Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Europe, Taxes and All That jazz

Reading about the impending demise of the JazzBaltica festival, and noting the European allusion in Matt's recent posting, it struck me how unexamined is this business of European jazz subsidy-and how seemingly anomalous. What's actually behind their willingness to lay out tax spondulics? The meager explanation we've been fed all along is that Europeans are simply "more cultured" than we Americans, care more about the arts, etc. Come on, people, does this 19th century explanation ring true to you? Not to me.

Yes, there is a long history here. James Reese Europe's Hellfighters made a big splash all the way back in WW I (they liked his name or his music?). Louis, Bechet and others cut a wide early swath. Europe acquired a reputation as a less racist environment and some small percentage-especially black musicians, have chosen to stay there. It was the French who created serious jazz criticism and historiography. No doubt, there's a certain amount of hubris inhering in all that for Europeans. Whether it's completely justifiable or not-well...........>

All that's on the one hand.

On the other, I've been over there a lot as, no doubt, many readers of this blog have. I played music in the streets, subways and clubs, hung out, did some recording, etc. and I just didn't see or experience much difference between the way Europeans relate to the consumption or production of music and the way Americans do.

If you're looking at aesthetics, the devil knows the popular music over there is at least as bad as ours is-maybe worse. Bravo to them for taking more lunch and vacation time to chill, but like us, people spend most of their time thinking about food, booze, sex and money (the order varies).

This is not just idle speculation. The foundation is cracking and we need to do some real analysis before the edifice simply evaporates.

Why did this tax trickle-down happen for so long? What fed the machine and greased the wheels? The weight of history may have played some part, but what kind of business/government linkages were necessary and how were they forged? If national self-image was a driving force, how do jazz promoters leverage that in US marketing? If movable feasts seemed preferable to permanent Temples of High Culture, how did the money flow to one and not the other?

Good answers are hard to come by, but they can only come after the right questions have been unearthed and asked.


Chris Rich said...

The Baltica demise may be a scale problem. If you look at Lovano as a Jazz Inc indicator species, then it suggests costly glitz issues.

Lovano might cost a presenter, say, 10 thousand plus in dollar value while most of the people I struggle ineptly to help might get a third of that, tops, and be thrilled.

The Jazz Inc roster just costs more money. Mr. Shipp just got back from a two week run with Sabir Mateen and it was a busy ball.

I don't imagine there is much difference in audiences except they are more numerous there.

The median to small scale events where the cost per ensemble is lower are fairly healthy and unassuming.

There are lots of venues that aren't much larger than the Outpost but more people come and there may be modest subsidies.

They really beat us on coordination. There isn't much of an organized presenter circuit here.

It's more like a spasmodic assortment of monads that don't seem to communicate much with each other or even know of each others existence.

This is odd when you consider the ease of communication and coordination introduced in the age of web 2.0.

The indie rock scene was way more coordinated and organized but that scene is on the skids too, mainly because fewer people in the support demographic, under 30, care about going to indie rock shows.

They go to dance stuff to simulate mating rituals but the convention of listening to something on a stage isn't what it was a decade ago.

One only has to look at the number of rock clubs that have gone tits up here since the economy tanked.

There are probably political aspects too. When the more conservative parties are in power the subsidy system can shrink or see a reshuffle.

I should note that Euro conservatives would seem like Blue Dog Democrats or even our 'progressives'. They don't really have anything quite like our 'conservatives' save a few tiny and uninfluential splinter parties.

The closest you get to our Tea Baggers and such would be the right wing of Central America.

I do expect it to get worse or at least reconfigure. For example the PIIGS economies, (Portugal, Iceland,Ireland Greece and Spain) are all in huge trouble and the more prosperous, fiscally responsible countries are stuck bailing the shirkers out.

There is a disaster looming from this that may undue the EU. And yet there were lots of gigs in Iberia and the other slacker zones.

Now there is gig health in places that have economic health. Poland is a busy place for Jazz. There is more going on in the former Soviet sphere.

I also suspect there are demographic issues there. The Euro baby boomers were the real architects of the legendary Euro scene of yore and all are getting on in years.

Younger generations are less enthused. But even there, the numbers are better than here.

Steve Provizer said...

It will be interesting to see if scaling down is considered. It would take a fairly radical shift to move away from the idea of using big names as festival anchors. Doing this would call for knowing a lot of demographic information-who is my audience? How risk-taking are they? How much will they spend? I wonder whether the recent NEA study that showed plummeting jazz audiences came up with anything useful in that regard.

Chris Rich said...

Both sides of the Atlantic have a layered system.

The crew I roll with will play, say, in the Hot Club of Lisbon, a nice place like a sweeter counterpart to Ryles.

The pay is pretty good, most agree that anything above 300 a person US is sweet.

The capacity might be like 50 person venues. They are well distributed in interesting places all over Europe.

Some may be small regional art centers like the Newton Art Center of yore.

The performance schedule is a mix of ensembles from there and here across a month.

It's funny, Patrick is counting on us Steve, we better help him out as I don't know if there are 'venue historians'. Hell, we're lucky to get decent work on the actual music.

So differences are more subtle. These small proprietors are just less slovenly and crass than their counterparts here.

The food is probably more interesting too.

The bloat scale projects like Baltica are more similar to the US and that may well be because the business model comes from George Wein.

If you figure they gotta do numbers to cover Herbie for 50 to 70k or Jarrett it is another animal. They might have a small posse of these expensive pachyderms and it gets unsustainable quickly.

From the US national media angle...cute little paella/tapas joints with Barre Phillips and crew are too under the radar screen as the media is stuck on the big thing juggernaut too. Although a piece on a cute place in Cadiz might please listeners.

And of course for long haul, big picture, majestic sweep of time stuff, they can ask Mr. Albertson ..ya think.

I hear he was one a them Europeans once.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the question as to whether Jazz is appreciated more by Europeans than Americans, I believe that you have to look back at history to possibly find an answer. After WW II, many Jazz musicians played both here and “over the pond”. In the 1940’s and 1950s, the main reason for jazz musicians moving to Europe was the matter of race. Afro-American musicians felt more welcome in Europe, as there was a much wider tolerance on most of Europe for them. There was little difference as to who was appreciated more as an artist, but in Europe, the color line was much more prevalent in the U.S. Don Byas heads the list of those who went and stayed.

By the 1950s, the issue was Europe’s tolerance on the use of drugs, which brought many musicians to Europe. The center of attraction was Copenhagen, which was where most of them finally settled, after problems with French and German courts. What’s interesting that a number of musicians, such as Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz were able to overcome their addiction and return to the States.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the interest in Jazz diminished as it fragmented and the emergence of Rock. The effect wasn’t felt until the mid 1960s, but I remember in the early 1960s when I was in Connolly’s taking photos of Ben Webster, who was appearing with Horace Parlan on piano. I was sitting on the floor when I heard someone ask “Are you using Tri-X film?” It was Ben and we ended talking, during the break about photography, as he was an avid photographer. At the end of the evening, he gave me his mother’s address in Harlem and asked me send a few 8 X 10 photos there as he was heading for Europe. He told me that gigs were becoming more difficult to find in the States and he, as well as others were going to Europe, where bookings were much more available. Many others followed, such as Brew Moore, Warne Marsh, Chet Baker and the list goes on!

In recent years, both Europe and Asia have attracted Jazz musicians away from the U.S. For example, Roberta Gambarini recorded her first CD, “Easy To Love” and tried to have it made and sold here in the States. There were no takers. She finally went to Japan and Groovin’ High Records released it and sold it here in the U.S. through Koch Entertainment. She was nominated for a Grammy in 2007 for “East To Love.” The Jazz Journalist Association awarded her Female Jazz vocalist of the Year. She appears about half the year in the U.S. and the other half in Europe and Asia. She is not alone. Houston Person spends about half the year overseas, primarily in Europe. The last time I saw him in Marblehead, he told me he had just returned from Scotland that afternoon, after a long tour of Europe. When I looked at him and said “Scotland!”….he laughed and said “I have to go where they pay me!”

Steve Provizer said...

Tom, Your point about the drug aspect is one which is not taken much into account. I think it is less relevant today, as heroin seems less pervasive in the jazz community. We also seem to be moving into a de facto legalization situation with marijuana.

Chris Rich said...

Now this is what a commentariat can be. Thank you.