Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 1% Jazz Invasion or How I Helped to Kill Roy Campbell. Part 2. Guardians of Gates to Nowhere.

One of the more pernicious problems afflicting the core community turns on certification. On the surface this is easily ridiculous and should be. Beyond traditional peer review, most musical idioms outside the purview of formal institutions aren't subject to much of a credentials process involving six figure price tags.

This credential fabrication is a connivance of gate keepers on the 'commerce' side and the educational side. Old media maintained a retinue of credential makers now increasingly bypassed by the ability to just click on a You Tube of the artist in question and decide for your own damned self.

And it can get pretty expensive for the far flung ends of the remnant industry if the gate keepers lack a golden gut and the imagined audience yawns.

This seems to have happened. Overseas labels and presenters who relied on a handful of gate keepers at the New York Times and NPR, (Nice Polite Republicans), for tips on what to feature in festivals and venues appear to have gotten skunked.

One way to tell is to look at touring activity. While other factors like recession in the EU may have a role, the thing to look for is whether all this wunderkind stuff of the past few years has gone stiff.

Much of what passes for higher music education here in Boston is some form or other of cred leveraging. It began in the 1950s when a few stiffs decided they could improve, codify and certify an idiom that was happily rising from the street.

From such humble beginnings rose arrogant ends. The first wave of these usurpers began crafting their own credentials by publishing a series of 'helpful' texts that tended to involve mining triads to belabor obvious details of tonal relations in a manner that made em seem like geniuses. 

Think of it as a precursor to the "___________ For Dummies" phenomenon.

The arrogance might best be seen as the unstated implication that jazz is too good for its community of origin so let's fix it. An early example of this is the stuff of legend, apocryphal, but nonetheless telling.

Gunther Schuller, an early adopter of turgid theories for fun and profit, reportedly told a mixed race audience, long ago, that he wrote a part for Ornette Coleman that Ornette 'couldn't play'. 

I know, what an idiot.

John Coltrane and a number of his peers were in that audience and headed for the door when Schuller blew that gas bomb their way.

Another grand elder was reported to have said... "Well if Ornette couldn't play the part, then he didn't write it for Ornette." 

Ya think?

But that, in a nutshell, is my Boston. 

It's a place where self appointed gate keepers guard gates to things largely ignored or despised.

The wonderful thing is that the whole bloated mess seems to have run its course. Here in the epicenter of the conceit, interest in this sort of instrumental music has plummeted. 

In fact, interest in instrumental music in general has tanked as if the ancient convention of the sit down and listen concert is in some last gasp or, at best, at the lowest ebb of public interest in my life time.

To restore interest would probably take extraordinary outreach effort such as playing for free in summer time town gazebo's in places where there is little to do and some brass band thing honking away is noteworthy.

It's a lot of heavy lifting. It's essentially institution building at a large scale but if it were an aspect of learning it might be attainable at some granular level.

The prevailing approach instead, turns on odd forms of influence peddling and cheap short cuts that are valuable to the influence purveyor but less so to the 'buyer' on any side of the trade.

The "influential" gets a fee for putting a record deal together while the cred seeker and the label end up with some hollow thing lost in the flood of easy proliferation amid industry collapse.

The core community ends up on the outside of all this trading, further pauperized.

And yet it didn't have to be that way. Some cultures, less commerce obsessed than the US, actually see interaction with national idioms in their natural 'street' habitats as the fundamental basis for a robust living music culture.



    A surplus of 4 million commodity units (songs) on Spotify. 4 million songs, never once listened to.

    Imagine another commodity--say, the buggy whip where there is a surplus of 4 million commodity units. 4 million buggy whips never once cracked against a horses arse.

    Keep in mind, this surplus coincides with a multi decade long decrease in venues where one can crack a horses arse with a fancy new buggy whip.

    Also, there's been another change since the inception of buggy whip making, the ability to digitally transfer entire buggy whips to as many people as you like.

    With that in mind:

    In such a market, what does a surplus of 4 million buggy whips do to the price of a buggy whip?

    In such a market, what does a surplus of 4 million buggy whips do to the "value" of a 4 year buggy whip making degree?

    What is a fair tuition to learn how to build a buggy whip in light of the likelihood of the student earning the equivalent of their tuition expense through the manufacture of buggy whips?

    1. An avalanche of buggy whip demand lies just around the bend as surely as rain follows the plow.