August 25, 2007

Blues over Jazz in the West

When M. and I turned our rental cabin into a short-term vacation rental, we thought that the Jazz in the Sangres music festival might generate some business. It did not. In fact, the festival died two years ago.

The recent Denver Post article bemoaning that city's dwindling jazz club scene mentioned that demise and the reason for both: declining audiences.

Quite awhile ago, when I was filling in as entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Sun, I got to pondering on the same topic. I came up with two reasons, although I never tested them.

First would be that jazz musicians started believing the critics about how what they were producing was not popular music but a uniquely American high art.

Also, during the Cold War, the federal government subsidized many jazz musicians' international tours, thus demonstrating the vitality of American culture in contrast to the Soviet Union--and since many of those musicians were black, countering attackers who pointed to America's racial problems during the contemporaneous civil rights struggle.

Convinced that they were now artistes, the musicians stopped improvising on popular music of the day in order to do more original composing of "difficult" work. (Pharoah Sanders, anyone?) No more raucous audiences in clubs: audiences now had to sit still, be respectful, and demonstrate that they were deserving of the musicians' performances.

It was high art now. But a certain link with the everyday world was severed as the walls went up around the jazz world. At least that's my theory.

Meanwhile, two new blues festivals seem to be doing all right. One is in Cañon City, and the other is in Trinidad, however, so we will get no rental business there.

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