Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Center vs. The Margins

I was going through my CD rack, looking for something to strike my listening fancy, when I came across Change of Time (Omnitone records). It's a trio date consisting of Russ Lossing on piano, Adam Kolker on reeds and John Hebert on bass, putting their spin on Bartok's Mikrokosmos. It came out in 2001, and I realized I hadn't come across Lossing since. 

I little digging reassured me that Mr. Lossing has releases on HatHut and appeared on Michael Adkin's Rotator CD (reviewed on this blog), but that got me thinking about how jazz musicians market themselves and stand out in a crowded field. It seems that those who are considered avant-garde, like Anthony Braxton and Matthew Shipp, carve out a very distinct "territory" for themselves. There are a devoted set of fans for that genre, with attendant blogs/magazines and even a store, Downtown Music Gallery, basically catering to that audience. (DMG also carries other genres, but is known for music on the "margins.") On the other hand, musicians who are closely identified with the mainstream (the other margin), like Eric Alexander, also have labels and fans that offer support.

But what about those in the "center," musicians like Lossing who don't fall into either extreme? It seems a potentially perilous place to be, in the way that a product without a distinct brand identity can be lost in a sea of choices. After all, belonging to an extreme has its advantages. For example, I don't keep up with guitar players generally, but I know about Mary Halvorson because she has apprenticed with Braxton, has a disc coming out on HatHut, and has been mentioned in DMG's email newsletter.

There are many, many mainstream-modern jazz musicians out there who probably deserve more exposure than they're getting. Even as the Internet has opened up the possiblity for artists to have a relationship with their fans, a musician has to attract the fans in the first place. I'd love to hear how musicians keep their careers viable, playing this music that we love that is outside of the predominant tides of pop culture. 

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