Graham Reid | | 5 min read
There's an old joke about jazz promotion: if you want to make a million bucks, start with two mill.
The amorphous audience is the great unknown.
As some promoters have found, you can bring the greatest jazz performers here – for example Charles Lloyd in 2010 who not only had a massive hit album with Forest Flower in the late Sixties but has been delivering exceptional albums on ECM the past two decades – and still struggle to find an audience.
Jazz promotion breaks people who mostly do it because they love the music and often, at great expense to themselves, bring artists because they themselves want to see them.
Jazz promotion can be more fraught than hip-hop (and that's about as bad as it gets). But when hip-hop and r'n'b artists cancel – as they so often do – at least the insured promoter can salvage something.
Jazz artists invariably turn up, but the audience doesn't.
I've always argued promoters should make shedloads of money because if they do, they'll do it again . . . and I want them to do that. That said, I've never bought the argument you should “support jazz”, it's not a charity.
I've never met anyone who made money in jazz but know of a few who lost it. Big time.
Jazz promotion has been erratic here for decades: Charley Grey brought Old and New Dreams through sometime in the early Eighties if my memory is right (brilliant show, I'm told he lost his shirt); the late Pat Shaw had some great artists come through in the Eighties but – perhaps through recycling them too quickly – the audience dwindled and he got out of the game; the late Tommy Adderley tried but things unravelled for him too; and only Rodger Fox – who brings out artists he likes, can play alongside and does some reciprocal arrangements with – seems to have lasted the distance.
American pianist David Paquette got the Waiheke Jazz Festival on its feet but diminishing audiences, return-performers and inclement weather finally ground him down. He doesn't live here anymore and the jazz festival has widened its parameters to include pop, rock and soul artists. And they are mostly locals.
These days the great jazz performers we see – recently Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and Joshua Redman and so on – are brought over by festival organisers who can leaven the losses, if there are any, across a wide range of acts.
The guitarist Larry Carlton was here to play the Wellington Jazz Festival and a new promotional outfit – No 8 Wire Ltd, although I heard seasoned promoter Gray Bartlett might have been taking the punt – slotted in this Auckland concert.
And they were rewarded. People actually turned up.
A lot of people, filling the whole downstairs of the Bruce Mason Centre.
This surprised me as my impression of Carlton – wrong as it happened – was that he was an LA-smooth player whose sound is almost emblematic of FM jazz radio of the Eighties. Certainly he had pedigree – as I wrote in my interview with him – but even a poster with a quote from Sting (“Listen, learn and be profoundly moved”) didn't seem to me to be enough to get people out on a Friday night in winter.
But there they were, and when Carlton requested the house lights be brought up then asked how many guitarists were in the room we had part of our answer. From where I was sitting it looked to be about one in five.
“And I see there are a lot of lovely ladies in the audience,” said Carlton. “What are you doing here? Oh right, he said 'Let's go and see the guitar guy'.”
Good joke, and probably true too. If my wife hadn't had something else on I'd have dragged her along.
But here's the thing.
My guess is she would have loved it as much as I did because Carlton – with the pick-up band of hot young Australians half his age – delivered a set just the right side of approachable but also never left you in any doubt he was an exceptional guitarist who could wring or cajole extraordinary expression from his custom-signature Gibson.
There was a remarkable passage where he took the mood right down and, using one of the tone pedals he had, created the most gorgeously impressionistic sound that ebbed and flowed like the gentle movement of mercury . . . and on another occasion he thrashed that guitar with the fury of any metal-head shredder.
The difference there was Carlton – at 66 – didn't bother with all the facial contortions rock guitarists indulge in to make you think this is incredibly difficult. He just did it.
Carlton made his instrument talk, and even when he was going through material like Kid Charlemagne, Josie, Minute by Minute, Smiles and Smiles to Go, 10pm and so on which he must have played a thousand times before, it sounded fresh, exciting, exploratory and unpredictable.
His audience listened in silence and when it was over erupted into theatre-shaking thumping floor and applause. Judging by the noise, it can't have just been the guitarists who appreciated it.
This was a jazz concert that worked. It worked as jazz (because it was) and it worked as entertainment . . . which surprised me because it was just one sexagenarian with a guitar and a small band: no spotlight-grabbing vocalist, no expensive light show.
At the end – incidentally he closed the encore with one of my favourite tunes, Sleep Walk – I chatted briefly to a guy I took to be his guitar tech-cum-road manager and said how much I'd enjoyed it. And – because I'd interviewed the personable Larry before the tour – commented he seemed like a lovely, generous and good natured guy.
Easy to tour, I suggested.
You can guess his reply.
And frankly that helps, because promoters have horror stories about touring artists and their demands (or the demands of their younger third or fourth wives, but that's another story) . . . and that bullshit can come from the artists you, as a fan, most respect and admire.
No one – certainly no promoter – needs or deserves that.
After Carlton's concert he was in the lobby signing CDs and such, and there was a very long queue.
This was a terrific concert that gave the lie to the myth I foolishly believed that Larry Carlton was that middleweight LA guy who was once a great session artist.
He was on his game . . . and I hope the promoter made a killing.
Images here by Garry Brandon who has been a concert and commercial photographer for decades in New Zealand. All images copyright Garry Brandon, whose website of archival concert and other work is here. There is more of Garry's work at Elsewhere with these reviews here.