Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The ups and downs in times of uncertainty

Jazz musicians are used to the unexpected and uncertain. In some respects, they've thrived on it - through the art of improvisation that is the essence of jazz. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut calls improvisation "composition at a rapid pace with no erasers."

But the things we're all going through now as we hunker down amid the global spread of COVID-19 is rewriting things - without erasers - to a degree we've never seen. With self-quarantines, school and college closings, nightclub closings, restaurant retrenchings, concert and festival postponements or cancellations for who knows how long, one thing is apparent.

The only certainty we have right now  is uncertainty. Musicians, many of whom live a gig-to-gig existence unless they have teaching income, are feeling the pinch of concert and club and restaurant gig cancellations. 
Here's a rundown of some major developments. It is a sampling, by no means a comprehensive list.
  • Two hours before the downbeat on the first of three nights of the 40th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival's main stage performances, the Jazz Club of Sarasota canceled those April 12-14 events. It is offering ticket holders several options. They can obtain refunds, opt to make the funds a donation or a membership purchase (for a new membership), or use the funds as credits for tickets to next year's event. The board of directors also decided to pay the festival's scheduled musicians in full.
  • Jazz @ Lincoln Center went dark until at least April 15 at all of its performance venues in Manhattan.
  • In New York City, so many jazz clubs have shuttered temporarily that Hot House magazine, a comprehensive jazz guide to goings on in the NYC-northern NJ-southern CT metropolitan area, canceled its April issue altogether. It's the first issue it has missed since it started in March 1982. And it may not be the only one,  
  • SFJazz in San Francisco postponed many spring events from its current season, including April 2's 2020 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert.
  • In New Orleans, both the French Quarter Festival (scheduled April 16-19) and JazzFest (the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, scheduled April 23-May 3) were postponed until the fall. So don't be surprised if many other late spring or summertime jazz festivals follow suit across North America and on other continents..
  • Some musicians in many different genres are "live-streaming" free concerts from their homes to followers on Facebook and/or Instagram. 

Singer Allan Harris did one such virtual concert on March 17, which was the late Nat King Cole's birthday. His concert of music associated with Cole was a natural. Cole's "voice and mastery of the jazz piano has moved and, yes, soothed audiences and listeners around the world. In a small yet heartfelt way I will sing and hopefully bring a little joy into your heart and into your homes.," Harris wrote in a Facebook posting. "I hope that this will help to remind us that together we will overcome this pandemic."

Another similar live stream was scheduled on Wednesday evening, March 18, by singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner.

Here is a link to a great resource that NPR compiled of live virtual concerts you can watch. It is updated regularly.

One musician friend told me today that he considers all that is going on in this disruption of our lives - socially, medically, economically - as a "reset" for society as we know it.

Jazz Club of Sarasota President Ed Linehan sees a silver lining in all of this as we grapple with so many unknowns after perhaps taking a lot of things for granted for a long time.

"Our humanity will get a booster shot," he said.

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