Last week, in response to several pieces of news about large-scale, institution-centered jazz philanthropy, I wrote a post thinking about the possibility that jazz might be better served in the long run by steering money toward smaller venues and less established “stars” (Jazz stars! LOL.) Since then, people far and wide have weighed in on the issue, which is good, and exactly what I was hoping would happen.
One response was from Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR’s A Blog Supreme, who mentioned one big reason why Big Jazz is ahead in the funding game right now:
Big, central institutions, by their nature, have massive potential for outreach. They can spend money on making money, whether by hiring publicity people, financial officers or big-name performers. … In contrast, Mom and Pop’s Bar sometimes doesn’t even have the wherewithal to put up a serviceable Web site with updated show listings. If you were a potential investor, sponsor or major giver, wouldn’t you want to donate to a place with accountability, a proven track record and highly visible accomplishments?
No argument here (just yesterday I came across a website for a venue which didn’t include the address). The small-club, unfamiliar-name approach has a lot less high-visibility appeal than Sonny Rollins at the Citibank Jazz Palace or whatever. (More about this in a moment.)
Actually, I think this idea of distributing $ to a large number of smaller gigs COULD work. And the model already exists: The Stone, [John] Zorn’s NYC venue which is curated by a different musician every month. Zorn and his cohorts choose the curators, of course, so you could argue that they are stacking the deck to favor the music of their friends… fine. But with a big donor, you could make, say, 10 different Stones in NYC alone. One run by Wynton, one run by Connie Crothers, one run by Randy Brecker, one run by Afrika Bambataa… the point would be to get a host of EXTREMELY DIFFERENT and nearly unrelated people to decide who curates their own little venue each month. … See, the thing that’s great about The Stone is that Zorn has it set up (through donations and the like) so that the musicians always walk away with ALL the $ from each gig. Which could be a nice bunch of change if they pack the place, or could be NADA, like when Bleeding Vector [Lorin’s band] played there 🙂 Either way, Zorn and co. are cool with it, because they weren’t expecting to make any money anyway. Now, this is a little different than your model of guaranteed $200 gigs, but it does address the problem of venues: The Stone is a hole-in-the-wall … but that’s good enough, really. The bands could then choose to charge what they want each night, and if they pack the place, fine, if not, fine. … In all of the above, I am assuming that the real problem is venues rather than simply $ for gigs. One could argue that giving $ directly to musicians is better, but I like the above because it has a “natural selection” quality-control built in to it. And the heads of the places, if chosen well, could pick curators who would effectively cover the entire scene … keeping in mind that each one would designate a different curator each month. Each place would be some little dive that would be completely paid for, so you’d never have to worry about packing the place. But if the musicians did enough legwork, they could make real money by charging a goodly amount and packing it.
Lorin and I talked about this some more last night at Kaleidoscope, a casual performance space which, interestingly enough, would be perfectly suited to the sort of thing described above. I think he’s really on to something, although it’s a different approach than the paid gig idea, which bassist Noah Schenker brought up in his comment:
Lorin, you’re talking about some kinds of funded concert spaces, which would be cool. Also seriously lacking is the restaurant, bar, lounge type venues where musicians can really practice, work on standards, maybe have a meal and bring home a meaningful paycheck–and how about a decent piano while we’re at it. These places now expect musicians to play for tips. Not really sure what can be done, but the “free” market ain’t doin’ it.
More from bassist Kurt Kotheimer:
I think both those ideas are great (smaller venues/musicians as curators) and the Stone is a perfect example of this kind of thing in action. There is one other aspect to this that I was thinking about. Think of the small venues that already exist… Q: What is the problem with these venues? A: They are empty. … Imagine what a small fraction the promotional money and ‘Seal of Approval’ of a large organization like SFJAZZ would do to bring people out to 21 Grand, Blue6, the Rev, etc. Even without supporting new venues and directly paying musicians they could at the very least support what is already happening in community. … From the little bit I have played there, this seems to be how it works in Europe. I have played at total dives for like 5 people there but the flyer for the gig has all these sponsors on it. Some of them local businesses, some of them large corporate sponsors. And because of this you can play a small gig and still have travel expenses covered and make a modest amount of money. Crazy, huh?
So, a few thoughts on this–I think the Stone model is a good one, as a way of avoiding stylistic cliques (although who chooses the choosers?), but I do think the idea of giving the bands a minimum (say, the aforementioned $200) could encourage the participation of people (like Noah, above) who might otherwise have to take a less artistically rewarding gig because it pays. Since we’re still talking hypothetically, let’s keep the minimum for now. (And you could get an entire year of $200 gigs every night for $73,000, which is less than one two-hundredth the amount SFJAZZ just raised.)
Next post, I’ll get into the nuts & bolts of how I might do it if I ran the universe. Stay tuned, and please feel free to join in the conversation in the comments (even if you want to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about).
Is it just me, or is this seeming less and less crazy?