Monday, December 26, 2011

The Magic Jazz Fairy Sees Skin in the Game

Instinctively, it flapped its wings in excitement, like a dog shakes its leg when scratched just so.

How many years had it been? it thought. How many years years had it been Kansas City’s Magic Jazz Fairy? Because never in all those years had it seen anything quite like this.

Every city has a Magic Jazz Fairy. It’s a phenomenon we’ve discussed before (here, here and here). How else to explain some jazz club owners never promoting yet expecting customers to show up? It’s because they know every city’s Magic Jazz Fairy tracks when jazz performances will happen, then flies around at night and whispers into the ear of every jazz fan when and where to find jazz, so that when we wake up, we know, we just know.

After all, it cannot be the club owner’s fault if they don’t promote and nobody shows up. They’re savvy businessmen. There must be someone else at fault. If nobody comes, it must be the fault of the Magic Jazz Fairy.

But this time, this was something different. This jazz club usually promoted itself well, though an online calendar, and Facebook postings, and emails. Now, however, nobody was coming because it was a jazz club with no live jazz.

Jazz musicians were boycotting it.

This was something entirely different. The Magic Jazz Fairy’s wings instinctively flapped again.

It had flown by the club just the other day. There were no signs in the windows, no indications of upcoming shows. It looked at the club’s online calendar. The calendar was blank. This club wasn’t promoting because, from all appearances, it had nothing to promote.

The Magic Jazz Fairy had seen the TV news stories on the club. They’re all on YouTube (and, with a major jazz club having nothing to promote, the Magic Jazz Fairy had time on its wings to look at YouTube). It had seen the multitude of blog posts. It had seen the accusations of addiction and abuse. It had seen the stories of staff being fired or quitting or not showing up. Not that how it happened mattered. The bottom line was that, for a time, there was no staff.

The owner spoke when triumphantly reopening the club’s doors, with a newly recruited staff trained and ready to serve. The Magic Jazz Fairy applauded the owner’s promotional savvy in using the press like that. But when reopening turned, apparently, into one week and out, the owner talked betrayal then publicly clammed up.

Betrayal, the owner claimed, by jazz musicians who refused to work the reopened and restaffed jazz club.

The Magic Jazz Fairy had seen the message the owner sent to over seventy email addresses, asking the jazz musicians to return. “It’s a new start for me,” the owner wrote. “If I was rude to anyone, I apologize and I plan on doing this efficiently and with eyes wide open.”

One musician, who played there often, responded to the list, “I’m sorry to say I can no longer support [this club] as a musician or patron. I’ve seen unethical and unprofessional behavior and a downright lack of human decency for years.”

Other musicians echoed those sentiments. Whatever sparked the staff upheaval, sparked much more. And it united Kansas City jazz musicians in a way the Magic Jazz Fairy had not seen in all its years on the job.

The mystical, winged being smiled impishly. It had seen plenty broadcast and written, and deservedly so, on the ex-staff. It had seen plenty written on the club’s owner. Yet it had seen little but betrayal accusations written about the city's jazz musicians.

This was no betrayal, the Magic Jazz fairy knew. There's no abundance of opportunities in any city in 2011 to make money playing and singing jazz. Yet here is a group of extraordinarily talented artists disciplined in denying an invitation to perform, and during the holiday season. These musicians have skin in the game. That, the magic jazz fairy knew, drove credibility to their charges. The mystical being did not know what went on behind the curtain in that jazz club. But it knew many of these musicians, and their united sacrifice said it could believe in them.

The Magic Jazz Fairy didn’t know what would become of the boycotted club. The owner may well be a savvy business person, but not savvy enough to draw customers to a jazz club without live jazz musicians. Selling the club seemed the most hopeful solution. With time, it thought, this situation would work itself out.

Meanwhile, there was work to do. Other jazz clubs remained open and were now even more vital to the jazz scene. And other restaurants and clubs were picking up some of the cancelled shows. Every Kansas City jazz fan needed to know about these opportunities.

The Magic Jazz Fairy smiled broadly. Like a dog scratched in that oh-so-perfect spot, instinctively, it flapped its wings.

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