Don’t abandon the faithful in a futile bid for a younger audience

Perhaps there is a metaphor in here somewhere for newspapers in general and the new publisher of the Las Vegas newspaper in particular.

We just returned from the 57th annual Monterey Jazz Festival. The program has a feature story titled “Big House With Many Rooms” that carried the subhed: “Rebuilding jazz for a new century.”

The article talked about the younger generation of musicians and the evolution of the century-old genre called jazz. It prominently featured Saturday night’s big attraction in the main arena: The Roots. The Roots weren’t jazz, they weren’t music, they were rap. We walked out near the end of the first “song” and listened to a piano driven quartet in one of the side venues. We feared that would be the case but gave the band a chance.

The Roots

We also walked out of two of the arena acts on Friday night — left the Robert Glasper Experiment when the singer’s voice came screeching from some sort of synthesizer and fled the venerable Herbie Hancock when the only sounds coming from his keyboards were as melodic as a cat with its tail caught in the wringer.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with experimentation and innovation — that is how jazz got its name. But it still should be music. You don’t one day decide to publish the newspaper in pig latin.

We loved the off-beat, belted-out blues of Davina and the Vagabonds and were sorry we only got to hear a couple of tunes from Red Baraat, a group from the Indian province of Brooklyn whose leader, Sunny Jain, encouraged the audience to do a Punjabi fist jab to the beat of their music. Also enjoyed Australian singer-pianist Sarah McKenzie on the Garden stage, as well as SambaDa’s Brazilian tunes.

Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs fame was still innovating but playing actual musical notes.

Jon Batiste & Stay Human rocked the arena with New Orleans-style stage antics and a parade around the arena while playing the melodica.

Marcus Miller’s band played a tune called Blast, which was influenced by a recent trip to Istanbul. (Sorry, Marcus, Dave Brubeck did that 50 years ago.)

Michael Feinstein closed out the festival on Sunday in the arena with “The Sinatra Project” — not imitating Sinatra but singing and playing Ol’ Blue Eyes his way. He did a Cole Porter tune that Sinatra never performed during his collaboration with Nelson Riddle in the Riddle style. Speaking of the next generation, Feinstein was backed by the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, made up of high school musicians.

Newspapers are running celebrity gossip, social media rip-offs and lengthy features about youth trends, fashion and so-called music. At least the Las Vegas newspaper has nearly given up on blogs. Haven’t received a “Columns and Blogs” email notice since Aug. 15.

When you go seeking a new, younger audience, be careful to not alienate the faithful.

Jon Batiste & Stay Human

Jon Batiste & Stay Human

Here are a few bootleg videos grabbed off YouTube:

Booker T. without the MGs:

Davina and the Vagabonds:

Red Baraat:


Charles Lloyd:

Jon Batiste & Stay Human (that’s us in the stands at the back of the arena behind the guy in the red shirt):

Michael Feinstein: