What’s Your Obligation?

For nearly thirty years I’ve witnessed a music that miraculously blossoms amid stormy weather. But miracles aren’t predictable or a template for sustainability. There’s too many concerts with too few people. This status quo needs a sharp left turn.

At age 14 my life divided in two: BC and AC. Before and after Cecil (Taylor). Goddamn! the floodgates of inquiry opened. To discover and cultivate purpose and meaning in a world that rarely made sense? Yes, these sounds were my Rosetta Stone.

Years later, I named my son Malachi after the late, beloved Malachi Favors of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Music is the wellspring from which my literary, visual art, film, and political passions sprang and keep springing. Ya can’t put a price on that and while I know I’m not alone, I wonder if I’m a dying breed.

This art, call it jazz if you like, an elixir of sorrow and joy, major revelations and minor epiphanies, time kept and unkempt, in tune and out to lunch is singing a troubling shade of blues these days (the familiar myth of the “good ol’ days” not withstanding).

The health of creative improvised music culture is dependent on a simple quid pro quo:

Artists create, venues provide a decent space and treat the musicians and audience fairly and with respect, and in return listeners show up, part with their hard earned cash and after the better sets leave freshly illuminated.

Increasingly, musicians work for just a percentage of the door. That sucks. When every well attended gig is preceded and/or followed by concerts with more empty seats than filled – in NYC for christ sake! – that’s tragic. All parts of the trinity suffer.

A few do a lot, too many don’t do enough. The music[ians] can’t be sustained by a few individual benefactors, the government is permanently MIA, and the perversity of musicians using European tour payments to indirectly subsidize poorly paying hometown gigs is impossible under European economic austerity agendas.

This state of the nation is puzzling, vexing even, but by no means hopeless. There’s an abundance of gigs. New places to play frequently appear out of the aether. Every night we’re offered the privilege to witness the sound of surprise.

There’s a larger, younger, more diverse audience out there hungry for new sounds. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

If we – artist, venue, listener – care about the music, what’s our obligation to it?

– Robert D. Bielecki

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One thought on “What’s Your Obligation?

  1. Chris Napierala

    Heartening to come across this. I’m Creative Director at Seed Artists, a small arts nonprofit in Montclair, NJ. The drummer Pheeroan akLaff is co-founder and Executive Director. Last May, we produced a two-day Eric Dolphy festival in town–premiered newly discovered Dolphy compositions, had 40+ artists including Richard Davis, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Gunther Schuller (symposium), James Brandon Lewis, dance, poetry…Our first project, and now we’re starting to build year-round programming to broaden the audience for jazz and creative music, inspire the next generation, hopefully roughen the rounded edges in the Jersey scene. (The website is in reconstruct mode, so don’t go there just yet.)

    You’ll soon see a funding pitch from Seed, which includes some festival footage. Whether or not you fund us, I see that you’ve done quite a lot to advance the music, and as a fan that’s a big deal. Getting my bearings as a presenter after nearly 20 years in criminal justice–Rikers gives way to Roulette–and it’s encouraging to see this kind of commitment.

    Chris Napierala
    Seed Artists


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