Coda, a San Francisco jazz club closes, and Yoshi’s Jazz Club, one of the nation’s most famous and longstanding jazz clubs, is now relying “increasingly” on groups* like Mos Def and Public Enemy (while at the same time receiving millions in public funding). [See full story in the Bay Citizen.]
I don’t enjoy delivering bad news about the jazz scene, but I also don’t think there is anything to be gained by pretending that the old business models and venues are either still viable, or that they will become so again sometime in the future. Similarly, I don’t see the issues I’ve described in this and in earlier posts (Jazz in Crisis, Part I and Jazz In Crisis Part II, for example) as being necessarily bad for jazz as a musical genre. The trend is, however, quite clear; the club scene of the ’50s and ’60s is becoming increasingly less viable as an economic model. How could it be otherwise? What is truly remarkable is that the scene survived as long as it did, especially given the enormous technological and cultural changes that have taken place in the last 60 years.
*This is a familiar story to most, if not all, working jazz musicians. It happens often in smaller cities (where 1% of the population doesn’t amount to more than a few thousand people who might show up to hear jazz) but it seems that the larger centers are no longer immune. The story goes like this:
A jazz club opens and does reasonably well with three nights (Thursday-Saturday) a week of jazz (trios, quartets, quintets, mostly instrumental, with the occasional vocalist). One day, the owner is approached by a Blues, R&B, Indie, Salsa, or Rock group that offers to perform “on an off night for the door.” How can the owner not give it a try? Bar receipts skyrocket for the usually comatose Wednesday night, and it doesn’t take long until Wednesday and Thursday nights are “Blues Night” and then Friday night becomes “Torch Songs for the Tortured” or “Big Band Crooners for Friday Night Spooners.” You don’t need to be Paul Harvey to guess “the rest of the story”–within another 12-18 months, there is not much left on the calendar that is recognizable as jazz.