I may have retired The Magic Jazz Fairy prematurely.
I created The Magic Jazz Fairy a few years ago to sarcastically criticize club owners who felt promoting the music they booked wasn’t their responsibility. At the time, a new downtown restaurant was featuring a variety of jazz ensembles and asking the band leader, as he set up each night, how big an audience he was bringing in. Scrawling across their windows that they had jazz a couple nights a week was, they thought, enough promotional effort on their part.
They didn’t last long.
At the time, no online calendars or ones not updated for months were the jazz club norm. The American Jazz Museum employed a marketing person who gave The Kansas City Star the wrong dates for Blue Room shows. Jardine’s did a good job of maintaining a calendar. But finding out who you could hear at most other clubs required some dedicated research, or following the musicians on Facebook with the hope they would post a heads up.
Let’s be clear. I’ve always maintained that promotion is partly the musician’s responsibility. Names who build an audience that will follow them into clubs are, obviously, likely to find themselves in higher demand. Facebook has made it relatively easy for musicians to let their followers know when and where they can be heard. Most musicians have become adept at promoting their shows online. It’s 2015. The days of the union being a musicians’s primary booking agent ended decades ago. Any artist needs to know and use the tools of this century. Promotion is part of the business of jazz.
And it’s an even greater part of the business plan for a club. The more people who show up, the more dinners and/or drinks the club will sell. At clubs where musicians get some or all of a cover charge at the door, the performer has a financial incentive to draw a crowd. But in general, the club owner gains the most from a full house. So the club owner bears the greater incentive to draw people through his door.
Of course, the real world is a smidge more complex than that. Clubs look to build loyalty and repeat customers for their total experience. Take Five Coffee + Bar is a growing a formidable base of customers, ranging from suburban high school students engaged in the music to those of us with grey hair and oversized bellies. Sure, part of the audience turns out for that night’s ensemble, but part of it just trusts the venue to book good music. And they do.
The Broadway Jazz Club is working to build the same trusting, repeat business. On weekends, this is where you’re likely to find some of the best female vocalists, a fine complement to a fine dinner. I’ve argued that location and evolving habits are challenges to growing their base and establishing their own unique identity within Kansas City’s jazz world.
Promotion is key to that effort. Hopefully, every hotel concierge from North Kansas City to The Plaza knows to send any guests looking for dinner and jazz to 36th and Broadway (there’s where their location works as an advantage). But they can do more to entice the locals.
Most people who know me know that I write a weekly hundred word jazz preview for The Pitch, KC’s alternative newspaper (so if you want to know kcjazzlark’s real name, go see who writes about jazz in The Pitch). Does it help draw people to clubs? I haven’t a clue. But it doesn’t hurt. It’s free praise and publicity both in print and online that’s available to whichever show piques my interest, and which I believe will interest readers each week. I write these articles two weeks before the shows. A few years ago, uncovering what’s coming would have proven a mostly futile endeavor. How do I know today?
The American Jazz Museum long ago replaced the marketing person who announced wrong dates. Today, they post a perpetual calendar of Blue Room shows online, often months in advance, in addition to a web page for those needing nothing more than the current month’s offerings. PR people reach out to promote special events, such as Jammin’ at the Gem shows or the annual festival. I credit Gerald Dunn and Chris Burnett and a staff of names I don’t know for bringing a stellar and nationally recognized consistency to The Blue Room and its promotion and turning it into, I am told, a profitable operation. This is where concierges send guests who want to experience jazz and drinks without the dinner.
The Green Lady Lounge, The Majestic and The Phoenix keep their online calendars up to date. Take Five has recently been less consistent, but sends emails detailing the next month’s offerings. I know the shows each of these venues will offer when I need to write the next preview.
Broadway? Their calendar stretches to the end of this month, covering jazz fans looking to make dinner plans for next weekend. But musicians have posted to Facebook late weekend shows never noted on Broadway’s calendar. The club needs to be pointing out nights their music stretches past midnight. And unlike other clubs, their plans for next month are currently a mystery.
The Broadway Jazz Club recently reopened, following upgrades, in time to participate in Kansas City’s annual Restaurant Week. Hopefully, they’re simply maneuvering through a brief shakedown period. Hopefully, their promotion will soon meet or exceed the marketing of their local jazz club brethren.
Hopefully, there’s no need to resurrect The Magic Jazz Fairy from a short retirement.