“You Gotta Have a Band.”

I love Ethan Iverson’s emphasis (in this blog post and all the time) on the need for jazz musicians to have a working band, a creative collective.  This is the standard in other forms of music, but in jazz it is rare.  It would be interesting to trace this development from the early days.  So much of the emphasis on the individual in jazz seems to emanate from the marketing, the need to showcase individual genius, the mythical hero.  It also comes from the photography.  Jazz photography is dominated by images of the individual, rarely the whole band.  Check it out.

Recently I inquired with the manager of a prime jazz musician if they had a photograph of the whole band.  They didn’t.  They didn’t have a single photograph of the whole band.  Not one.

If jazz is dead, this is one of the reasons.

-Sam Stephenson


  1. Richard Mitnick Said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    “If jazz is dead, this is one of the reasons.”

    Is this a serious “If”? Check out the Jazz Calendars at WBGO, Newark, NJ, for New York and North Jersey; and WPRB, Princeton, NJ, for Philadelphia and New York. You will hear that Jazz is in no way dead in the New York and Philadelphia markets. There are Jazz bloggers in St Louis, Minneapolis/St Paul, and Ottawa, Ontario, just to name three, who regularly write of Jazz in their towns. There are Jazz festivals in Detroit, Montreal, the Undead Jazz Festival in New York City. Talk to Josh Jackson at WBGO.

    We had enough of this Jazz is Dead stuff from Terry Teachout in the WSJ in August 2009(?). we do not need more of this.

  2. Richard Mitnick Said,

    December 13, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

    I forgot, on the web, check out All About Jazz and Jazz Corner.

  3. admin Said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    It’s not a serious “if.” There are some inspiring musicians and bands out there. But the question seems to never die. Record sales of the top level artists are troublesome. When I was working on my Branford Marsalis piece I did some research on Soundscan, etc., and learned that sales figures for the biggest, hippest names in jazz today are devastating. Some of the most celebrated artists (McArthur winners, for example) struggle to sell more than 3K copies of their most current albums worldwide. And most of the theater dates that the artists rely on at universities and other institutions are subsidized. I’m not sure that model helps anybody except the dozen or two acts that can get those subsidized gigs. I’m mulling an article on the economics of jazz if I can find a good place to publish it.

  4. Lemmy Caution Said,

    December 14, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

    Love your blog. I found this line arresting: “some of the most celebrated artists struggle to sell more than 3K copies of their most current albums worldwide.”

    In the dvd doc ICONS AMONG US (if I recall correctly) we were informed that jazz recordings make up 2-3% of recordings sales lately.

    And, if I recall correctly, that of this amount, half of all sales are for a handful of very famous artists (presumably: Norah Jones, Wynton, Metheny, Cassandra Wilson: I don’t know where Kenny G fits in this accounting of sales; perhaps Norah Jones is tagged as non-jazz, for sales purposes).

    And I would guess that half of sales are to back-catalog items, often from deceased artists (Miles, Ellington, Coltrane, etc).

    I think your article would be really helpful and illuminating. And it would be good to make comparisons with other non-popular genres like: mainstream classical, contemporary classical, experimental, etc. Jazz always looks dead when compared to the shiny green apples of mainstream pop (which, by definition, it that which is most popular and dominant), but what are comparing it to other oranges?