The health bulletin
There are many indicators of the healty state of jazz: the number of clubs, of record stores, of record sales, of specialized magazines and their history and readers, websites and flow, record productions, artists, the nature of their expression and their lifestyle, the importance of advertising, its exposure in the media, the importance of jazz artists and not only the acknowledged ‘stars’ in the business or those with more than a 60 year old career or an obituary.
Of course there are summer jazz festivals with their artistic content, an annual barometer intended to represent the artistic state of jazz and its public which can be more or less of good quality. All these elements are not only quantitative but mainly
|qualitative and one must use these figures very cautiously in order to avoid making them say what they don’t mean.|
So a jazz festival with an increase of paying spectators does not necessarily mean it is in good health nor if jazz is in good shape. It happens –as is often the case– that a jazz festival is doped with commerciality to increase its gain. Like any other drug, you need more and more, and that is the best way for jazz to vanish from the horizon. What is the sense of a jazz festival without jazz and an audience of jazz connoisseurs?
This summer in Europe, as for the past few years, even before the economic crisis, festivals, that depend on local authorities, sponsors and now the crisis, suffer from specific restraints that prompt them to modify the nature of their programming or their budget of guest artists, when they are not struggling to survive. This phenonemon varies in every country and impacts the artistic content, the communication, the quality and length of the gathering, with significant consequences as much for the musicians as for all the actors whose work depends on these festivals on a local, national or international scale.
This is how volunteer work1 has become institutionalized in important proportions, and at all ages, for economic entities with honourable budgets in an environment where unemployment is common and where the prices of the tickets keep increasing due to the need to balance the books as politicians and sponsors in general, private or public, conceive festivals as satellites in charge of local animation or of their own promotion. They require a bigger audience despite the plunge in the standard of living and as the economic ressources of jazz amateurs –a specialized audience, so limited by definition– diminishes the potential amount of jazz amateurs who frequent these festivals decreases. That also goes along with a modification of the public. The younger generations, born in an era of mass consumption and under the influence of advertising and the media, tend to desert jazz festivals as they are less amateurs, activists, impassionned and also more dissipated, when these are not massively supported by advertisement, the media, that includes the internet. A portion of the festivals is in a rush –deadly for jazz as jazz like art is incompatible with mass consumption– to attract a larger audience. And that simply explains the bewilderment of jazz programmers, the audience and the musicians2. That also explains the difficulty for lesser known jazz festivals to maintain their initial cultural aim despite excellent programmers, jazz connoisseurs and the devotion of non profits. The generation of a programming force –to prospect, to search, to listen, to take risks with true talents less mediatised, to schedule genuine encounters and link projects like recordings, exhibitions, etc.– requires a morale of the culture, a sort of integrity of the music that is being showcased, a purity of its intention.
Today the ‘good health’ of a number of big jazz festivals worldwide hides an artistic reality in terms of frequentation that is far from brilliant with the dilution of jazz in its programming (even when what remains is good) and focuses on musicians that do not belong in jazz neither by the spirit nor the form even when they try to convince the contrary. It misleads the public, the current and future programmers, sometimes critics of specialized magazines and the musicians. And it doesn't open the scene of these festivals to the jazz musicians who follow what's going on in the ‘big’ jazz festivals of which many they are excluded.
That crisis has negative consequences on the audience and not only on ‘small’ festivals –i.e. the authentic, important Ascona (Switzerland) jazz festival that does not sacrifice jazz– is not surprising. It is only the acknowledgment of difficult, economic times. The idea is not to demolish a project's integrity by corrupting it but to use our imagination and courage to preserve what can be kept in the best conditions. Despite its audience’s decrease, the condition of jazz is better in Ascona than in many big festivals doped with commercial artists who announce increased audiences.
The evaluation of a summer of jazz is first of all artistic.
All of this impacts what the summer festivals were on how we appreciated them that is jazz concerts, sometimes of great quality in a festive ensemble, simple or mondaine, sometimes both, a great animation that is slowly taking over the initial mission of festivals who withdraw this conviction, this sincerity of the expression and the natural feel that has nourished jazz to become what it is. The spirit of jazz is fading away not only in live concerts but in its environment with ‘stars’ who are unprofessional and who become inaccessible, even to cameras.
It would be healthy if jazz amateurs (not to be confused with consumers-spectators) took full measure of this reality and became aware of their responsibility in the defense of this music –and of the arts in general– that they appreciate. Their attendance to the festivals that share this morale true to jazz would already be a strong act but not enough in a situation that could be fatal to jazz in Europe. For decades, the media did not support jazz except specialized magazines, nor did private or public sponsors. It was the result of individual initiatives of quality (we evoque frequently in Jazz Hot the important actors in jazz besides the musicians), and the result of the faithful support of a network of dynamic amateurs, connoisseurs, enthousiasts and militants who became a public of connoisseurs, purists, militants and proselytes.
That is what jazz needs now as always if it wants to continue to exist in the XXIst century outside its place origin and in Europe where it has planted deep roots.
As deep as its roots may be, they do not guarantee eternal life. Jazz needs to be nurtured, cared for and protected. In the era of protection of rare species, of battle against GMOs, of authentic products, of nature, it is paradoxal to see that in terms of culture (the proximity with nature doesn't escape us), we are constantly confronted with mixity, productivity, to quantify (the crowds, the stars) and in the end a dissolution of cultures by negation or their particularity or pluriality. The standardised ‘culture product’ serves the politics of globalised consumption3. It kills culture, the expression of individual liberty and its rarest most fragile species of which jazz is one.
< Yves Sportis >
Translation by Mathieu Perez
1. Volunteer work can be understood as a pedagogy in favor of promoting jazz, especially allowing "inside" access to the new generations with limited earnings of a career debut, to meet the musicians, to approach the performing arts field, to work in art on a daily basis, to experience life's ordinary and extraordinary encounters, whether it be artists or others, and to embrace a certain moral ethics. In this regard jazz is the best school because of its history and its musicians who carry on this spirit, even though all of those who claim to aren't always an exemplary.
But volunteer work cannot be conceived as a budgetary provision. In a crisis situation, like today, it has become an essential economic complement for the existence of festivals. Which can be understood for low budget festivals that respect the idea of promoting a marginalized art, jazz, and thus its expression and freedom. It is also the case of small non profits, clubs, etc. But it has no moral, economic or artistic sense when young and older people are volunteering for commercial festivals in which stars are paid above the average and their expression is not jazz. The two go hand in hand most of the time, if not systematically just to satisfy the event organizer's megalomania, the elected officials and the sponsors, to promote their own business.
2. The generation of festival creators that program 'their' festival is shifting to a generation of organizational professionals, less knowledgable jazz amateurs in an exclusive sense, as we can be said of musicians and the general public.
3. Do not confuse a culture's universal character that results from the universality of its message (i.e. Shakespeare, jazz, etc.) with the normalization created by the globalization of consumerism, 'cultural' among others.