Thursday, August 17, 2006

Clearwater Jazz Holiday: Wha' Happen?

(D'oh disclaimer: The below editorial represents my views and not those of any particular publication)

I read the news yesterday, oh boy.

In terms of the headliners, this year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Oct. 19-22 at Coachman Park, is hands down the worst-ever (okay, least musically worthwhile) Jazz Holiday in the history of the festival.

And the lineup of headliners (please, kill the drumroll; it doesn't deserve a place here):

Kenny G -- ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? He's possibly the single most critically maligned figure in the history of jazz ... and for good reason. Zzzzzzz. (And the guy probably doesn't come cheap).

Richard Elliot -- Isn't he merely Kenny G, with a slightly differrent 'do? Zzzzzzz squared.

The Manhattan Transfer -- They were interesting for five minutes, about 20 years ago. Yawn.

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies -- Huh? Didn't anybody tell the Jazz Holiday organizers that the neo-swing movement has been dead for, oh, at least a decade? Wake up, folks!

And to think: This is the same festival where ACTUAL JAZZ LEGENDS (Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Stephane Grappelli, Mose Allison, to name just a few) have headlined, as well as important young players (Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Irvin Mayfield).

It doesn't take a jazzhead to know: This edition of the Jazz Holiday is as lame as it comes.

Hey, Jazz Holiday organizers: If you really wanted to represent, say, the "hip" side of jazz, in terms of younger-oriented electric acts, why not book someone like, say, Medeski Martin and Wood or John Scofield, or the touring Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood group? You might have picked guitarists Pat Metheny or Mike Stern or Kurt Rosenwinkel or Charlie Hunter. How about one of Dave Douglas's electric bands? Or The Bad Plus, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey or EST?

And that's just a short list of the "electric"-oriented jazz/jam groups that might have been selected.

There are plenty other top-shelf acoustic jazz acts that are getting lots of attention in the jazz world these days, including groups led by Brad Mehldau, Dave Holland, Joshua Redman and on and on.

And the above acts are drawing good crowds at jazz festivals all over the country. All you have to do is google "jazz festival" and see what pops up, or take a look at the annual festival-oriented editions of the jazz mags.

One of the Jazz Holiday's officials told the St. Petersburg Times for a story published yesterday that "We're taking the caliber of the artists to a whole new level." (Clearly) he has no idea.

Who's in charge over there in Clearwater? Anyone who actually knows or cares about jazz?

Believe it or not, a few gems are hidden among the bland stuff: Jazz aficionados will be happy, I think, to see clarinetist Don Byron's Ivey-Divey Trio (Sunday afternoon), pianist Kenny Drew, Jr.'s quartet (Thursday night), USF composer/bandleader Chuck Owen's Surge big band (Sunday afternoon), retro guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli (Saturday afternoon) and saxophonist Valerie Gillespie (Saturday afternoon) on the bill.

Those acts are about the only reasons that jazz fans will be in the least attracted to this year's "Jazz" Holiday, and I'm betting good money that many of those folks won't be willing to put up with the driving/parking/crowd hassles just to catch an hour of music and then leave.

Believe me, those who care about, say, Kenny Drew, Jr., who's playing the opening night of the festival, are not going to stick around for the vanilla instrumental ministrations of Kenny G later that night.

And I'd venture to say that those who show up to hear the overblown "smooth jazz" headliners will treat the few musically solid acts on the bill as background music, an opportunity for cocktail-hour chatter.

How sad.


Brigheon said...

I wonder what the final attendance numbers were...Kenny G might have been (*shudder*) a bigger draw for the general public. I change that *shudder* to *keel-over-and-gasp*.

We've watered things down so much in an attempt to dumb things down to what "we think" is the "general public"'s level.

I remember an orchestra colleague showing me, side by side, "children's concert" programs from an orchestra in Germany...and our US orchestra. Guess which one has rich, quality literature??

Philip B said...

It's true: "Smooth" jazz does bring in big audience numbers, and there's a real possibility that this year's fest will break attendance numbers.

Still, that lame genre, thankfully, has been slipping in recent years.

And I really believe that a festival that gets significant funding from the city ought to present "quality" music.

Why not present the kind of music that you can't see every other month on local stages?

Why not think of the festival as not only entertainment but as education, a place where people can go to hear good jazz?

Why not take seriously the festival's nominal role as a purveyor of "jazz"?

It's not as if other cities around the country don't do this successfully. And it's not like the Tampa Bay area has a bunch of jazz festivals to support.

If the Clearwater Jazz Holiday has really decided not to feature jazz, then why not change its name to something like the Clearwater Music Festival and present anything and everything?

Are they really ready to give up on a festival that has been so special to so many people for so long?