date, all that this has yielded is that someone put NEJRC on their
promotional "spam" list for New Releases. Is there nothing left to say?
Have all the issues been resolved while my head was turned? I guess so,
as I note that The Pariah apparently hasn't updated his Bird Lives!
Website for months now. I'm used to being the proverbial "voice crying
out in the wilderness", but this is getting extreme! HELP! INPUT WANTED!!
(posted 03 Oct. 00)