YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME

For a variety of reasons, for the past several weeks I haven't had blog writing oomph. In fact, I haven't had much oomph at all. But with the new season gearing up - the concert season at Continuum, the programming season here at jazz festival headquarters, some upcoming activity with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and the launch of Toronto Jazz Central - I'm slowly getting back into a groove. This latte helps, and so do the somewhat hilarious versions of top 40 tunes currently playing on the stereo…but perhaps the biggest stimulus is having been out and about on the scene recently.

Two items have come out of my recent city-wide travels. The first was an observation made on two separate nights at The Rex. I was there on Sunday night for one set by The Wee Trio, and again on Tuesday night for one set by Brian Charette. Neither night was particularly busy (this will become important for item two, below), which meant I had good seats, and could keep my eye (if I so chose) easily on the comings and goings at the front door. I was surprised by the number of people who, on both nights, turned away after finding out there was a cover charge for the music.

This is nothing new, and shouldn't be a surprise. But it kinda hurt. There was some pretty great music happening on stage - especially Sunday night - being performed by seasoned professionals. And people didn't want to pay $9 to hear it.

I won't belabour the point here - I'm sure it's been said a million times before, in more eloquent, less caffeine-addled ways - but I'm at a bit of a loss as to how we help people understand the value of art. In the music world, whether an audience member is spending $5 or $150 on a ticket, that ticket covers only a portion of the costs related to the performance. If we were to cover all of the costs of a performance through ticket sales alone, we'd likely be paying several hundred dollars per concert - never mind nine measly bucks.

Somehow, when we buy a car, or a piece of electronics, or whatever, we can convince ourselves that it's worth the price. We can look at the item and say, "Yeah, the parts probably cost this much, and the labour probably cost this much…" Perhaps the difficulty with music is that the parts making up the whole are less obvious - less tangible. There is no real way to price out the hours of private study, practice, recording, reeds, mouthpieces, instruments, etc., which go into a professional performance.

Nine dollars is not expensive. Never mind what they charge in other cities for jazz - there's not even a drink minimum at The Rex. At many restaurants/bars/entertainment venues in this city - some, I wager, the people who chose not to pay the cover were either coming from or going to - $9 barely gets you an appetizer or a glass of wine. It's perfectly reasonable for professional musicians - just like professional anything else - to want to get paid appropriately for what they do, and it's perfectly reasonable to ask the audience to pay for that music - just like they pay for professional anything else.

Okay - now on to item two. A couple of local musicians who were also at The Rex on Sunday night, shocked by the small audience, took to Facebook to express their frustration at the lack of attendance by other musicians and, especially, students from local post-secondary jazz programs. Their posts created some VERY interesting dialogue - about how students should or shouldn't prioritize seeing live music, about how students should or shouldn't budget their time and money, about whether the ranting should even be directed at students at all. I didn't read all of the comments - they were plentiful - but one musician's comments in particular struck a chord with me. (Sorry. Puns are genetic in my family.) I saw him on Tuesday night and asked if I could quote him. He agreed. So here's a part of Morgan Childs' contribution to the discussion:

The people that you aspire to have hire you one day? They're not going to hire you if they have no clue you exist, have never heard you, don't know what you play and have no sense (and this is more important than you might guess) of what your personality is like. A Facebook profile is NOT a personality. Buy a beer (to support the club, and the musicians playing)! Hell, go out on a limb and buy a ROUND for the band playing. If you have to wait a little bit to get the latest iDevice or video game...well, priorities, friend. If you see somebody you've heard of but never met, SAY HI to them. Introduce yourself. If you see somebody you met once before, say hi AGAIN and re-introduce yourself. Be polite. Listen. Talk about something other than what school you go to (pleeease!). The world of music is gigantic, but in the end it's also very small…

This resonated (ack…make it stop…) with me. I know that as a student in Toronto I didn't get out quite as much as I would have liked. And when I did make it out, I wasn't always the best at being social. Even today I'd like to be getting out more, hanging more. The situation has changed - I have far more responsibilities at home now than I did then - but Morgan's comments still hold true. To be an active member of the community, one has to be out in the community. A lot. I've written before about "the hang". Hearing live music is vital to anyone's musical education, regardless of their professional stature…but one can glean a fair bit from recordings. There is nothing, however, that can replace personal interaction with others.

I'm not so interested in telling people what they should be doing. In fact, I don't like the word "should" very much at all. But I know this: in order for the community to thrive, we need people of all sorts - students, professionals, musicians, fans - to be in the audience. And if you're interested in making a mark in the community, you need to be out there in the thick of things.

And - to the Griffith/Hiltz Trio, Christian Overton and the Composers Collective Big Band, Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera (and Bernie Senensky), Odessa/Havana, The Wee Trio, The DanJam and Sneak Peek Orchestras and Brian Charette, all of whom I'm seen in the past couple of weeks, I say: nice one. Thanks for making some great music.

Josh

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