Jun 26, 2014

Jazz Fest After Math - AKA The Dumb, the Bad and the Petty

So the 11 day, 80+ event called an international jazz festival is over. Last year they had 100 the year before 90 so quite the drop in acts. Gee I wonder why? Maybe it has to do with the colour RED!

The thin jazz content and the elements conspired to create one of the worst events ever.

So we start off with having very little jazz and only 2 international jazz acts.

Add  sopping wet opening and closing weekends, mix in a cancelled flight and put it in the oven until your Facebook presence is revoked.

Ya that all happened.

Well  rain happens, it happens in June (our rainy season) it happens on the weekend.

The Thursday and Friday nights came off OK but the rock band filled Saturday had to be shut down early and all of Sunday got blown out.

They tried to put a spin on it saying this act is cancelled but the next one goes on blah blah, but when I posted the weather report on a thread, Jazz Winnipeg 'un-friend-ed' me.

Now they have had plenty of reasons to ban me as I am a decade long, constant and unapologetic critic. 10 years of letters to the editor, Facebook, Twitter and blog posts doesn't get me banned. But a link to the weather forecast does.

Ya, kinda petty.

I guess they were feeling crabby watching their beer sales get flushed to the sewers.

Now those threads all got deleted, probably not because of my weather report. More likely because other people were complaining about the way it was being dealt with.

Some people were complaining about 'having it on a weekend that always rains' but others made a valid point about not having a plan "B"

So ya, Jazz Winnipeg deleted those threads. Maybe because of people daring to question them, maybe to get rid of the evidence of how they handled things.

On To The Dumb

Well that could be a whole book but if anti social media is your biggest marketing tool then having your Facebook presence disappear at the onset of your reason for existing...that is a whole lotta dumb!

What happened?

Well to back up a bit, Jazz Winnipeg was using a personal page instead of a business page. At the onset of Facebook many business did this but as FB evolved they instituted a no using a personal page for business policy. Facebook has been deleting these types of profiles for a while now. Any of us paying attention knew it, so I can't imagine they didn't...well yes I can.

Now there were some advantages to keeping the personal page going. You can create events and spam all your 'friends' with invites and reminders, you can un-friend folks who post weather reports and you don't have to pay money to reach everyone on your friends list like I would if I wanted to reach more than 10-20% of people who like any one of my 6 business/music pages.

Facebook doesn't like it because they can't sell ads to you. But there is a real good reason no one should like a business using a personal page.

If you were, say, 'friends' with Taco Bell  anyone with access to the page could see your name, age, location, pictures, etc. When you are in business page mode you can't see any of the names of people who like your page or where they live, let alone pictures of their kids. You also can't stop people from linking to your page in posts (good or bad) about your business or organisation. And we all know how well JW deals with any sort of criticism.

Now I don't think any of the handful of people who had access to Jazz Winnipeg's page had anything nefarious in mind but it is just wrong for any business or organization to have access to that sort of info unless you specifically allow it.

Now this vulnerability is a fairly well known situation in social media marketing circles so if they have a social media person on staff  they should have known better.

So Jazz Winnipeg kept their presence on a personal page because:

  1. they knew but still wanted to take advantage of the personal page 
  2. didn't know
  3. They knew but didn't know they could have converted the page to business and keep all their 'friends' but just have them converted to likes.
Whatever the reason it is just dumb on a massive scale.

Any other company that thought social media was the cat's PJs and had this happen...the person in charge would be shit canned and probably the next in line as well.

Not gonna happen here. This is Winnipeg, you can't fire your buddy just because he is an incompetent twit or an internet bully. You can't let someone go because they run a lousy event that loses money, they're good friends dammit!!

To further the dumb that event paralyzed almost all their social media presence for the majority of the week and, as of this writing the FB link on their home page still leads to a broken FB page. Matches well with all the 404 errors their site generates...note to JW fire that guy too. Oh wait see above paragraph

No Plan "B"

The fans on JW's page made a great criticism. What is the point of a big deal kick off 'free' opening weekend if it rains and gets cancelled? If you are having a backyard party or wedding and it rains...you move it indoors some basic logic and planning beyond their scope I guess.

Now I am not a fan of weather wimps that move or cancel things because a forecast looks grim, but when the water is falling from the sky and the satellites in outer space say it isn't gonna stop, then it might be time to have another plan.

The problem is JW have this pyramid scheme going.

  • the free live outdoor music is paid for by sponsors, tax dollars and, in the case of union players, the performance trust fund.
  • but they also use it as a major revenue generator by operating a beer/wine tent and a liquor license can't be easily transferred to another location.
  • in the case of trust fund money the shows "are held in parks, schools, and public halls, as well as in hospitals and at retirement centers."
So they can't move their beer tent to a school and they can't still use the trust fund money and move it into a bar.

But they might be in breach already because "MPTF-funded events must be free of charge and without any conditions for admittance. They cannot be fund-raising events or raffles regardless of the merit."

So, ya, they have a fund raising beer tent and usually some sort of raffle ( Ironically, sometimes a raffle towin a trip to a decent jazz festival).

The Bad

The numbers. Ellis Marsalis, cancelled. Gregory Porter, the sure fire, Grammy winning 'jazz' vocalist didn't fill quite 2/3's of the MTC's 787 seats and did only 25 bums more than returning (after like 8 months) hometown hero Curtis Nowasad's Quartet at 475. On top of which everyone in that band, with the exception of Jimmy Greene, was in 3-8 other shows for some over the top over exposure. Imagine if CNQ only had that one show (the way it should have been) they might have had the embarrassing marketing fiasco of the locals who you've seen for free since forever out drawing the money maker.

The real money maker, John Legend was 'sold out in minutes' but you could still get in with your $250 so called super pass.

So how does that work?

If you are sold out that means every seat is sold right?. Then if you buy the $250 pass you can't get in.

If you can get in with your $250 pass then it means it wasn't sold out, so they were lying.

So the scam here is either you pay $250 but really can't get in or you pay $250 for seats that were held back thereby paying 3-5 times as much as people who got the 'real' tickets. Or maybe both with some but not everyone with the magical pass getting in.

Someone call their high school calculus teacher because there is some pretty shady math going on here.

The Ugly

One thing that does bug me (and should bug you) is the complete lack of transparency and accountability. There is no way for the average Joe to find out things like whether they lost money this year, any year on any event, who the board of directors are, how much they (or anyone else) get in free tickets, etc.
This is a publicly funded not-for-profit, it should be totally transparent!

Many of us know from experience that if you write, post or call to voice a concern you will be shut down or ignored.

Why are they so afraid?

Jun 12, 2014

The Usual Terrible Jazz Festival Again But Capitalism is Good Right??

Usually at this time of year I write about our horrible excuse for a jazz festival. I have written about it before and it is basically the same thing. Jazz doesn't sell so let's have pandering commercial music to aid the jazz, have zero concept of marketing anything and then blame the jazz.  Since nothing has changed for the better and in some ways has changed for the bleaker, so it won't take up the totality of this post.

Also I am sorry for leaving it this late. Between running my music school and a swath of gigs I have had little time.

I even considered passing on doing it as nothing has changed and these posts change nothing.

On With the No Jazz Show

And Remember: Anyone who questions the lack of jazz at a jazz festival is denounced as a jazz police purist.

Jazz Fest Math

There are fewer events and acts over all but the percentages remain the same sadly.

Only 35 of the 88 acts are jazz so we are in that 1/3 area again.
Only 3 out 8 main stage acts are jazz.
Only 2 out of 5 of the jazz labs are jazz.
The local acts of a jazz nature are, by and large, the same people rearranged and almost all are currently enrolled, drop outs or graduates of the local university's fairly new program. So if you got your degree somewhere else or too long ago then don't bother applying to perform. (Unless you have another inside track!)

 So the blatant cronyism and complete lack of diversity that has marred previous festivals is doubly so this year.

The cronyism extends to the other areas of the fest with a board member, being a sponsor, doing work for the fest and getting free tickets to give to give away.

To be fair, cronyism is the major way of doing things in 'the city that feels like a small town'. My first bunch of years here I thought it was just the music community that wouldn't return the favour of a job with another job (the musician's code where I am from). Gig after gig I gave to people in this town only to see the next gigs these people got go to their friends.

But I have lived here long enough to see, experience and hear about it extending to church communities, friendship circles, corporate ladders, construction sites, etc.

Marketing for the festival is still tonnes of wasteful printing, pointless posters on street poles covered up by other posters and useless Facebook invites.

Social media is the thing right??

Well  Jazz Winnipeg does have 4500 'friends' on Facebook and 8500 followers on Twitter.

Wow is that 13,000 people to market to? Probably not. Assuming that a good portion of the twitter twits are also Facebook junkies, that the majority of FB friends are musicians and/or out of province types then the number of legitimate customers that can be spammed is way less.

But if they knew squat about marketing they'd know you need to reach more that 9,000 virtual people and the lucky few who see their posters before they are covered up or torn down.

Particularly if they want to have a 11 day music festival that is supposed to make big money.

It is still longer than any other jazz festival in the world for a city this size.

It is still a part time job trying to justify being a full time job.

More Dumb Stuff

Last year they released their new schedule with the dates all wrong on the web version. This year ALL links  led to 404 errors! They fixed a lot of it but many links, supposed to go to artist and to band websites (the few that had them) generated the same result.

You all year to get this right...cripes.

Sadly, We Are Not Alone

The 'inclusion' of very popular music at jazz festivals is just a symptom of the larger war on jazz.

First off, the English speaking world is doing this to jazz festivals all over; with jazz focused festivals being the exception.

Cork Ireland gave us this quote about their diluted festival:
"The implicit corollary of this nonsense is that jazz does not ‘move with the times’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hip-hop is a moribund, misogynist, vulgar imitation of its golden years; pop music is a cesspit of corporate promotion and recycled blandness; indie rock is a hypocritical, twee, middle-class, folkie parody of its former self. But jazz? Jazz is vibrant, ever-evolving music. In Europe, there is a genuine, continent-wide subculture of jazz that is far removed from the doldrums of mainstream popular culture. It is a music of educated, enthusiastic and open practitioners, treating the great heritage of jazz as one source of inspiration."
from here

Here are similar complaints about the Montreux Festival and about the New Orleans Fest

Mark Eisenmen says:

"As far as Jazz festivals go, the label “jazz” seems to include everything. Music from all disciplines and locales is fair game… Funk, Country, Balinese Gamelan, all World music. Oddly, sometimes jazz itself is given short shrift at jazz fests.

In addition to this, the mainstream of jazz music itself is excluded from all manner of music festivals with labels like Caribana, Folk, Blues, Classical and so on."

From Here
So, ya,  jazz isn't very popular. I came to terms with that from the beginning. Why can't Jazz Festivals come to grips with it?

As a much younger person I relished liking musics (jazz, latin, progressive rock) all my peers thought was old, moldy or a girl replant. I was proud to walk into a record store and scan the tiny section at the back of jazz records. I was more than ready to engage someone who thought jazz and blues were the same or that jazz came from blues.

There is some panache to liking an art form many don't get, to owning a jazz station that only a niche listen to or a festival that caters to a music that has been evolving  since the early 1900's, picking up the best of the popular culture along the way, honouring it's past while adopting the future.

You're just not going to get rich or popular doing it.

So jazz being a higher form of music and not popular qualifies it as an art form requiring not for profit status, sponsors and possibly government help.

So why the heck does our local shebang and many other festivals feel the need to get bigger, more popular and act like a for profit corporation?

The Co-opted Precedent 

The thin edge of the wedge was many years ago. Back in the day jazz festivals gave a helping hand up to new, marginalized, ethnic but valid musics. The Newport Jazz Festival basically introduced Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin to the USA  in 1969 (and Miles Davis used Sly and the Family Stone as a template for his later music)

The first time I heard live reggae, Soweto Pop or Soca was at a jazz festival .

Fast forward to today and we have almost all Canadian and many American jazz festivals marginalizing jazz, and loading their schedule with pop acts.

It is a long way from booking music from the slums of Johannesburg to booking John Legend (not his real name)

That's why so many dates on an international jazz musicians calendar are Asian and European dates...they have jazz festivals with jazz only and they have a lot of them.

Trusted Jazz Labels are signing pop acts and jazz artists (usually vocalists) have a lot of downward pressure to do pop 're-imaginings'. Alongside that, female jazz artists are marketed in an increasingly sexist way...like it is the 60's again.

Gregory Porter (who is at this year's fest) won a jazz vocalist Grammy. WHAT? Did someone actually listen to the music? Or did they just look at the visuals (grand piano, upright bass small drum kit...must be jazz right??) Flugle horn solos over a 2 chord vamp doesn't make it jazz.

So we get a jazz tinged soul/ R&B singer, with the manufactured and contrived affectation of always wearing a balaclava and a slightly askew English driving cap being passed off as a full on jazz musician with R&B/Soul Gospel influences. Sorry it is the other way around.

He has more in common with Bill Withers than he does with Bill Evans.

Good music but not jazz.

Maybe that is the sub-text. With so much bad music out there that anything slightly good has to have the jazz lantern hung on it to have a fighting chance

The only place we find that jazz is marketed as jazz is the satellite radio stations like Galaxie and Sirius  you pay for the service and they divide the music into genres and ONLY that genre is on that station.

Seems simple? They do get things wrong. They have blues listed as a jazz sub genre at Galaxie and sometimes they will put some less than stellar CANCON artist on the Jazz Masters channel. But hip hop on the jazz...jazz on the hip hop no, no they don't.

With some irony...14 years ago Jazz Winnipeg would point at the more valid festivals' 30% non jazz content and marketing focus to validate their own 30% jazz content. Well, sadly, the times have changed. Only Edmonton stands alone as a jazz festival with only jazz  in the schedule in Canada. Most of the small ones have gone the way of greedy capitalism and are focused on popular music while the big cities slice of jazz gets smaller and smaller.


I don't know why anymore than I know why the NHL feels the need to change their basic rules in a failed attempt to get bubba to switch from monster trucks to hockey.

It's like they are the insecure kid at school desperately trying to fit in rather than be themselves.

The corporate powers that be want to use the jazz 'brand' to give non jazz credibility. I have lost count how many hip hop and rap performer's say they are jazz. How many boring pop artists, folkys, etc. use the jazz label/influence/look as a stepping stone?

So there you have it (or don't)

If you are interested in my previous pointless rants about our crappy festival you can read last years here and there are links to the previous years analogy fill diatribes.