Distilling and defining the impact of Jazz is a smidge like tackling the proof of a higher power or defining irony. Broad in scope, yet uniquely recognizable, you know it when you hear it but are likely hard-pressed to synthesize the magnitude of its impact: born in African tradition against the backdrop of slavery, jazz has gifted us with immeasurable talents, touchstones, and legends. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and innumerable others are embedded indelibly into America’s tapestry and beyond.
The sheer timelessness of jazz has made it ripe for discovery by each subsequent generation since Charles Mingus. As today’s high school freshman are spending their hard-earned discretionary income on vinyl, industry insiders are observing the renewed opportunity for identifying and servicing a malleable jazz listener-base.
Play MPE is proud to be a part in continuing to reach new jazz audiences digitally. Michael Ambrosino of JazzWeek (the format’s standard charts and airplay publication) shared with us recently “Play MPE has done a wonderful job creating a platform that allows record labels, promoters and broadcasters to post, preview and download music in a way that works with everyone’s digital workflow. In an industry that continues to struggle with the dilemma of analog versus digital media, Play MPE has created a clear and powerful way forward.”
Play MPE’s Brian Tancredi echoes these sentiments. “It’s a unique format to have been working in, just because there really hasn’t been a digital standard prior to our involvement, as everything has predominantly revolved around CD’s. We’ve seen some success because we’re finally offering an efficient alternative to mailing 300 CDs at $6 apiece, or whatever it works out to, for 70% of them to go in a basket somewhere. So, it’s really just that jazz itself has been somewhat lagging in terms of adopting a new path for the promotional delivery side of things and we’ve been able to provide a solution for that space. That adoption has been driven by content from Blue Note, ECM, recently Nonesuch (Warner), HighNote/Savant, and many more! We’ve got a bunch of indie promoters on board, as well, who are an integral part of any market and drive a lot of what ultimately makes it on the air. And they’re now seeing the same value that moved other formats away from physical deliveries. We’re making everyone’s process that much easier, while creating a community hub for both radio and labels to help usher things into 2019.”
Since the format is not single-driven, it avails additional opportunities for further depth and usability in digital content offerings. As Tancredi explains, “It’s exciting because we’re at a point right now where we have the resources to tailor things to the recipient experience as well. We’ve launched a new zipper feature, to cater to an album download. And jazz radio, which is an album driven format, needs that functionality to better fit their workflow.”
Jay Daniels, host and executive producer of Simply Timeless Radio, has us blushing with his feedback. “As a syndicated jazz radio program, Simply Timeless has been greatly enriched through our partnership with Play MPE. Since signing on with them in 2018, our process for downloading tracks has become more streamlined. While still maintaining a relationship with the labels and promoters, we are able to consolidate our content sources through Play MPE’s easy to use interface. We are grateful to them for allowing us an increased opportunity for receiving the latest in quality jazz and pop music. We look forward to a continued partnership in the years to come.” Shucks!
We’re thrilled that not only are end users at radio are so happy with the service, but also the fine folks on the label side. Recently, Barney Fields of HighNote/Savant Records expressed his satisfaction with the reach he received upon sending out a Freddy Cole release, noting he “was very happy with the response received after use the MPE Platform.”
Though transitioning to digital at a relatively speaking mild pace, and perhaps not the most overtly digital-ready milieu, the world of jazz is proving that it’s ready for prime time. Streaming numbers are on the rise, shining the spotlight on further opportunities to reach terrestrial radio ears. The BBC reported that the number UK Spotify users under the age of 30 listening to their flagship Jazz UK playlist has see a giant 108 % increase. Amazon and Deezer echo the gains.
Scott Hall, director of Jazz Studies at Columbia, attributes the increase in interest to musicians’ improvisation and experimentation. “It seems like the barriers have been broken down,” Hall said. Hall has observed the increased interest in his classroom as well. “The younger generation, they understand and appreciate the significance of the jazz language for developing their own personal style.”
“It’s easier for musicians coming from different worlds to collaborate.” Chris Chisholm, co-owner of Chicago’s Andy’s Jazz Club and Restaurant, told the city’s Chronicle that he’s observed a jump in millennial interest in jazz of late, noting more have attended shows at his club in addition to other area venues including Jazz Showcase and the Green Mill. The appeal may be due in part to the youth of the performers. As co-owner (and brother) Brandon Chisholm pointed out, some of the finest musicians to perform at Andy’s have been between the ages of 20 and 26.
Decca Records president Rebecca Allen recently spoke of the transition of traditionally brick and mortar fanbases to digital consumption. “We work really closely with all of our digital partners, and we’ve had loads of positive discussions this year around how we reach the more mainstream audiences that we at Decca have traditionally excelled at with physical sales. I just want to build upon those partnerships and upon those great conversations and the relationships we have with them in the next year, take them to the next level and be able to apply our creative marketing to that.”
The availability of additional tools with which we gain access to music is a growing factor. As Allen explained, “We know that once somebody has a device in their home that they are more likely to stream music, and we know they are more likely to listen to more music as a whole. So as soon as we can have people interacting with these devices and with the platforms and with their playlists, we know that it means generally that the listening habit will go up. So, it’s just moving that audience, educating them and getting them across that first hurdle. That’s what we like to discuss with our partners and what we are working with them on.”
Ultimately, users continue to evolve at a clip in lock-step with the growth of the artform itself. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz reminds students “traditional, straight ahead, contemporary mainstream and acoustic jazz will continue to prosper just as up-and-coming jazz musicians inspired and influenced by blues, swing, bebop, and hard bop, will continue to push the musical envelop within the traditional acoustic jazz combo setting.”
In sync with an artform devoted to perpetual motion, technology remains fluid, adapting to the ever-changing interest of audiences, those both arrived and waiting.