Jazz beats the virus online

Chicago presenters of jazz and new music, and journalists from Madrid to the Bay Area, vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Orbert Davis and pianist Lafayette Gilchrist discussed how they’ve transcended coronavirus-restrictions on live performances with innovative methods to sustain their communities of musicians and listeners, as well as their own enterprises were in two Zoom panels I moderated last week.

The Show Goes On – Online on February 18 convened Chris Anderson of the Fulton Street Collective, trumpeter Davis of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, vocalist extraordinaire Elling and his business partner Bryan Farina, Marguerite Horberg of HotHouse, Olivia Junell of Experimental Sound Studio and Steve Rashid of Studio 5 under the auspices of the Jazz Institute of Chicago. They’ve all produced live-streams, pitched to international as well as local audiences, achieving unprecedented results.

ESS started quickly last March with its Quarantine Concerts, and Fulton Street Collective’s Jazz Art Record Collective quickly followed suit; HotHouseGlobal has mounted five nights of music connecting Havana and Chicago musicians, among other far-reaching programs; Chicago Jazz Philharmonic engaged eager music students from the Cuban province Matanzas and launched and International Masters of Improvisation Workshop; Studio 5 conceptualized and has realized the very entertaining Into the Mist, an unique combination of website design and real-time, interactive Zoom play as a 90-minute immersive and interactive event, offered once a week (next on March 5); Elling sang from his porch and the otherwise locked-down Green Mill, one of his performances from isolation reaching 180,000 listeners!

The Jazz Journalists Association (of which I’m president) followed up on Feb. 21 with Reviewing “Live” in the Age of Covid. Are these live-streams being reviewed? Do special techniques apply? Is there a market for such analysis? Is live-streaming changing jazz journalism, and here to stay?

This panel comprised freelance writers Jordannah Elizabeth (Baltimore-based), Paul de Barros (Seattle) and Andy Gilbert (Berkeley — both those latter two JJA board members); Seattle Times news editor/former features editor Melissa Davis; publicist Ann Braithwaite (of Boston-area Braithwaite & Katz Communications); Henry Wong, director of the Baltimore listening room An die Musik, which in past months has produced some 200 live-stream performances, and Gilchrist, who has live-streamed from An die Musik (video remains available for $5) as well as the Village Vanguard. Also speaking up were Spanish jazz journalist Mirian Arbalejo, MinnPost Artscape columnist Pamela Espeland, KNKX Jazz Northwest program host Jim Wilke and Amsterdam News writer Ron Scott, who said he felt it imperative to report more than ever on issues regarding social justice for Black Americans.

We learned that coverage of live-stream performances from mainstream media almost entirely consists of advance listings rather than reviews; that traditional print publications continue to grapple with declining revenues and content wells (there’s more news than can fit) besides digital platform challenges; that live-streams, unlike in-person performances, give reviewers the opportunity to re-watch but may also be judged on video production values; that individuals, professional or not, use social media to comment on live-streams in real time — and that news of the pandemic, social and political turmoil throughout 2020 have led many writers as well as musicians and indeed people in all professions to refocus, as best they can.

Panelists in these Zooms discussions were unfailingly candid and thoughtful (there may be something about staring at yourself in a grid with your peers that encourages best self-projection). No one indulged in whining about how life’s so different now that we’ve been victimized by Covid-19. Everyone was intent on people over profits, creating, producing, promoting and commenting seriously on musicians’ and venues’ online efforts in order to serve the art form in its many dimensions, most specifically addressing its local/global communities and constituents.

Almost a dozen presenters, more than half a dozen music journalists and media-purveyors, three musical artists (and special thanks to Lafayette for representing the concerns of many on the Show Zoom — view the JJA 2020 Awards Winners Live-Streaming party to hear others’ takes on the issues). They represent the grit, imagination, energetic devotion to their labors and the spirit fundamental to keeping not just jazz but all our arts alive today. Without exception they predict that hybrid models of presentation melding some sorts of live-streaming with some sorts of live, in-person shows (when those can resume), are the future. Hear them out! Or in the more urgent onscreen-version of radio/tv’s “Stay tuned” — Keep close watch!