Jun 26, 2012

2012 Jazz Fest AfterMATH

Well the Fest is over with a whimper. The best and (to my knowledge) the only sold out/non local JAZZ show was Vijay Iyer. At least the early set was sold out I don't know if the second set was as well.

So what else happened?

Phrases in Italic indicate text taken from festival press and ads.

Well Aqua Books bailed on the Fest. Other than slavish loyalty to a business owner who has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, this is not much of a jazz fest issue...stuff happens.

The Bad Bad Not Good, a band of music school drop outs (more famous for slagging their school than their playing) cancelled their entire western 'tour'. Then Rakim was the replacement (a rapper) and he cancelled his entire Canadian tour.

Sure, go ahead, book supposedly trendy, leading edge pop acts, that are so leading edge they have to cancel tours due to poor sales and a lack of interest in general to a JAZZ festival...makes perfect sense.

I talked about this last year in reference to pop acts cancelling mere days after they were announced and the folly of continuing to book here today, gone later today pop acts to a JAZZ festival.
When was the last time a jazz artist cancelled a WPG jazz fest gig?? When the pianist of EST died.

As well right in the middle of Jazz Fest we had MEME. A collection of djs and laptop players (as well as video artists). Not my bag but seems to sound like most of the 135ish BPM dance music that gets run into each other. Either way we clearly have a place for the DJs etc. to get a gig and we have a Jazz fest (with a DJ high up in the organization) booking DJ's and non jazz electronica competing with each other.

That's just stupid.

We have MEME, 2 stations playing 'urban' music 24/7. Year round clubs/festivals/events playing electronica, rock, pop, indie, blues etc. Seriously, it is time to stop competing with other ventures and private business and get back to JAZZ.

Along similar lines we have a new Blues festival  http://winnipegbbqandblues.ca/ Was the need seen because the peg jazz fest (jazz festivals have traditionally had a lot of blues) was light on blues (3 out of 'over 200 artists') I don't know but I'll bet my eye teeth neither the MEME or Blues and BBQ will be booking any jazz.

Only jazz festivals feel the need or insecurity to book other kinds of music and our festival has insecurity to spare.

As anyone trying to pay attention knows; the local fest is not very forth coming with numbers but I do have some.

"They" are already reporting  "more than a dozen sold out performances." Though, with 54 ticketed events, 13 is not a number to brag about. They are also reporting "The Club Series enjoyed its best attendance figures in several years" (like last year that stat is bloated by the 300-500 volunteer/performer free passes).

So we have some of the 'pay to get in' event numbers. Other than set 1 of the aforementioned show it seems NONE of the supposed big draw acts had a sell out and most of jazz acts weren't even close.

Trombone Shorty more R&B than jazz, considered a big draw because they sold out at the WECC  last year.  And typical of the organisers lack of imagination as he was just here last year. This year at the Burton Cummings? 638 tickets short of a sell out (not including the usual freebie give aways)
Gretchen Parlato, At the much smaller WECC, 190 shy of a sellout (not including the give aways)
Shine On also at the WECC 145 short
Delfeayo Marsalis 105 short
Even "the festival’s poster girl, Janelle Monáe, descend (sic) upon the Burt and wow (sic) the near-capacity crowd" was not a sell out. Got close though but she played the MTS center just last year opening for teeny bopper idol Katy Perry you'd think you could get a sellout with that.

Ramsey Lewis and Booker T numbers have not been released and I suspect they never will. If it was a sell out or near enough...we would have been told. The crowd for Lewis were referred to as 'enthusiastic' which is usually code for small.

I have no idea about the numbers for the indiebands, dj's etc. No one in the Winnipeg press community (not even the small indie papers) saw fit to attend and/or review these events.

So what is a sell out to the organisers? Maybe they only intended to sell 2/3rds of the available seats  for Trombone Shorty. Maybe they only needed to sell just over half of the capacity of the WECC for Gretchen Parlato.

My definition of a sellout is the stated capacity of the venue.

Which brings us back to Iyer. Why was this the only sold out, touring, remotely jazz, offering and one of the few sold out shows of any musical stripe?

Perhaps because the venue is small at a capacity of 250. On the other hand the attendance was better in bums in the seats, SRO and percentage than Gretchen Parlato (cross over jazz/funk) Shine On (pop done jazzy) or Delfaeyo Marsalis (real jazz but yet another Marsalis). And if the second set did nearly as well that number might reach 500!

Real, new, original, uncompromising jazz does better than most of the other acts. In a festival that is too big and too lacking in jazz, the jazz fans flocked to the leading edge up and comer. Jazz fans have a knack for rooting out this sort of thing and WPG jazz fans know they need to see something like this because he will still be awe some in years to come but in too much demand internationally to come to our jazz lite fest. (also he will be too jazz for our festival).

Or (yawn) they will book him this winter or next year, put him in a bigger venue, take a bath like they did with JATLC last year or Trombone Shorty this year and then sit back and claim jazz won't sell.

Vijay did well despite flying under the jazz fest's radar.

So for the bazzilionth time in a row they set up the jazz to fail through intent or incompetence.

 The formula
  1. have a jazz festival
  2. under promote the jazz
  3. hype up and over promote the non jazz like putting the main pop act on your main poster
  4. watch as most jazz events get under attended and the non jazz do slightly better
  5. claim the jazz doesn't sell so they have to have more pop than jazz
  6. ignore what works for jazz (like Vijay this year, Gary Burton or SRO Kelly Lee Evans last year)
  7. keep up the mantra that we can't support a jazz festival focused on jazz
  8. repeat from item 1

insert appropriate Einstein quote here......
On the bright side:

Local jazz singer Jodie Borle needed an extra set added to her night because she actually sold out in advance. A few other locals with devoted followings did well also.

Didn't see any of the dj's, rappers, indie or rock bands needing more time.

Juss Jazz (nick-named Jusst about anything but Jazz) may have seen they can have jazz and some kind of crowds. Not likely but a guy can hope.

And just let you see how comparable cities doing it this year.

In Saskatoon they have taken a step to the dark side with their ticketed events. 17 jazz and 25 non jazz but the scale does tip in their favour as they have 25 jazz appropriate (Jazz Blues Latin) to 17 pop acts (only 2 djs and zero rap hip hop) and they have Wayne Shorter, Benny Green, Dianne Reeves, Bill Frissell. (along with many of the artists we had)

But their free stages (made up of mostly locals) is dominated by jazz groups.

You know the bazillion posters some you might see around the city ( the ones not buried under homemade missing cats and indie or heavy metal concerts? You know, one for every touring performer, mostly of a non jazz nature.

Here is the Edmonton one.
Weird eh?? One poster, only jazz acts promoted.

Another wonderful thing Edmonton does is, rather than be insecure about jazz and pander to non jazz fans,  they try to educate them.

They have a page called Jazz 101 where they give an overview on the wide world of jazz.

On their performing artist list they tell you the type of jazz the artists are playing so if you have never heard of them you can still get an idea of what you are in for.

The huge diversity from Fusion to Dixie should be an eye opener for the local collective.  We  tend to get a lot of the same type of jazz. Lots of standards played standard, lots of cross over jazz/pop and this year, 3 brass based bands doing 5 shows.

Now Edmonton is a slightly bigger city (752,412) vs. our 684,100 but both cities share a sparse population outside the perimeter (look at a map of Edmonton and the layout looks almost like the 'Peg) with the edge going to Edmonton

But their festival is 11 days (1 day longer than ours) but with a mere 47 performers  (VS our 80 ish) at 9 venues (1 less than us) almost all jazz and 100% jazz fest appropriate.

Ya, no way you can have a jazz festival focused on jazz in central Canada.

Jun 14, 2012

Winnipeg 2012 Jazz Fest (yawn)

I won't repeat everything I wrote last year about the jazz festival we have this year (so much of it still applies). You can read about it in an earlier post about the jazz fest.

Bluntly I just don't have the time or the energy to do as in depth analysis as last year. I opened a music school , I have 45-50 of my own students and I have 13 gigs (a whack by my standards) between May long weekend and July 1st.

I did promise after the last post not to speak about it until now and that was hard. Why? Because at the end of last year, after deeming the 2011 fest 'one of the best ever', they did something they have never done before. They sent out an email pleading for year end donations to cover the year's losses!!

So, after we are forced to accept our jazz festival as an artistic failure so it can stay afloat financially, we then are forced to accept it is a financial failure??

Seriously, what gall!

Another thing that happened is a local jazz columnist for a major newspaper, printed an article after the fest was over. He asked readers to write in with their thoughts about the amount/lack of jazz at the festival. Well I do not know if anyone but me responded. Or if the response was mostly positive or negative but I do know that there was no follow up article. No story there? Maybe, but maybe the paper that gets ad money and is also a host venue isn't likely to allow a negative article about a festival they generate revenue from.

Lastly, when our festival did published this years schedule; the online version had the wrong dates!...if you can't get that right...

Again, I am not judging the quality of music or musical styles, but how much actual jazz is at the festival.

We can also look at the obvious marketing, social networking and booking blunders they continue to make on the way to creating a financial and artistic failure.

I will no longer be offering ways to improve the festival as I am tired of seeing my ideas implemented (coincidence or not) w/o credit and to the continued benefit of the non jazz acts.

And I promise to stay away from all those analogies!

On with the show

On some days there is no jazz (4) including the first Saturday of the opening weekend. On all but 1 day there is less jazz that any other music (that's 9 out of 10 days with little or no jazz) and that one day (Wednesday...now there's a hot night for jazz!) it is an even split between jazz (if we are generous) and  non jazz.

Even the avowed jazz fest apologists are shaking their heads at this one.

To me it smells of austerity or entropy.

Out of 90 or so events with quite a bit of recycling acts 2 or 3 times (their press release claimed 100 Artists but that is just more snake oil as they took individuals from groups to pad this number...if you can't get that right...) only 23 are firmly jazz. If you include the  stuff the fest is trying to push off as jazz, you might get to 27. Either way it is a JAZZ festival with less than 1/3 jazzish content! Sadly, the same ratio as last year. Again there is more pop music than jazz appropriate events (jazz/latin/blues)

There is no serious international jazz entry. The list of profound jazz artists we could have had (playing at jazz fests in Canada before and after ours) is staggering and depressing.

We were told by the festival director that; he tried to get Wayne Shorter but couldn't get the band together for our fest.  Really?? Wayne Shorter is playing in Saskatoon on Saturday June 23rd. You know the last day of our festival when only 3 out of 11 acts are remotely jazz.

"They" always say they need a big draw pop act to make ends meet but this year they don't have that. (unless you want to pay $46 to hear that Chevy Cruz theme song). It will be interesting to see if that pans out as a lot of the real jazz fests are also having this artist.

In the continuing saga of marketing blunders we still see a heavy reliance on telephone pole posters. Lost your dog or cat sure put up a poster. Trying to advertise a million dollar music festival...get with the times

Winnipeg Jazz Fest's Idea of 21st Century Marketing

We also have the pointless twitter hash tags talking to the choir and the less than useless Facebook event invites. So far I have been invited to 4 jazz events and 10 pop shows. And thanks to the new faceboook event format I am informed every time someone scratches their butt (posts a picture etc.) on an event. So one day I login and I have that red balloon with double digit notifications, all from a handful of (non jazz of course) events. Cripes I can't be the only one totally annoyed by this can I??

I don't know about you, but I got tired of reading the jazz fest site list of performers

Aside for 65-70% of them not being jazz (aren't used to that now?) I tired of the mostly amateurishly written bios, with no website  beyond a myspace, bandcamp, reverbnation or Facebook page (it is the 21st century and you are serious about your music right???). The lame resume padding ('shared the stage with', 'opened for', 'studied with', 'compared to') and bush league promo shots (even one obviously from their parent's basement).

I tired of the pop act bios that read 'genre bending', 'jazz as an influence', 'style blurring', 'defies description'. Especially galling is, that when you go to their respective websites (those that had one) and the acts themselves don't mention that crap. They call it like it is; we're a rock band, we're a soul act, we play R&B, etc.

It is the festival organizers who feel the need to play the snake oil salesmen.

The usual head scratcher of having local acts, of all stripes, you can see for free year round (including the week before, of and after) costing money that week.

We have the same handful of people playing most of the gigs under different leader names. The complete lack of imagination or just plain laziness in booking the local acts. They seem to mostly be the same people over and over in established groups or in thrown together groups with no website and for whom this will be only their 2nd gig in a year! Last year they had 2 local acts for whom the jazz fest was their only gig. If you only went to the jazz fest you'd think Winnipeg had only a handful of musicians. Which, of course, leads to the dearth of talented veteran locals not even having a sideman gig let alone a leader gig. Some of them have put out Cd's this year and, of course, have a real website. I can think of a few people who have 8-9 gigs each at this year's fest while their older wiser teachers have 1 or less.

Sure, the people they seem to favour are good but by no means does this festival represent the depth and variety that is the Winnipeg jazz scene. It's like they have no idea who all the jazz players in this town are.

There's this blunder of having the same acts multiple times! Sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee and sometimes opening for another. This cash strapped festival has to pay these acts multiple times. Seriously, is the plan to give something away for free and then expect people to pay for it?

As well the 'outreach person' spends almost all his time promoting the supposedly money making pop acts and doing a fine job of making people forget there is any jazz at all. Talk about your self fulfilling prophecy!

He also spends a bit of his time being disrespectful online, sometimes during office hours.

Last year there was at least one incident where someone (OK me) asked if the Folk Fest was going to start booking jazz (in response to Jazz Winnipeg booking a Bluegrass group for Feb and announcing and promoting it heavily in June when they should have been promoting their money losing festival) the outreach person logged out of the Jazz Winnipeg Facebook account, logged in with their personal account to offer a rude response. This year one of the performers started a facebook thread decrying BBNG. Not their inclusion to the fest (now cancelled) but their musical validity. This same Jazz Fest employee, during business hours, took the time to slag opinions that didn't mirror his own, put down an established jazz icon and slag Humber college and their graduates. Many who are playing at the festival.

Is this in his job description?

Seriously if I had an employee who was flaming/disrespecting people on behalf of or in the name of my business, during working hours (or anytime)...I would fire his ass.

A real social networking specialist's job is to attract people not piss them off.

As a hold over from previous years I will note that my friends who go to the blatantly non-jazz events have no idea why the jazz fest is having them and the artists themselves will, during their shows, make fun of the jazz festival for having them. If you look at the touring non jazz acts websites they do not have another jazz festival date on their calendar and, in all cases, do not refer to our jazz festival  other than the venue name and date...it's like they are embarrassed.

So am I.