Monday, September 20, 2010

The Magic Jazz Fairy

I tense up when I think of this. I tug my shoulders in, roll my fingers into fists, tighten my jaw and furrow my brow in a scowl. Because I’ve seen this happen more times than I can recall and it’s happening again.

A restaurant, bar, someone, someplace, books jazz. But they don’t promote, they don’t tell anyone, word barely gets out that there’s good jazz in a place you never knew about, so few customers show up and the owner declares nobody in Kansas City listens to jazz anymore. He knows because he booked it in his restaurant or bar or wherever and nobody came. But it’s not his fault for not telling anybody. It’s the musicians’ fault, or it’s the music’s fault.

Or, I know, it’s the fault of the magic jazz fairy!

Because if somebody books jazz and doesn’t tell anyone and then complains that nobody shows up but it’s not his fault, it must be the fault of some mystical being expected to fly around and tell all jazz fans in Kansas City that there’s a new place with jazz, so we wake up flush with that knowledge. And that mystical being who whispers jazz secrets to us at night must be the magic jazz fairy.

Damn slacker jazz fairy.

The new location, as far as I know, is featuring jazz only on Wednesday nights. I say “as far as I know” since there is no mention of music anywhere on the venue’s web site. Now, there is one mention of one jazz show on their Facebook page, which the 145 people who have clicked “Like” for the page should have seen. Given that returns on Facebook marketing are comparable to direct mail, that posting could have accounted for up to four people at the show.

But, let’s face it, if this city had a decent magic jazz fairy who would have picked up on this posting and whispered it in the ear of every KC jazz fan while we slept, we would have all been at that show, wouldn’t we? Clearly, the problem is not with the venue. Clearly, the problem is with this city’s magic jazz fairy failing to produce.

I understand, completely, that this venue is new. The night I was there, it had been open just two months. I understand the owner is putting in 16 hour days running the place. I don’t envy that pace. I understand the expertise and focus brought to this new venture is in operating a restaurant and bar. That expertise is crucial to success.

But booking music and expecting the musicians to be the promotors – and that, to date, is what’s happening here – is an abdication of responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with the musicians placing a notice on their Facebook page, too. There’s nothing wrong with asking the musicians for promotional help. But there’s everything wrong with expecting the musicians to shoulder the complete marketing responsibility. After all, they receive a set fee. It’s the venue that gains the most financially by building an audience. It’s the venue that benefits most from a crowd. It’s the venue, then, that holds the greatest incentive to promote. Hiring musicians once a week is a welcome start. Next, tell people you hired them, and to come out and hear great music.

Never mind that Jardine’s, The Blue Room, The Phoenix and The Majestic all maintain online calendars. Never mind that each also promotes through some combination of Facebook posts, tweets and emails. Never mind that even the Record Bar lists twice monthly jazz and R Bar lists occasional jazz on their web sites. Never mind that there’s your competition and that’s how we know what they’re hosting each week.

Never mind all that. Instead, blame the magic jazz fairy. Because if our magic jazz fairy was doing its job, we would know, we would just know without seeing it on a venue’s web site, or hearing about it because they put out a simple press release, or seeing it in a small ad somewhere, or by catching regular posts that build a Facebook following, or by seeing tweets. We would know if the magic jazz fairy would just get off its magic jazz fairy butt and whisper the news to us while we sleep. Then we would know. Blame the magic jazz fairy.

But don’t blame the music or the musicians. Maybe jazz will draw people to this venue, maybe it will not. So far all that’s been proven here is that (A) if you book jazz and (B) you don’t tell anyone that you booked jazz, then (C) nobody knows that you booked jazz and (D) nobody shows up.

Or, (E) Kansas City has a lame magic jazz fairy. That’s it. The problem must be (E). No wonder I tense up.

So where is this place? Who’s playing there? When is the music (hint: it goes on later than their web site says the place is open)?

What is this new restaurant and bar showcasing jazz on Wednesday nights?

I’m not telling you.

Go ask the magic jazz fairy.

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Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.