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A Community United By Opening Acts (Fixed Comment Box. Hopefully...)

[Anthony Dean-Harris]
Editor-In-Chief / @retronius

As a man who loves a great deal of music, I spend some times going to shows of other genres. While I still hold that jazz is my first love and I generally enjoy jazz concerts more than other shows, there’s a certain energy in live music that I try to grab whenever I’m able.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been missing hearing my [KRTU] radio show because I’ve been out with a fellow dj/music producer friend of mine, [msnomr], catching shows around San Antonio and Austin. It’s been fun hanging out with him and it’s also fun actually being out and not working all the time and staying at home, but it made me think about live performances and what’s lacking in jazz.

Jazz concerts really need opening acts. This is by no means an original thought of mine. [Darcy James Argue] has [proposed this before]. David Ryshpan [spun off Argue’s post] and Patrick Jarenwattananon [spun off of the both of them] after that. After that, no one said much of anything after that, considering the matter a bit of a lost cause, a Catch-22, an ouroboros, or whatever you may call it.

Some months later, PJ [extrapolated] on a point [Ian Carey made] about focusing on smaller gigs in tandem with giving jazz music a large, dedicated venue like the $60 million complex planned in San Francisco. The $200 gig is a pretty good idea for a given area but this idea really has to be combined with the idea everyone was talking about six months earlier on opening acts.

These flavor of the week blog posts are good and entertaining in our community. I generate quite a few of them myself so I’m certainly not trying to cast the mote out of my brother’s eye without first working on the beam in my own. But what we as a community must do is not simply to decry the lack of notoriety involving jazz over the years but to seriously try to come up with solutions. I think I know more than anyone else that my own writing brings up more questions than answers (sort of like Lost). This is not one of those times.

In this era of cross genre appeal, something about which Nextbop tries to specialize, pushing for gigs shouldn’t be that difficult if acts are branded well. The music business is hard for everyone, so saying it’s hard for jazz music is not saying much. Just as this website thrives on a sense of community, the jazz musician landscape should thrive in that same sense overall. Putting together shows all over the place with various opening acts is one way to engender that sense of community.

Seriously, why are jazz concerts so averse to opening acts? What makes jazz musicians truly so different from other genres of music that every single show has to have one act or two sets? Sure, waiting in line for two hours for a fifteen minute for some random indie rock band at SXSW should not be the idea we’re shooting for, but certainly groups of jazz musicians can come together at a club every now and again in our respective communities and bang out a night of music.

What makes a jazz musician so against this notion where other musicians do this regularly? A few weeks ago, my friend msnomr put on a show in San Antonio with two other IDM (intelligent dance music) acts. By the end of the night, each act got about $20. One of the guys there was shocked to get that. He was so happy to perform and be creative with such a cool group, he would have been alright not getting anything. That night, he had gas money back to Houston.

If this is really all about the music, about the proliferation of the genre, about being creative for the masses, about making jazz music in the way it was intended, live, then why is this genre trying to hold out for the $200 gig when other folks in other genres will put together a show with a bunch of their musician buddies for a night of all free Pabst Blue Ribbon they can drink?

I’m not begrudging the genre for wanting the $200 gig and the $60 million concert halls. I’m begrudging the genre for holding out for these things. I’m begrudging the genre for blaming the industry for its lack of success instead of continuing to create and put itself on display and losing its optimism that the fans and community will keep things alive.

Besides the fact, whatever happened to the times of jazz in which there was open collaboration between acts? When sidemen were switched in and out of a group based on musicians seeing and working with one another?

Imagine an evening in your own town in which you head to a club somewhere and hear three or four groups playing just for the love of the music, a couple of beers, and a split of the night’s take. Everyone there knows each other some but over time, knows each other a little more after watching one another play over the course of the evening. After establishing a true scene in the town, one group can play and randomly ask someone from another band to sit in with the group for a song or two. This happens now, but not nearly as much as it should anymore. A night of opening acts in a town could help facilitate this once again.

The jazz movement should not just come together for the occasional music festival. There should be shows with groups of folks putting their work out there any night of the week. The community can’t just speak up on the blogs but they must show up, en masse, at shows. The community doesn’t come together when one band has a venue for a night or when all the musicians on earth recognize they must be in New York or suffer. The community becomes a community when it knows to come together wherever they are and to rock the faces off whoever will come to listen.

Of course, one reason we haven’t done this lately is because we’re holding out for those $200 gigs, but we must walk before we can run. I’m not speaking as though we’re babies. I’m speaking as though we are car crash victims. We’re going through physical therapy. We need to go back to basics as it relates to putting on a show before we can become the premadonnas we’re trying to be by saying only one band can play at this club tonight and we aren’t sharing the stage with anyone. That doesn’t sound like a good community to me, nor does it sound like a successful business model.

Jazz is relevant when it fights to stay relevant. Jazz is innovative when it continues to innovate. Jazz is relatable when it tries to be relatable. Forgetting all this is why we’re in this mess in the first place. Maybe coming back to ourselves and recognizing how to put together a good show is the start we need to get back on track.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].