17 posts categorized "Musings and Rants . . ." Feed

Martin Luther King had a dream for jazz, too ....

In thoughts printed in the program for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote eloquently on the role that music, and jazz in particular, played in the Civil Rights movement and, more universally, as a "stepping stone" in the universal struggles of modern man to find peace, meaning, love, happiness and faith. On this day on which we celebrate Dr. King's life, I thought I'd share these words:

On the Importance of Jazz


God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life's difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music!

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.

In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.

Hat tips to the NextBop and Lubricity blogs who turned me on to this speech in 2011 (the latter updating us to some work by historians showing these words were the festival program and not a speech, since MLK was not at the festival).

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

I had a great time and heard some fantastic music ... but what do YOU think about XRIJF 2010?

XRIJF logoAs I noted before, I've given up doing a wrap up post on the 2010 edition of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival—too much water under the bridge after catching up at work and home following the nine days of the festival and 35 acts I saw while attending the XRIJF this year. I expect you all don't really want to hear much more from me about it, but we'd like to hear what you think. To that end, I've used Google Docs to create a short survey to get the thoughts of the readers who attended one or more days of this year's festival.

So, now that you've had some time to digest, please share your thoughts and comments on the 2010 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival on the Jazz@Rochester 2010 XRIJF survey. I'll be publishing some responses and will share them with the folks at XRIJF (I am not associated with the festival). So please click on the link above and share what you think. No personal information is being recorded when you leave your comments.

Oh, and I hope you're having a wonderful and relaxing 4th of July holiday weekend.  See you next year on Jazz Street!

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Are we "laying off" jazz during this recession?

jazz stockAs the effects of this recession take hold, some are asking whether jazz is recession-proof,as in a recent post on Jazz.com musing on the "big elephant in the corner of the jazz club that no one is mentioning" of what may happen to the music as the layoffs and financial uncertainty unfold.

Some might say we don't have it so bad here in Rochester.  Unlike New York City, the focus of the Jazz.com post, we here in Rochester don't suffer from the same level of wallet-draining effects of a night out hearing jazz music(my recent foray to see Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Coryell at Iridium was a reminder for me). At many local jazz gigs we pay (less) for the drinks and our jazz usually comes with no cover and no drink minimum, not to mention the parking (we howl here when parking is $5...I used to be thankful when I could find parking within a mile that didn't cost $20 or more in Chicago). However, we are getting more than our fair share of layoffs and pink slips around here (and have for quite awhile before the recession started) and, let's be frank, the audiences at jazz gigs were nothing to brag about before this economic mess started. The real issue, as jazz writer Howard Mandel notes in the comments to the post, is how this recession will affect the musicians themselves: 

Musicians will carry on--there's no evidence of musicality vanishing in the financial meltdown--but there are few young players emerging who believe they can survive without doing something other than playing. Let's not kid ourselves that jazz is immune from economic downturns.

Sure, the music will survive. It survived the 1930s and has done OK during all the other recessions since then. But don't kid yourself. Like the rest of us, musicians will have to make choices when faced with the realities of this economy and sometimes those choices will undermine their art. And it is not only the musicians. Venues around here are already cutting back on the amount of live music. Restaurants in general, on which our local jazz scene is heavily reliant, seem to be getting hit pretty hard. Some of them will not be around in a year or two. I wouldn't hold my breath on jazz getting much of the stimulus package.

We here in Rochester are blessed with incredible local talent, young and old, a major music school, a jazz festival that is putting us on the international jazz map, and more than our share of opportunities to hear artists from out of town who played NYC or Toronto the night before and are known to jazz audiences throughout the world. So what can we do?  Like I ask most Wednesdays in the Jazz@Rochester jazz listings, just try to get out and hear some live jazz. Take a chance on an artist, either local or from out of town, who may not be familiar (I try to link to sources where you often can hear them or watch a video of a performance). Even if we are still heading for harder times, at least we'll doing so tapping our feet and nodding our heads.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this recession will be affecting the music in Rochester and in general in the comments to this post. 

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Why we keep beating our heads against the wall …. The Bop Arts symposium

Bop Arts logoTom Kohn is relentless .... He is passionate about the music that inhabits the edges of our listening and he wants to share that passion with Rochester. He doesn't care that, from all evidence, there are few around town who share his feelings. Listening to music that challenges him fills him with joy and Tom simply is going to root out those who the music has a chance to reach and then try to share his joy with them. This desire in him has led him to spend more than 25 years running the Bop Shop, arguably one of the best remaining independent record stores in the country and also to put on more than 200 jazz (and another 50 or more rock, blues and other music) events near his store and elsewhere. He continues to branch out in his work of proselytizing. It is why he recently formed a nonprofit, Bop Arts Inc., to help fund more of this innovative and improvisational music throughout the year. It definitely ain't making him money. A similar passion is why I do this blog. I'm not trying to shove one type of jazz or another down any of my readers' throats. I just want you to try once in awhile to open up your ears to something other than what you've always been told to was “good music” by others.

So I came down to the Bop Shop Atrium on Sunday night, March 1st, to check out the symposium, called “The Making of a Music Community: Perspectives on New Music from Performers and Listeners," that Bop Arts put on to bring musicians and others together to talk about building a community of music. In this world, the “experts” are the musicians. Like the music that Tom programmed which took up most of the event, the symposium was improvised, but it was much more than a panel of experts. Trumpeter Paul Smoker, who brought his jazz ensemble from Nazareth College, and percussionist and vibe player Kevin Norton, who was here with his trio Counterpoint, both riffed on some great stories of why they “keep beating their heads” against the wall of indifference that confronts their music. Both have deep and long association with jazz and those who ply its less traveled paths like Anthony Braxton (who both played with on several projects). As Smoker put it, playing the music and the focus and drive it has given him saved his life. Guitarist Adam Caine, whose trio finished up the night brought the perspective of a younger artist who was just coming up in the jazz world.

Like the name Kohn gave to the symposium, last night we created a small community. As Norton said during the symposium, the music he loves forms "audiences and musicians into a community of the moment.” We came together for some compelling music, some tasty lasagna, and a bit of exploration of why we keep “beating our heads” in trying to bring live music making and improvising to a wider audience. All in all, it was a good night....

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

It's Friday, so Take Five ....

TakeFiveFriday logoIt's Take Five Friday and I have a fresh batch of links for you to sample:

  • I'm not the only place where you'll find Take Five.  Although not necessarily on Friday, NPR's Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler is meant to help you to get to know jazz fives songs at a time.
  • Going on a trip somewhere, here's CNN's list of nine great jazz joints across the world.
  • It's hard to get a blog started and especially one like Improvised Communications, which is setting up shop to promote creative improvised music. Tom Kohn at the Bop Shop will probably be a reader, so will I.
  • Mark Grube shares his thoughts about the Cassandra Wilson concert at the State Theater in Ithaca last Sunday in 'Til There Was You in his blog over at WXXI.
  • You've seen the big pictures around downtown Rochester. They're the result of the Big Picture Rochester project. There's a photo essay on BPR's site showing them putting up the one with Wynton Marsalis and Bob Sneider from the Rochester International Jazz Festival, at the Rochester Plaza Hotel.

So take five and explore. Let me know what you think in the comments ....There will be five more next week.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

It's Take Five Friday...time for fresh jazz links

TakeFiveFriday logoIt's Take Five Friday (almost Saturday, but I had a thing...) and a fresh batch of links for you:

  • Howard Mandel searches for joyous music after the election of Obama, but "can't think of a movement akin to the bells ringing in Tchaikovsky's '1812 Overture' in the repertoire of Miles, Ornette, Cecil or Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Bird and Diz, or Ellington, Basie and Goodman . . . . Jazz seems to temper its joy with the thought that the struggle continues and it's folly to forget that for even a moment." Read The jazz of victory and celebration in Mandel's Jazz Beyond Jazz blog.
  • Another favorite of mine, Rifftides, opened my eyes to the fact that one of the characters of the story of my earlier life in Chicago, Studs Terkel, wrote a book Giants of Jazz, published in 1957, that ends with Coltrane who was just emerging. I didn't know that! Doug Ramsey's post has some great links to learn more about this amazing individual spirit.
  • In case you missed it, "Over the Rainbow," played by ukelele sensation Jake Shimabukuro at last year's Rochester International Jazz Festival.
  • As the Jazz Impact website says, "[g]ood jazz and high performance business depend on creativity, agility, empathy and flexibility."  Jazz Impact is a company that uses jazz to teach businesses and their employees the skills of collaboration.
  • The sweet Ms. Ella Fitzgerald sings "Useless Landscape" by Jobim in Montreux in 1969 with Tommy Flanagan.

So take five and explore. Let me know what you think in the comments ....There will be five more next week.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Do we have to crawl to hear more live jazz in Rochester? Perhaps...

__For those of us who go out to hear live jazz more than the average Joe or Janet, it's  clear that jazz artists and venue owners throughout Rochester and its environs are having an increasingly difficult time getting audiences for gigs. While the recent and marked decrease of "bums in seats" at jazz gigs can be laid at the feet of an economy that is increasingly scaring the living sh*t out folks (or at least causing them to reduce spending disposable income), this is not really a recent phenomenon.  I've heard artists and others time and again say that the jazz lovers all come out at the Rochester International Jazz Festival and the rest of the year, not so much.  Let's face it, jazz and other improvised music is a hard sell.  You have to really love it to make the effort and there's always the fear that it won't be "your kind of jazz" (you know how I feel about that, but it's the truth out there). The fact is that there are a lot more jazz lovers out there in Rochester than those who show up at live gigs around town. Without growth in the audiences for live music there will be an inevitable drop in the amount of live music and especially jazz available to hear.  Sure, Eastman will always guarantee a certain level of highly talented jazz musicians around town and a certain number of folks dropping in who have a connection to the school or its faculty. However, if we're going to have a vibrant live jazz scene here in Rochester, NY, and keep attracting people from out of town, we have to turn out to hear them play. How many times do you think a world-renowned artists like Mulgrew Miller will return when only few hardy souls turn out to hear him?  Same goes for local artists and groups. They have to feed themselves and/or their families.

Since I've been here, I've been thinking about how to bring a tradition from my former home town of Chicago—the jazz "pub crawl"—as one means to turn people on to the fantastic home-grown talent here and the venues that showcase that talent here in Rochester. I was reminded again of why when I read a recent post by jazz journalist Howard Mandel in his blog Jazz Beyond Jazz. As Mandel writes, "[t]he real signs of Chicago's jazz depth and diversity are evident in the unique 'club tour' (aka pub crawl), which the Jazz Institute of Chicago cleverly designs to introduce listeners to local musicians playing small venues way outside the downtown Loop." Typically, the "crawl" involves moving between different clubs throughout the city via bus (we used yellow school buses back in the day when I was hitting these every year, now they're using tourist trolleys) on a single pass over one night.  Everywhere you go, there is live jazz, drink, sometimes food; everywhere you go there your (now $25) pass will get you on the bus and in the club.  When you're ready to move on, you go out the door and a bus will take you to the next stop on the circuit or back to the central connection to take a different circuit. The JIC's jazz pub crawl was a fantastic way to discover the music and where it was being played around the city, showcasing local artists you might not know and venues where you might never have ventured if you hadn't been there before. Due to its proximity to the time of the jazz festival, it was possible that someone was already in town and might sit in somewhere.

Looking at the "scene" here, I think this could work in Rochester, providing people a chance to catch some of the rich and diverse local jazz artists (not all of them can be in the festival) and see where some of the local clubs and restaurants that at least try to bring in live jazz can be found in and around Rochester. Because of Rochester's well-known "in 20 minutes you can be anywhere" geography, they could in both the suburbs and in the City.  Like Chicago, it might make sense to do this right before the RIJF itself or perhaps at several different times during the years. 

You heard it here first....So what do you think?  I'd welcome your thoughts and suggestions in the comments to this post.  If we don't get more people out to hear the music, it's going to be increasingly difficult to find music to hear.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Where were you at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday? A night of jazz for Jazz@Rochester...

Sometimes I forget my age, how much "fun" I've already had and how much I'll pay for it later (why do you think I'm doing this on Monday...?), and because sometimes I just feel like I don't want a particular evening to come to an end. Well, it does ... it becomes morning. I met up with Ken and Seth at the Strath to discuss strategy for blogging and podcasting during the upcoming jazz festival Saturday night and listen to John Eckert with the Bob Sneider Quartet, which that night was missing Bob for part of the evening as he was playing guitar with the RPO and Byron Stripling, Wycliffe Gordon, Peter Appleyard, and Chris Vadala over at the Eastman Theatre for the 85 Years of Jazz program, RPO's last concert of the season, which Dianna and I had the pleasure of seeing Friday night.

Blue Flatiron 1After the RPO gig was over, Bob and the whole bunch showed up at the Strathallan (which didn't surprise me as I expected they were staying there). Wycliffe took out his horn and blew some beautiful ballads with the band. My friend Jimmie Highsmith Jr. was there as well. A second set, a scotch and a beer later, as people were all packing up. I found out Wycliffe and Jimmie were heading over to the Flat Iron Café to play with Quinn Lawrence and his trio (Kate Gentile on drums and Ben Thomas on bass), at their regular after-hours gig on Sunday morning at the Flat Iron. I decided that it had been awhile since I saw Tom LaBue, Flat Iron's owner and I had a cigar burning a hole in my pocket, so I went over. Good choice . . . .

Blue Flatiron 1After awhile, Wycliffe and Jimmie showed up and unzipped their gig bags.  They sat at tables facing the trio, or got up and joined them and faced us. They were just jamming. They weren't playing for a crowd—there was just me, Tom, a couple that Tom knows who enjoy hanging there, and a guy who spent most of the time sleeping on the table (that's him in the one picture . . . he's not ducking to avoid Wycliffe's slide). There's nothing like listening to great musicians jam early in the morning, just sitting around and playing for the sheer joy of it. The music flowed for several hours.

This type of thing happens with some regularity at the Flat Iron. I'm afraid jazz doesn't happen like this anywhere else (if I'm wrong, let me know), except for an earlier version of "after hours" during the festival (the Flat Iron has the real after hours all week during the RIJF). But there is one thing missing...you. Tom is fighting the odds to keep jazz music flowing at the Flat Iron. He's a true urban pioneer and has created a great oasis of music, dance, and libation at the corners of Corner of Lake, Lyell, Smith, and State Streets. Take a chance and check out something out there or any of our struggling jazz haunts. You don't have to do the 3:00 am thing, but you'll miss a unique experience of some great music if you don't.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Improvisations on blogging jazz . . . here in Rochester, New York

Jazz@Rochester bannerBrian Clark's recent post "Jazz and the Art of Improvisational Blogging" over at Copyblogger asks the question "Can jazz musicians really teach you a thing or two about effective blogging?" I've been reading Brian's blog for its well-articulated thoughts on how to be a more effective blogger and writer. It was no different with this post as his use of jazz and its artists to illustrate something about effective blogging hit a chord (pun intended). In addition to the jazz hook, Brian's post made me realize it had been awhile since I took some time to reflect a bit on what I do here in Jazz@Rochester. Brian's use of quotes by jazz musicians also made me look up a few of my own for illuminating other places where jazz and blogging may intersect.

Perhaps it is a peculiarity of mine that despite the fact that I am a professional performer, it is true that I have always preferred playing without an audience. Bill Evans
Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself. Cecil Taylor

Brian Clark was looking at the places where that thing that jazz musicians and bloggers do may intersect—he found it in the art of improvisation, which he defines as the "practice of acting and creating in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment." Brian writes:

Jazz musicians riff off the rest of the band, and the vibe of the audience, in real time. Good bloggers riff off of relevant parts of the blogosphere, and the vibe of the audience, also in real time.
Things only break down when someone forgets who the real audience is.

However, as Taylor and Evans illuminate above, improvisation is also a solo gig. As Brian drew the issue in his post, while the creativity and collaboration between jazz musicians, the importance of the performance, can result in jazz musicians playing for themselves or for the other musicians up on the bandstand with them, leaving the audience to fade into the darkness of the club. Bloggers can do the same thing as they riff on stuff that they find interesting out there on the Internet and begin talking mostly to other bloggers (or to Google or their affiliate programs) rather than to their audience. I know that I have done it. In blogging, the trick is to do both—create content that is useful and interesting to the audience that you know is reading (through the comments left and by looking at your traffic), but also to bring your own voice and interests into the mix and show that audience something new. As Brian writes toward the end of his post:

...even an innovative artist who is ahead of his time needs to get some people into the club first. Play them a song they want to hear, get them on your side, and then take them happily to a place they had no idea they wanted to go.

I think that keeping this in mind is particularly important for a blogger who, as here, focuses and promotes a local music scene. I try to keep a focus on the fact that what I am really trying to do here is promoting the live jazz music scene here in Rochester, NY. I need to provide people who are interested in the jazz scene here, or who just drop in because they're looking for something to do on a Saturday night, what they want and need—a mostly comprehensive and accurate source for information on the live jazz scene here. I also want to take the blog and my readers beyond that local focus and those trips will be guided by my own interests and instincts. Of course, I also want this blog to be successful and to grow the audience.

I have a couple of additional "riffs" off other jazz quotes I found out there.

Imitate, assimilate, and innovate. Clark Terry.

Clark Terry's observation says a lot about what bloggers try to do. While you're blogging you sometimes find yourself imitating other bloggers or blogs in your approach or writing. You often assimilate the content of posts that have struck you or information aggregated from numerous sources and then mold your own post and, hopefully, innovate something else out of all that content. That's what I'm trying to do here.

You may have holes in your shoes, but don't let the people out front know it. Shine the tops. Earl Hines

The blogging software and ease in publishing to the web make it possible to take Hines' advice and "shine the tops" when I make a mistake on Jazz@Rochester or just engage in some sloppy writing (which happens more than this editor would like to admit). I could simply make it go away or clean it up, repost, and only those who have already seen the post will even know. However, remembering the audience, it is important with some posts that I lift up my feet and show those holes as it is the only way that my readers will know there was a mistake they may want to pay attention to. That's why you'll see me using strikeouts when a gig is canceled or calling attention to new gigs on the listings post with an "[added]." Sure from time to time I'm just embarrassed at a result and I'll do a bit of a rewrite "on the sly."  However, even if I do that, I know. The fact is even if I tape up the holes, the water (or in our case today, snow) will get my socks wet.

This post has ended up on much longer than is advisable, but there it is. I just let it take me where it wanted to go.  If you got to here before going elsewhere, I commend you. Seriously, I don't hear enough from the people reading Jazz@Rochester. I'd like to hear more about what you'd like to see in these pages so I can try to keep it focused on what matters to you. Leave a comment (all you have to do is click on the link at the bottom of the post to get started).

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Exodus to Jazz kicks off the new season

On Saturday night, Dianna and I went to check out the first show in the Exodus to Jazz Series. Series promoter Jose DaCosta began the series with Rochester's own Paradigm Shift, who appeared with vocalist Annie Sellick and small and young brass section. Annie sang on Paradigm Shift's most recent CD, Street Expressionism, and her set with Mel Henderson and the guys was fun and gave me a chance to experience a jazz singer who, before hearing PS's new CD I had not heard before (other than that CD).

A young white woman in dreadlocks and a red dress, Annie Sellick was full of life and good stories, both in song and in between song banter. She hails from Nashville, but the Southern lilt disappears in song as she worked her way through her set. Dianna thought Sellick sounded somewhat like Nancy Wilson and I can hear some of that. She started with a tune "Soulful Dress" off her new CD A Little Piece of Heaven, which Annie was nice enough to send to me before the gig (thanks, Annie).  With a funky, New Orleans beat, the song had the woman at the next table up dancing with my wife before it was over.  Paradigm Shift was their usual grooving selves and it was a treat to hear Gerry Youngman playing a full B3-style organ; he was really cooking.

Another reason I wanted to write this post is to encourage my readers to get out and support this series.  Jose is bringing some incredible talent to Rochester (check out Ron Netsky's review of the series in City).  During the first set at 7:00 pm at least, a number of no shows ticket holders left the middle seats in the downstairs club in VENU mostly empty. Jose's all about the music and, while he had the $ from the tickets, what he really wanted was to share his love of this music with actual people in those seats. I just hope the 9:15 set had a better response (it looked like it was heading that way, but perhaps someone will let me know how it went?). The artists did all right (heck, I've seen the Paradigm Shift guys play to a house of 3). However, if Rochester can't get out and support this music more consistently we won't see much more of it. OK, climbing down off my soapbox now . . . .

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Song of My Heart . . . I know there's someone watching over me

Yvonne has tagged me again with a meme about the songs that make your heart sing (actually, she tagged me back on June 19th, but somehow it passed by me that I'd been touched; not following the old traffic as closely in the past week).  As you might expect, my choice is something in the jazz vein, although there are quite a few songs in other genres that pull at the ole heart strings.

Ella Sings GershwinYou can never go wrong with Ella Fitzgerald when looking for music to warm your heart and soul, so my choice (as there must be a choice made) is "Someone to Watch Over Me" from the album Ella Sings Gershwin. The lyrics are simple and touching:

There’s a saying old, says that love is blind

Still we’re often told, "seek and ye shall find"
So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had in mind

Looking everywhere, haven’t found him yet
He’s the big affair I cannot forget
Only man I ever think of with regret

I’d like to add his initial to my monogram
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?

There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that he, turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me

I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who’ll watch over me

Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me


Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me

Someone to watch over me

Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. © 1926 WB Music Corp. (renewed).

While the gender's wrong in application, the sentiment is there.  I know I have someone to watch over me (love you, Dianna). My only complaint is that I have this on vinyl and my turntable is out (iTunes, here I come...). And now it's my turn. Tag, you're it Ken, Seth, and Annie.  If you wish to continue this meme, tag three of your friends and ask them to trackback to your post and to this post when they in turn continue it (oh. . . I'm asking that now)

Continue reading "Song of My Heart . . . I know there's someone watching over me" »

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

You Never Stop Learning . . . RIJF 2007 Provides Some Lessons

Now that I'm done casting my "greater blogger than thou" stones, I think it is only fair to look back with a critical eye on Jazz@Rochester during the 2007 Rochester International Jazz Festival. While this year was a year where a bunch of new doors opened and this blog had unprecedented traffic and impact on festival-goers, I couldn't help but feel that I hadn't really fully realized the opportunities that were presented.  This post is just a mea culpa of sorts, to show that I'm not oblivious to my many shortcomings (I am oblivious to many things . . . just ask my wife), and a sort of blueprint for next year.  I'll just list a few bullet points:

  • While I had a media access pass (as well as the Club Pass that I bought LONG before receiving the media access), I asked for it much too late and with my other responsibilities to work and our business didn't have enough time to do the leg work to set up the interviews even for the artists for whom I requested contact information and be ready to conduct an interview that wouldn't be a waste of their time.
  • I did an interview with pianist Geri Allen on the first night of the festival. It was a wonderful experience. I think that despite my less than stellar interview skills, Ms. Allen provided me some real gems about her and her music (and I hope to be publishing the results soon in these pages). However, the experience also gave me an appreciation for what goes into doing them well and I dropped further efforts.  There were others doing interviews of the artists SO much better (I've been listening to the whole lot of them since, Jason, and you're a pro!). Although I want to try the interview thing some more, I need to find a niche.
  • I admit it . . . my moblogging from the festival became old pretty fast.  I want to think about how I use it in the future as I think it is a great tool (as do Jason and Seth) that has potential for adding a great immediacy to coverage. I'm thinking of doing more "man in the street" (or more "person in line") interviews and "on the spot" reports. What would you like to know?
  • I was unable to really provide images in posts (although, again, so many people were doing a really good job of that), which I love to include when possible.  With the media access pass, I was more restricted than if I'd just been there as a "civilian".  I didn't have the additional photography credential necessary (or perhaps I misunderstood?). My camera really wasn't up to the task, anyway.
  • I didn't write enough.  I didn't have my laptop with me at the festival and at the pace I was hitting shows wouldn't have had much time to do any real writing if I had.  That left me the option of writing when I came home at 1-2 am most nights of the festival (with a few extending beyond 3 am), and then going into work (at which I sit at a computer and write).  This 46 year old body can only take so much.  I had so much to say, but I knew that something had to give.  That's why I'm still writing about the RIJF almost two weeks later.

OK, enough with the hair shirt. This blog and what it has become over the past years I've been writing it, who it has introduced me to in the Rochester jazz and blogging community, and the opportunities it has created made this year's RIJF a watershed for me.  Also, it was a lot of damn fun!

OK, one more to go . . . wherein I'll join Seth in putting some things out there for next year's Rochester International Jazz Festival.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Traditional Media Try Their Hands at the New Media Thang . . . Keep Trying!

During the 2007 Rochester International Jazz Festival, the traditional media in Rochester continued their flirtation in using social media tools to reach additional readers. The "alternative" newspaper City Newspaper incorporated the RIJF into the music "blog" they started last year. The daily Democrat & Chronicle also had a "blog" (although the critic's podcast that they ventured last year did not return).

I use the term "blog" here loosely.  Both are called "blogs" and bear a resemblance to a blog in that they have posts in reverse chronological order, written in a less formal and "personal" style, and monthly archives. However, that is where the resemblance ends. The problem is that there is no "social" in their "social media." They never really joined the conversation and community that was forming around this year's RIJF, content to just continue to write articles that could have just as well been published in print.

Our merry little band of bloggers and podcasters (Seth, Ken, Jason, Tracey, Jane and others) wrote about the 2007 RIJF, published photos, linked to and commented in each others blogs. That's how we originally found each other (Ken and Seth have been blogging the RIJF for much longer than I have). This year we really started to form a community online.  We also linked to and sent trackbacks to both the D&C and City Newspaper blogs, in part as an attempt to draw them into the community, but mostly because they were providing different perspectives on the artists we were hearing (and hearing artists we weren't) and we wanted our readers to be exposed to yet other sources for information about the RIJF.  I can't speak for the other, but I held back an impulse to not link to the D&C and City Newspaper blogs.  It seemed to me that they were either not interested or couldn't be bothered with joining our conversation or leading their readers to the many other voices covering the RIJF. The fact is that the writers in the D&C and City Newspaper blogs were using their credentials to gain access to artists that I didn't have (to be fair, however, it is probably that I didn't take advantage of the access I had). Although I had a media pass, I never really felt in the club and often felt like I didn't know the secret handshake. Oh, and then there's that pesky day job in legal publishing, the 20+ years of age, and a body that really shouldn't be staying out until after 1 or 2 am for 9 days straight.  The access (and stamina) of the young D&C "bloggers" Anna Reguero and Jann Nyffeler (except for one post by the more veteran reporter Jack Garner) resulted in some interesting and, at times, compelling, writing about the artists and their experiences of the RIJF that I wanted to share with my readers. That's one reason I blog—to aggregate the sources of information that are available about the subject I'm passionate about, i.e., live jazz music here in Rochester. However, if you look at the D&C or the City Newspaper "blogs" the only links you'll find in the D&C blog are those in the few comments or trackbacks that I (and perhaps one other) left on them (City has some more comments, but is also linkless). Why is that? 

While it may just be inattention, I think it is more about not really "getting" it.  By not joining the conversation and community that is developing, the D&C and City Newspaper are squandering one of the best tools for being "found" and read on the Internet—the blog. The choice may have been conscious or not and may partly be a result of the fear that traditional media have of the inroads being made by us in the blogosphere into what was once their sole province.  As we tell blogging clients, the conversation will be going on with or without you.  It would be so much more interesting for all of our readers if it's the former rather than the latter.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Listings? . . . We don't need no stinkin' listings....

I knew this day was coming.  I saw the signs...announcements of great things to come on the City Newspaper website.  I wondered whether the music listings (I hesitate to call them mine because, face it, they were City Newspaper's) would change.  Well, that day is here; that time is now.  I went in to pull the listings for tonight post and got a Page 404 error as their site address had changed.  That's not the only thing that changed.  The change is major and, as a result, I cannot continue to bring you the Wednesday jazz listings that have drawn many of you to this site. 

Since the beginning of last year, I have been posting the jazz listings, culled from Rochester's City Newspaper with the permission of its music editor Frank De Blase.  The slick, new City Online Edition has completely redone how it presents its music and music listings. I'll leave it to you to decide whether they have improved them, but it has made it very difficult to draw out the jazz listings and present them to you.  The new event calendar focuses on venues and artists. You cannot filter by genre. If you know who you want to hear or where you are going, I think you'll like them.  Those of us that wake up and say "I want to go hear some [jazz/blues/Tibetan throat singers] tonight....who's playing?" are SOL (that's shit-outta-luck for the uninitiated and, yes, I can say that...it's my blog). 

Really, I'm not bitter. The truth is that I was freeloading and they have probably done some research to figure out what the majority of their readers want in music and event listings.  More power to 'em.  However, being able to pull a fairly complete listing of jazz gigs around town, organized by day and present them in these pages with minimal recoding made it possible for me to do those posts.  As I have stated before, this blog is mostly a hobby (although I also doing blog consulting as part of the business I am building with my wife, Dianna). 

You can check out my Google calendar of Advance Looks and Out of Town Guests to see who's coming to town and find other highlighted jazz events. I will continue to highlight venues and artists as I have before, and post about events when I can, but there's a lot of jazz out there every week and I simply cannot aggregate it all here without spending time I just do not have. I commend you to their listings and hope you find what you need.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

A new year cometh . . . A good year passeth

It seems customary on many of the blogs I monitor to use this holiday period prior to the New Year as an opportunity to ruminate on the site's year and its future in the coming year.  Might as well join in as it gives me a chance to use bullet points (oh joy, oh joy....!!!). 

So this will be the first of my musings on 2006 and the upcoming year.  It's a mix of good and bad, followed by some resolutions that I swear I'll try to implement (but some of which will go the way of many New Year resolutions):

  • Well, first out of the box is that this was the year that I took the plunge and rebranded this blog to its own domain and new blogging platform.  My prior endeavor can be found here (it is still up as there is a lot of content there that I'd rather not move for now, or at least until there is a good tool for importing Wordpress blogs into Typepad).  These mainly technological changes have had a substantial effect.
  • This year has seen some major growth in the statistics on this blog.  While the overall numbers are not impressive in the sense that I might make some money off it , which is understandable given its limited scope both geographically and subject matter-wise, the amount of growth this year over my first is really heartening. In 2005 (from April on), I had a total of 641 unique visitors.  As of the end of November of 2006, I have logged almost 2,700.  In 2005, I had a total of 113 returning visitors to the site; this year it has grown to over 600.  A few of you are even adding the blog to your feed readers or receiving email updates.  The rebranding has created an even faster growing audience.
  • One of the most gratifying things about editing this blog is that it is resulted in me meeting a number of people with whom I likely never would have crossed paths. You can see these connections made in 2006 all over this and the earlier incarnation of this blog, like here, here and here. I've met a number of local jazz artists as well. 
  • My wife and I started our own business late last year and the work on that business,  D.S. Leach Consulting, Inc., as well as with our company's new relationship with Windsor Media Enterprises and WME Books and the blogging I'm doing on two blogs associated with that company (WME Blogs and A-ha: Authors Helping Authors) has been a substantial drain on my resources.  Not to mention that this is done on top of "day" job. 
  • I have a lot of ideas about how to promote live jazz music here in Rochester. My dilemma to date is that to implement many of them I'd either need to be independently wealthy (which I assure you I am not) or have a lot more time to devote to it than I do now.  I'll at least try to outline these ideas here in these pages going forward. 
  • One of the unique things about a blog is that it is social software. It is intended to create a conversation and works best when that conversation is full and lively. I wish there were more comments coming in.  However, I recognize that it is also due to the type of posts and my writing, so I'll try some posts that "troll" a bit to see if anyone out there wants to join the conversation.
  • While I've heard a LOT of live jazz this year, I missed some artists who I really wanted to hear.  I need to remedy that.

There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in my life recently and this blog has been an integral part in preparing me for it. I still enjoy it and will continue to write it and try to improve it.  OK, that's enough for now.  I've still got a few days to ruminate.  Hope you all had/are having a wonderful holiday season!

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

Al Dimeola, VIP wrist band and all...

Back on the 27th, I got a chance to catch the guitarist Al di Meola at Water Street Music Hall.  The last time I saw AD was back in the 80s while at the University of Chicago where he played a show with John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia after the release of their Friday Night in San Francisco album.  Opening for them was Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, who appeared at the 2006 Rochester International Jazz Festival last year.  Both sets were great and, except for a few glitches with the sound and some of the ambient noise in the hall, Water Street appeared to do a pretty good job putting on the jazz (albeit toward the rock end of the spectrum).

Al di Meola and his band were toward the beginning of a tour for his new album The Consequences of Chaos and there was much of that album in supply during the evening, along with some others from Casino and his other 20+ albums, as well as an quieter, acoustic set on nylon and steel string guitars.  Sticking mostly to a beautiful hardbody electric, AD did not disappoint those there who were there to see his guitar pyrotechnics. It was an interesting crowd.  Di Meola is a guitar god, so it skewed toward a sausage fest, there were few women in attendance, and we were mostly quite a ways past 40 (myself included).  There was a group of apparent AD fan club members at the front of the crowd where I was who were more like a group of tweenage girls at a Teddy Geiger show.

My path to the AD gig bears some further exposition.  I was there as a guest conguero and all-around percussionist, Gumbi Ortiz, who has been playing with Di Meola for 17 years.   Gumbi has recently released an album, Miami (see an All Music Guide review of the album here) as a leader.  His promoter ran across the blog out there contacted me to see if I'd like to hear the album and, later, to see the show.  He put me on the guest list, which got me in gratis and secured a seat in the front row with the members of the aforementioned fan club and some other "VIPs".  I talked with Gumbi between the sets and found him a gracious and interesting man.  He is also a fantastic percussionist.  Gumbi has Rochester ties (as do so many musicians who come to town)—his grandmother came straight to Rochester from Cuba. Although Di Meola clearly "rules," I noticed he turned to his long time collaborator Gumbi more than once for guidance.  There was a lot of interaction between AD and Gumbi as musicians, and between Gumbi and the rest of the band. In fact at the end of the show, after one encore had been played (without the unnecessary clapfest), when the clapfest for another encore began (Rochester crowds never seem to be satisfied), Al looked over to Gumbi with a "should we?" look.  Gumbi shook his head no, I think so that they could get on with the inevitable CD signing for the fans; it was already pretty late.

In some ways, this experience shows one way in which this blog opens up paths to new experiences in my life.  In my "regular" life, this opportunity wouldn't have come my way.  I also had a chance to chat before the show and between JFJO  and AD with another Rochesterian, Steve Kiener (I never did get your name while at the show, but have since figured it out since). He works with the award-winning drummer Steve Gadd, who has played with Eric Clapton and countless others (including AD) over the past 30+ years (and apparently also lives in Rochester), in developing his new website. I hope to hear from Steve some time, as I'd like to continue our conversation.

While I'm perfectly willing to pay my own freight, it was nice to have a bit of the VIP treatment (a green id bracelet and reserved seats in the front row just beneath the stage) for all this work I do on Jazz@Rochester.  I'll keep the bracelet as a souvenir of the serendipity.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.

The demise of the Montage....

It occurred to me the other night that the Montage Grille has apparently passed (again)  from the Rochester music scene.  As far as I can tell, it went under quietly following the tragic circumstances that occurred there in July of this year.  It's not he first fade out for the Montage; it has happened before. In the pages of the earlier incarnation of this blog, I noted much about the Montage and it has been a love-hate relationship (for example see here, here and here).  However, the music I've heard there has been some of my greatest music experiences, rivaling the best I experienced in Chicago.  Of course, as you can see by my postings from past Rochester International Jazz Festivals, the Montage was where most of the artists I wanted to see played.  In addition, I've seen a rich diversity of music there over the past few years, including: Thomas Mapfumo, Alejandro Escovedo, Maria Muldaur, and John Hammond.

Although the business plan of Montage was never completely clear (am I a restaurant, am I a bar, am I a club?) and it sometimes enforced really bizarre policies about reservations for dinner trumping everything else in seating (OK, it's not that bizarre for Rochester), while it clearly tried to book a truly diverse selection of local and national acts from all ranges and styles of music, including some great live jazz, unlike any other club in town. 

Like so many others, I didn't get out to see enough there, so I too share in the underlying causes of its demise. However, there is another factor that contributed to its end—fear.  By connecting the tragic death outside the club to the music playing inside the Montage, it seems that Police Chief David Moore probably sealed the deal on the Montage by connecting it to violence. The Chief tried to recast the violence in terms of a battle between two separate hip-hop camps (calling to mind the well-known feuds in rap music that have lead to deaths) with absolutely no evidence or thought of how it might affect a viable business in the heart of downtown Rochester.  He then made it clear that there would be no hip hop music without clubs giving the city advance warning.  The music was not the cause of the shooting death that occurred outside the club (apparently after it closed); the many causes of the behavior of individuals that resulted in that death are known and they are not attributable to music.

What does this have to do with this blog that is focused on jazz music?  For starters, we may have one less venue for the RIJF, with another major leap in growth in attendance likely to occur.  Additionally, while jazz was not the Montage's main focus, its programming included some great jazz artists throughout the year.  Water Street may be picking up some of the slack (quite alot so far), but fewer venues will lead to less, not more. Moreover, in order for the City of Rochester to rekindle a lively and vibrant downtown, it will need to nurture places like the Montage, which was one of the few anchors in an area of dowtown that needs businesses to survive in order for those plans to work.  I heard nothing about this after the article on the shooting and I pay attention to these things. Did I miss something?  What happened?  If you know the real story, please comment to this post.

Added 9-16-2006: Well, this post may have been somewhat premature.  As I was adding a comment to ROCWiki to let people know that they were no longer there, I gave the Montage's phone number—(585)232-1520—a call to see if it was still in service.  It was and there was an announcement dated September 15th about their Grand Re-Opening weekend ands a Save the ROC benefit being held this weekend.

This post was originally published on JazzRochester. © Gregory V. Bell. All rights reserved.