Kelman is Managing Editor of award winning AllAboutJazz.com,
the Internet's largest jazz site. He has contributed features
to Downbeat and Oxford American magazines and
written liner notes for artists including Bill Bruford, Jan Erik
Vold, Terje Rypdal, Joe Chambers, Alex Sipiagin, Matteo Sabbatini,
Dave Liebman and Marc Copland. He has been asked, by Music Export
Norway and the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, to curate a series of
concerts at the 2012 Kongsberg festival, All About Jazz Presents:
Doing it Norway.
becoming almost pandemic for jazz festivals around the world to
be challenged for deciding to broaden their programming into areas
either peripherally related to jazz . . . or, in some cases, away
from jazz entirely. Festivals like the near-iconic Montreux Jazz
Festival, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the
Ottawa International Jazz Festival have become easy targets for
purists, who are loudly proclaiming "This isn't a jazz festival"
because artists like Robert Plant's Band of Joy, Daniel Lanois'
Black Dub, Seal and Deep Purple are showing up in the schedules.
But the important questions are: why is this happening; and, when
does a jazz festival stop being a jazz festival?
answer to the second question is, of course, as contentious as
the longstanding debate about what jazz is and -- for some, more
importantly -- what it isn't. But examining the practicalities
of managing a festival sheds some light on matters that many may
not consider. And if it is fact that festivals are now being forced
into a broader programming mindset than ever before, then looking
at the schedules of those either in progress or looming on the
horizon reveal plenty of food for thought.
who believe that a jazz festival stops being a jazz festival the
minute it introduces any non-jazz into the program are advised
to stop here. After all, there is, then, absolutely no justification
for calling a festival like the OIJF a jazz festival, because
it had Plant, Elvis Costello, Youssou N'Dour and Black Dub at
its main stage last year. And, it's true, that this festival --
which has long retained a reputation of purity long after larger
festivals like Montreux bit the bullet -- has significantly altered
its main stage programming, with four of its eleven evenings bearing
tenuous connection to jazz at best and three a little more closely
tied, leaving only four shows that just about anyone could call
jazz (though those who believe fusion doesn't count will be reduced
by another two). But let's look at this festival and others, as
a whole, before whitewashing them.
every festival is facing significant funding cuts -- from both
private and public sectors -- the result of a global economy that
often says, when times are tough, reduce funding to the arts.
OIJF lost $80,000 in its bottom line last year, and, like every
jazz festival in the world, has to deal with the very real issue
of demographics. Visit most jazz festivals and the preponderance
of gray-hairs and no-hairs speaks to the challenge (and, largely,
failure) of bringing a younger audience through the gates. And
this isn't just a matter of ultimate survival, though jazz festivals
that continue to appeal exclusively to the aging baby boomer population
will most certainly go under within the next 10-15 years -- if
that. It's a matter of current economics. Government funding,
for the most part, doesn't come with no strings attached; it's
heavily tied to tourism, which means that if a jazz festival (or
any festival) cannot show that it is bringing tourism dollars
into its city, it'll have a hard time obtaining it. And while
private sector funding is less directly tied to tourism, it is
tied to profile,
and how many people come to the festival and walk away with their
logos in their heads. If audiences are shrinking, you can be sure
that private sector funding will be reduced accordingly.
are realities that each and every festival has to deal with, year-after-year.
And some festivals -- Kongsberg, Molde, Montreal,
Montreux, New Orleans and Ottawa, to name just six -- are all
facing the same general problems, irrespective of country or continent.
from those who have a problem with broader programming, is to
pare back (get back to your roots) and become smaller, niche festivals,
but in practical terms that simply isn't possible. You can't put
the toothpaste back in the tube, they say, and festivals would
have a near-impossible challenge of selling funders with the premise
that "we're going to become a smaller, more focused festival,
and appeal to a smaller, more select audience. Now, how about
some money?" As is usually the case in a world driven by
bottom lines, even artistic pursuits like festivals are expected
to grow -- to become bigger and better. Shrinking sends a bad
message to just about everyone, and will do absolutely nothing
to support the solicitation of funding, sponsorship and other
critical forms of partnership that help festivals with everything
from nailing down venues and getting instrument support to paying
travel expenses to bring in artists from abroad.
must find new ways to attract that holy grail of attendance, the
younger demographic, and they need to do so in increasing numbers.
Sure, bands like Béla Fleck and the Flecktones will continue
to bring in the jam band crowd, but it's megastars like Plant,
Costello and Black Dub that are certain to bring capacity crowds
of all ages to jazz festivals. So, perhaps, it's also important
to look at the acts festivals are bringing in to help bolster
their bottom lines, and assess whether or not they are quality
acts, acts that bring a certain amount of prestige, or are they
acts that are about dollars and cents, and nothing more.
Plant, Costello and Black Dub are prestige acts -- as are Paul
Simon and Derek Trucks, both of whom performed at Montreux last
year. And, while it would be a stretch to call any of these acts
jazz per se, digging a little beneath the surface reveals, at
least, some tangential connections: Plant's roots in the blues
are well-known; Costello has worked with jazz artists, including
guitarist Bill Frisell on their Deep Dead Blue (Warner
Bros., 1995) EP -- even singing a Charles Mingus tune; Black Dub's
drummer is Brian Blade, certainly no stranger to the jazz world;
Paul Simon has collaborated with many jazzers on albums and on
tour, including Steve Gadd and the late Michael Brecker; and,
while Trucks fits more squarely in jam band space, he has been
known to put his slide to work to the occasional jazz tune. His
first album, The Derek Trucks Band (Landslide, 1997),
released when he was just 17, featured not one, but two tunes
by John Coltrane, and a cover of Miles Davis' "So What"
to boot. The same, sadly, cannot be said of Deep Purple, Ricky
Martin, Liza Minelli and Arcade Fire, all of whom performed at
Montreux last year.
also of no small importance that if these larger scale shows bring
in the crowds that festivals hope, they will absolutely help to
fund jazz acts performing in smaller venues -- and to more realistically
sized audiences -- such as Atomic, Christian McBride, Vijay Iyer
and Kenny Wheeler/Myra Melford in Ottawa; and Ahmad Jamal, Anat
Cohen and Terence Blanchard in New Orleans. Montreux is a little
different in that, for the most part, it operates in only two
large venues, which brings its programming into more question,
as it doesn't really have any small venues for lesser-known jazz
artists. And that makes its decision to book acts, in previous
years, like Motorhead and Alice Cooper far more questionable.
Whether or not Montreux is, in truth, a jazz festival may be a
good question, but how about New Orleans and Ottawa?
good yardstick to decide whether or not a jazz festival is a
jazz festival is the answer to a single question: can you attend
the festival for its entire run, ignore the non-jazz programming,
and still be immersed in a broad cross-section of jazz each
and every day . . . even facing difficult choices about what
you decide to see? In the case of Montreux, the question is,
sadly, a resounding no.
you're already attending the New Orleans festival, or are making
plans for Ottawa and Montreal, the answer is an absolute and unequivocal
yes. Sure, those who only think of OIJF for its main stage in
Confederation Park will bemoan the dearth of previous year mainstreamers
like Dave Brubeck, Latin artist like Paquito D'Rivera, or specialty
projects like Jimmy Cobb's Kind of Blue tribute band.
But move into one of the festival's two indoor venues, the tented
OLG stage, or the new Canal Stage for the early evening Great
Canadian Jazz series, and you've 11 days and 83 acts that
are undeniably well within the jazz sphere. New Orleans' programming
is almost exponentially larger, with 12 stages and shows beginning
in the late morning, and running through to the early evening.
Is it really so offensive to go to a jazz festival that is programming
some peripherally related -- or even totally unrelated -- acts,
when you've got so much real jazz from which to choose?
the reality check. There are really only two choices for most
jazz festivals around the world: insist that festivals retain
their absolute purity, and watch them run themselves into the
ground in short order; or accept that a broader purview is necessary,
in order to exist, as long as that purview isn't at the expense
of a primary jazz focus. Me? I'll be first in line for Robert
Plant and Black Dub, but I'll also be lining up for Atomic, The
Thing, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau, Kurt Elling and Jonas Kullhammer.
And I'll be all the richer for it. Jazz, after all, has always
been about inclusion and cross-pollination rather than exclusion
and a glass box mentality, hasn't it?
Photos © Chantal