Resolving to spread the word

NPR’s Felix Contreras proposes a New Year’s Resolution: to support local jazz by buying their albums and attending their shows. But if you’re already doing that, why not make it a point to bring your friends into the loop?

Pictured: Glows in the Dark performs at the Thompson & Grace Balcony Concert Series. What if “the know” became common knowledge?

To readers of this blog, this may be preaching to the choir, but maybe it’s an idea you’ll like and want to pass on. The concept was one proposed by NPR’s Felix Contreras on Tell Me More last week to “spruce up your holiday soundtrack” by forming a party playlist to create an effective environment and impress your guests. The most interesting part, to me, was what he follows up with in a post on A Blog Supreme.

Felix suggests a New Year’s Resolution for anyone to consider: “Seek out local jazz musicians in your area, and support them by attending their shows and buying their (often self-produced) CDs.” Regular readers here probably already do. But the average jazz listener who will buy anything that Barnes & Noble* recommends perhaps doesn’t realize that there’s quality music being recorded and performed right here in Richmond or [insert your town here]. Shopping locally supports the local art and music scene, stimulates the local economy (I think this is right, but I’m no economist), and, as Felix says, impresses your friends with the best jazz collection on the block.

If you’re someone who wouldn’t normally buy independent local music or go to shows of local musicians, why not take a $15 leap of faith on a cover charge and a CD? An average cover charge in Richmond ranges from $3 to $6, believe it or not. If you know where to look, some shows around here are free, so sometimes all it takes is getting over the awkward feeling you create for yourself when entering a new place to a new crowd (no one’s looking at you, and if they are, it’s because they think it’s cool that you came**). People have even been known to give away their CDs for free or for a pay-what-you-want amount. They want you to have it, so take it.

For those of you who own every album in Brian Jones’s discography, or who can’t wait for Fight the Big Bull’s new CD to come out, I challenge you to bring someone new to a show and get them to buy a CD of the performing group. Maybe their world will open up and they’ll feel compelled to pay it forward by telling all of their friends. Or maybe they’ll hate it, but at least they tried. Musicians will appreciate that at least someone gave them a shot.

Here in the city, where bands play at bars and clubs within walking or biking distance to our homes and where we are surrounded by a rich output of art — whether it’s music, visual, fashion, or architecture — it’s easy to support local music because it’s accessible. Growing up in a suburb of D.C. where everything is at least a 20-minute drive away and going into the city is a big ordeal, this was not the case for me. I knew where some of the jazz was, but much of the time I couldn’t get there. And forget about being a part of any underground scene, if there was one.***

Is this an issue in the suburbs of Richmond? Felix writes, “You probably won’t find them in the big-time jazz clubs in your area… As a result, many local jazz musicians get very creative in setting up their own gigs. You’ll find them in coffee houses, bars, university campuses, civic performance spaces and anywhere else where they can squeeze into.” Absence of “big-time jazz clubs” in Richmond aside, all of that still holds true in Richmond. So do people both outside and inside the city know where to look?

There are over 1.2 million people in the Richmond Metropolitan Area. How many of them are friends who are interested in jazz but don’t know where to find it? Maybe in 2010, we can all be better advocates for local music on a very personal level.

*Not knocking it. I’ve found many a great CD while cruising the jazz shelves.
**Daytime gigs in small spaces like Black Hand Coffee come to mind.
***Granted, “underground scenes” are underground because people don’t know about them; not many jazz musicians around here are hiding their music.

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Dean Christesen

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