Over the past few weeks while I have been at home and not on the road, I have been trying to go out and visit clubs I don’t usually frequent, check out music I’m unfamiliar with, and just show my face around town. I’ve been having a great time seeing some great music, but WOW IT IS EXPENSIVE. I knew it was expensive, but I guess it had been a long while since a check came to my table with cover charges and drinks etc, and rang up to around $120 for a couple for one set! Maybe you’re all rolling your eyes and thinking, “Yeah, duh. Sounds about right.”, but wow, $120 just for the music and few drinks, not even dinner, seems like the kind of money I would pay for a special evening out, not just a “It’s Tuesday, let’s go out” kind of evening.
As a musician I like my music to be accessible and functional. I want people to come see my music as often as they like and as often as they can, because it makes them feel good and have a good time. I want people to be at home and think, “Hmm, it’s Thursday night. Where’s Champian playing? Oh, let’s go and hang out!”, but if every time I play it costs around $50 – $60 a person, how often am I going to get to see my fans? What kind of relationship would they really have to my music? What kind of relationship would I have to my music?
My point is NOT that Jazz clubs are too expensive. I just want to ask, What kind of message are we, as Jazz musicians, sending by isolating our music from the everyday and making it a special-occasion-only or only for people with disposable cash? Is our music still relevant if it’s accessible only to a chosen few? How can young musicians / students see our music if it costs $50 a person to attend? (I should add that Birdland, my home away from home, has a very generous policy allowing musicians to hang at the bar during the week for an extremely reduced price.)
These kinds of questions are the reason that I maintain my “steady” gigs while I’m home in NYC at places like The Garage in the West Village or at Novita in Metuchen NJ. Besides exposing my music to people who can’t attend major Jazz clubs every night of the week and consequently aren’t committed Jazz fans, these gigs also give me a chance to invite other musicians to come and sit in, allow me to try different material, and allow me to keep playing in front of people even while I’m not on the road. I feel these gigs keep me artistically fresh and keep me having fun.
Do you think these expensive prices limit the ability to grow a Jazz audience in NYC? Do they cater only to tourists? If you’re a musician, how do you feel about this?