Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Response: The Slate Blog: Great American Songbook

In response to The Slate Blog - "Standard Issue:  Why Do Great American Songbook  Albums by Pop Artists So Often Disappoint?", Jeff Turrentine, 28 Feb 2012: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/02/paul_mccartney_s_kisses_on_the_bottom_and_the_problem_with_great_american_songbook_albums_.html?tid=sm_tw_button_toolbar&wp_login_redirect=0
Reply, posted as TIMKAT / Kathryn Ballard Shut
3:32 PM Eastern, Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The "Great American Songbook" is aptly named due not only due to the timelessness and collective memories of the songs found within, but also because a good majority of those tunes demand a level of vocal (and sometimes instrumental) dexterity. These are songs that have so far stood the (relatively short but growing) test of time because they continue to speak to a new generation of listeners each time.

The first secret of this collective Songbook lies in its ability to "tell a story", and this is often where I have been sometimes disappointed in the endeavors of otherwise-great musicians today. Some have failed to sell me on the story, the mood, the feeling, and the context of the original song. As some here have already written, some just blow through the charts unconvincingly, so it feels as though we're being cheated on its meaning. Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and other Tin Pan Alley writers of the day understood this delicate balance and therefore worked to craft a piece of art -- that also just happened to speak to people and sell!

In the jazz world, there is an educational maxim for instrumentalists to learn the *lyrics* that go with a song, as well as the melody, because it is said that if the musicians know and believe the "story", that sentiment will eventually come out of the instrument, and I believe this is true. It is easy to push buttons on a horn; it is another thing entirely to commmand an audience's rapt attention, to bring it to its feet in excitement, or to tears with feeling. Again, it is a testament to the power of the story, the irresistible coupling of lyrics and music, that allows people to relate to the song and rate it as a 'keeper'.

And finally, as mentioned, there is a technical dexterity that these songs demand of the artist. Outside of the regular "pop" or "rock" parameter of a few chords per chart, these songs constantly change modes to evoke a mood and the melodies by definition are often not kind. The underlying chords are by definition more complex (example: 'Round Midnight) and therefore some of the melodies demand more of the vocalist.

All this said, on a positive note, I applaud today's musicians for attempting to keep an American treasure, the Songbook, alive, but also understand, as a fellow jazz pianist and vocalist, truly how daunting that task can be. I'm truly thrilled that the classics once again cause some chatter!

Best always,
Kathryn Ballard Shut
President, Pianist
TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Denver, CO, USA

Twitter: @timkatent
Tim Ballard on CDBABY: "Great American Songbook" - telling the story at http://www.cdbaby.cd/cd/TimBallard

Monday, February 27, 2012

Millionaires in a Recession - Jazz Music's Revival and Our Place In It

On the same evening as one of the film industry's biggest nights (The 84th Annual Academy Awards, aka "Oscar Night", February 26, 2012), vocalist Dianne Reeves and her band took the stage in the beautiful East Room of the White House to entertain a room full of heads of State and, presumably, jazz enthusiasts.  Through the magic of Twitter, her staff posted a new picture on Monday morning of the event, at https://twitter.com/#!/iampetermartin/status/174157907280142336/photo/1

For those that do not have Twitter, permit me to set the scene of the photo.  Imagine a large, yet intimately seated, white paneled, colonial room where soft and low light emanates from several gorgeous, multi-tiered crystal chandeliers hanging overhead. The audience is dressed impeccably in tasteful and conservative evening gowns and tuxedos.  Dianne herself is beautiful in a periwinkle blue flowing gown, the sapphire jewel in a sea of pure black and white dress-settings. The room itself is as stately as always.  A painted portrait of first President George Washington, hangs behind the stage and has exclusive front-row access to Dianne's vocals, as well as to the sounds of her quartet on piano, bass, drums, and guitar. 

Take all of this in stark contrast to everything that we learn about jazz's early roots. Backwater.  Poor.  Church-based.  And later, found in brothels.  Red-light districts.  Seedy locales.  Speakeasies.  Called "jungle music", amongst other horrible racial and cultural slurs.  Marvel again at its evolution, celebrate its revolution, as well as its deep and subtle impact to popular music today, and realize that this is a music that has grown up in the space of only about 100 years. Within that time, jazz's image has amazingly gone from a poor man's spiritual music all the way up to entertaining the realm of the elite.

Now focus this wide camera shot in tighter, to the point of today's thought.  Each week on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and various Internet blogs, I constantly see music lovers reaching out to the global online community, asking for help on what to listen to in order to better appreciate jazz. 
And each week, while the majority of people are helpful and positive, without fail, there is at least one snooty jerk on every site that replies back to these innocent jazz potential proselytes with a blistering admonishment to buy a book on the subject, "go look it up", and by the way, what these newbies think is jazz "isn't really jazz."  Conversation abruptly ends, feelings are hurt. 

Times like these offer the greatest opportunity for these jazz snobs to offer guidance on their favorite artists for review, but instead, the impact is negative; it no doubt just pushed the listener away from ever pursuing jazz again as an interest and once again tarnished jazz's already unfairly-presented  subculture.  At another level, I continue to observe fellow musicians and critics online woefully mourn why jazz fails to attract and retain as large of a worldwide following as rock and roll or blues.  This should never have been jazz's fate, but in America, it has been so for the past sixty years. 
Stanley Crouch, a major contributing journalist for jazz magazines such as Jazz Times, said it best when interviewed on Ken Burns' "JAZZ", and I will paraphrase it here: Jazz is a welcoming music, it says, "come on in."  I agree fully with that, but I am also a jazz lover, so I already embrace that understanding.  But for the jazz "newbie", even though the music may say, "come on in", some of jazz's presentation may have unintentionally implied, "stay the hell out."

Most people cannot relate to White House Black-Tie affairs, the Oscars, and, as Billy Crystal joked on Sunday night about the film industry, to "millionaires in a recession giving themselves golden statues."  I wager that most people would probably agree with Dizzy Gillespie when he remarked in the 1950s that audiences wouldn't "care if we played a flatted 5th or a ruptured 129th."  And sadly, this old joke rings true:  "What's the difference between a blues musician and a jazz musician?:  The blues musician plays 3 chords a night for 1,000 people.  The jazz musician plays 1,000 chords a night for 3 people. "

But that's what people may experience with a limited understanding of jazz today -- it is often shown in movies and in other media as background music for a very elite party.  It is swarmy, out-of-date, boring filler for the Oscars, Emmies, and Golden Globes.  It is strictly a high-class, sleek black-tie affair at Lincoln Center.  It is utterly unapproachable at Carnegie Hall; and finally, it is only for the most powerful in the White House East Room.  Ergo, "Snobby Rich Music For Snobby Rich People."
What an irony!  How did this happen to a musical tradition that started out as a healing salve amongst poor, itinerant workers in the South, to be seen as Snobby Rich Music?  And more importantly, how do we return jazz to its rightful status as a "welcoming music" that most feel so estranged from?
One idea would be for these jazz snobs to stop pushing people at books and academia and telling them to go look things up on Google.   That's like telling someone whose car just broke down to just fix it, based on a mechanic's manual that one can find on the Internet.  If you don't know where to begin, how do you research the subject meaningfully?

Another idea could be that those snobs out there stop berating a jazz "newbie" for not having the entire history of jazz internalized by now, because it's still a young and evolving art form, and in truth, they are unseasoned music lovers that are asking for collective assistance from more experienced jazz fans.  In that, we (if I may include myself as a non-snobby jazz ambassador!) are in the unique position to act as mentors to place new jazz listeners, musicians, even composers -- on the road to the same joy that we revel in as self-appointed aficionados. 

To complete the analogy, as in the film industry, by broadening the jazz fan base and returning jazz to its rightful place as a welcoming music, we collectively stop representing those "millionaires in a recession that award ourselves golden statues" and instead bring in a new following.  Admittedly, in this case, a "statue" is neither a Grammy nor Oscar; it is a metaphor for the music itself, to which less than 5% of the world actively listens, and with our gentle enthusiasm and support to a new generation of fans, could easily grow.

It might not even hurt us to play a jazz gig in jeans from time to time (such as in this clip, copyright CBS, 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNw46j0nNOs&feature=fvsr --- and by the way, if you read some of the comments below the video, you will find hateful little snipes about her music.) It is this pompous, pretentious attitude that has no place in a welcoming music such as jazz, and that's what's keeping this art from reaching more people. 

I don't mean to sound so gloom and doom; there are plenty of everyday jazz ambassadors out there, helping new fans to learn about this incredible art form, both on and off the stage.  For example, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding is doing a tremendous job of mixing her personal style (the hair, the voice, the bass!) with her immense talent, and turned on a new group of fans to jazz influences when she topped Justin Bieber as a Grammy winner overall (Best New Artist) and again in her category (Best Jazz Artist).  English songstress Adele, while not an jazz artist, is still mixing blues and jazz influences into her original music, and therefore slowly pulling people to discover where that all came from.  Ken Burns' documentary series 'Jazz' has been shown in several schools around the United States over the past decade to spark an interest in this American art form, and the revolution is slowly catching on.  And of course, veteran vocalists and talented jazz musicians such as Patti Austin, Tierney Sutton, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, Harry Connick, Jr, Herbie Hancock, and even Tony Bennett (still doing it in his eighties!) continue to bring people into the jazz listening world through their collaborations with pop and rock stars.  As a result, jazz is likely as popular as a choice in American music as it has ever been in recent years.

Now jazz just needs us to continue to support these efforts - musicians, fellow listeners, composers, writers, educators.  We have the power to keep the fires burning, to truly embrace the "welcoming" spirit of jazz, and to melt that immobile statue down into a warm and joyous gift for all.

Best always,
Kathryn Ballard Shut
TIMKAT Entertainment
Denver, CO, USA
Email: timkatent@gmail.com
Twitter: @twitter
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/timkatent

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Response: Billboard: Breaking Records Yesterday and Today -- "How Will I Know"?

Watching the feed on Twitter today, the Denver Post put out this article about the success for relative newcomer, Adele, and her second (multiple Grammy winning) album, "21":  http://www.heyreverb.com/2012/02/22/adele-21-billboard/.  The short blurb reads:

NEW YORK (AP) — Adele’s album “21″ has spent 21 weeks atop Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart — and its 21st week is the biggest one yet.   Nielsen SoundScan said Tuesday her sophomore album sold 730,000 copies the week after her Grammy Awards sweep. It’s the longest stint for a woman at the top of Billboard’s album chart, displacing Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard.” It’s also now sold 7.3 million copies.

I like Adele and I think she's got a great future ahead of her.  She's got real soul, good lyrics, songwriting with feeling, all of the things that make a good mix of what will reach people for the long-term. But that's not what bothered me about this headline, as I would never seek to take anything away from her.  What bothered me was the inequal standard of "breaking records" mentioned by Billboard Magazine. Granted, Adele has swept the Grammies and mega-sold albums; these are amazing achievements.  But one caveat reminds us that she's doing it in the Internet Age! 

Think about when Whitney first hit the scene in the mid-1980s.  Back then, we were spinning vinyl records and tapes.  There were no CDs yet, and there definitely was no Internet.  There were no digital downloads, no mp3s, no iPods, no smartphones, no iPads.  No Facebook.  No Twitter.   No YouTube.  No Pandora.  There was a record company's A&R department, their marketing, their producers, their studio, their equipment, and their distribution channels.  There was the local radio station that could choose whether or not to spin the latest releases and how often. There was only MTV, only about 4 years old at that time, the biggest way that artists could break through.  And there were local record stores.  If you were fortunate to hear the record on the radio in your area, you jumped into your car (or had Mom take you) and headed to your indie record shop or the Mall and picked it up for way too much money (I remember it was about $8.99 for an album).  Everything was very localized for the listener.

In the Information Age, all of this sounds delightfully quaint, but this was the world that Whitney took by storm by 1985.  In the U.S., the Walkman had freshly hit the scene to allow people to take her tapes along with them everywhere; the larger "boom box" was the only other thing out there. That was the state of musical portability. 

But here's the most important point: Whitney became an international sensation, both in the U.S. but also in countries with less media accessibility than they have today.  Remember, in 1985, the Berlin Wall was still up and dividing Germany.  Russia was still in a Cold War with the United States, still Communist, and therefore heavily restricting media that flowed into the country.  There were countries known as Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the U.S.S.R. In the middle of this, Whitney managed to hit globally and against all odds - an African-American female with one of the most powerful and delightful voices the world had ever known.  She broke down these barriers and the music persevered. 

Therefore, it's not very surprising that Adele today was able to break Whitney's record for The Bodyguard:  she's a great artist and hopefully will continue to make great music!  However, when Billboard talks about breaking records, let's be sure to compare apples and oranges: timeframes, prices, and most of all, musical accessibility to worldwide listeners.  The world has changed in so many ways since Whitney became a star.  Few can argue that it's just easier to get a hold of music on the Internet and by standards, at $.99 a track on iTunes, it's cheaper.  In the 1980s, a 45 RPM single used to cost me about $3.00 - even with two songs on it (A and B sides) that's way still more expensive than today's iTunes pricing, especially when accounting for inflation. 

A click of a mouse can buy you the newest releases in seconds, and I am sure this is part of Adele's amazing viral success.  She has set the bar even higher for record-breaking releases in a short amount of time.  But please remember, my caution is not about Adele the musician - she is great!  It is about being fair when talking about musical accessibility to listeners and comparable track pricing, and the two vocalists started in very different times in history to suffer a generically whitewashed comparison today.  It is not about bashing Adele, but rather preserving the fact that Whitney built the same house with fewer tools.

Best always,
Kathryn Ballard Shut
TIMKAT Entertainment
Denver, CO, USA
Email: timkatent@gmail.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/timkatent
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/timkatent
MySpace Music: http://MySpace.com/timkatent
Album Sales on CDBABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/TimBallard

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Response: CNET: Rick Broida "Does It Still Make Sense To Buy CDs?"

Original Source:  http://news.cnet.com/8301-13845_3-57377283-58/does-it-still-make-sense-to-buy-cds/?tag=mncol



Great post, thank you, Mr. Broida!

Time and changes are the only constants in life and in no other place has this been felt as heavily as in the physical media market. We live in an "on the go" society, with phones in cameras, tablets that will fit in a large purse, and cars that can play our favorite songs digitally by our mere command. It is also evident in the pricing of CDs and movies, which have chronically dropped to well below the $10 threshold, even for Blu-Ray.

As a small entertainment company (est. 2007) that works in booking live gigs, selling music online, and working with radio stations to stream selections, we learned as early as the middle of this past decade that the future resided with digital downloads and the ability to stream music to attract new listeners. However, because we specialize in a jazz market, we have also chosen (for the time being!) to continue to offer music on CD as well. Part of this is generational; most of our listeners are of the Baby Boomer Generation and older, if not born just after that, and accostumed to playing physical media. By this I don't wish [to] offend anyone - many Boomers are *extremely* savvy when it comes to digital sites and could teach the rest of us a thing or two, but others are completely mystified by it and often don't even own a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Either way, we wanted to make our music accessible to both styles and cater to our audience.

Another reason to consider why digital media works so well is due to avoiding higher physical media overhead and storage costs on the supply side (sellers).

A case in point: about 3 years ago, seeing that our CD stock was running low, I called several replication houses for a quote. Once artwork, packaging, compact disc media, and shipping were added, at the lowest-priced one, I was told that it would be easily $1,200 to duplicate 500 discs. That meant that with each disc, I would already be in the hole by at least $2.40, and again, most discs now and even then priced around $5-10 max. The helpful lady on the phone said that my price would go down with greater volumes ordered, which makes sense when considering setup costs for the copy house, but that didn't help me! Less than 5% of the worldwide music-buying public is made of jazz fans, and being independent artists, we'd have to start winning Grammies and getting other major press to sell at these 'higher volumes.' Eventually, right or wrong, I decided that it just wasn't worth it, and once the CDs in stock are gone, that would be it. To testify of the power of digital media, we have made a little money in streaming songs and more in online sales, and still have that little stack of CDs in stock (CDBABY, Amazon) from 3 years ago.

Anyway, thanks for reading - great topic. Should you wish to connect with me to discuss more, I'd be happy to chat at any of the links below.

Best always,
Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Email: timkatent@gmail.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/timkatent
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/timkatent
MySpace Music: http://MySpace.com/timkatent
Album Sales on CDBABY: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/TimBallard

Music Experience (Resume)

Kathryn Ballard Shut  /shoot/
Based in: Denver, CO, USA
Email: timkatent@gmail.com
Please email for a phone interview.


Versatile pianist, vocalist, and woodwind musician with over 30 years' experience in music education and performance.  Classically trained in all three disciplines with a special interest and education in jazz music (25 years).  Additional experience as music business owner, writer, accomplished leader and sideman, music educator, musical theatre, musical director, and social networker.  Fluent speaker of English and Spanish, with some familiarity of Russian, French, and German.  Interested primarily in promoting world-class independent artists, as well as light studio work and/or substituting in for artists in established groups for short-term projects and/or live performances. 

Notable Collaborations

  • Douyé - Denver booking agent/marketer for 2014 "So Much Love" Tour Kickoff in Mile High City.
  • Daniel Valdez (composer, film star, recording artist, theatre founder)
       "The Westside Oratorio".  Two seasons, pianist and band leader, 2004 and 2005.   
  • Tim Ballard (vocalist/saxophonist/trumpeter, recording artist, Las Vegas star)
       Many years until 2009, accompanied on piano "on demand" on the famous 'Las Vegas Strip'
  • Mark Diamond (bassist, recording artist), Keith Oxman (tenor saxophonist, recording
    artist), Drew Morrell (bassist, recording artist), John Hines (trombonist, recording artist) 
       Live jazz performances, featured artist with my band, Lost Soul, Denver, CO - 2008-2010

  • Webster University - 2000 - present
       Master of Business Administration (2 courses remaining, 2015)
  • Rockhurst University, 1995
       Bachelor of Arts, Spanish
  • University of Central Missouri, 1990-1993
        60 Hours, Music Education, emphasis on piano and woodwinds
  • Private music lessons with vocal and jazz masters
       Marc Sabatella (jazz pianist, theory, 2005)
       Hugh Ragin (jazz trumpeter, director of Colorado Jazz Workshop, 2001-2006)
       Francesca Veglia (musical theatre vocalist, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1998)
       David Aaberg (jazz trumpeter, theory, 1990-1993)


  • ASCAP-affiliated Composer, Author, and Publisher (via TIMKAT Entertainment, 2012-present)

  • Notable works recorded with Italian jazz-funk band, Camera Soul (2012-present)

  • Original works can be heard at ReverbNation

  • Performing Ensembles

          Denver, CO Area (2000 - present)
    • Solo Pianist / Vocalist, Various performances
    • Lost Soul (co-founder/leader with Mike Evans; pianist, vocalist)
    • The Amy Kay Combo (pianist) (2004 - 2006) 
    • The Westside Oratorio Band (leader, pianist)
      2 seasons (2004 and 2005)
    • The Colorado Jazz Workshop - Big Band (tenor sax) and Combo (pianist)
      5 seasons (2001-2006)
          Kansas City, MO Area (1989 - 2000)
    • Gospel / Blues Pianist, Evangelical "Free" Congregation - 100% by ear. 
      See story at http://timkatent.blogspot.com/2012/02/jazz-soul-church-roots-raw-power.html  (1993)
    • All jazz and classical ensembles at The University of Central Missouri (1990-1993)
    • Kansas City Area Faculty Jazz Band (tenor sax with area educators, senior in HS)
    • All-District Jazz "Blue" Band (baritone sax, 1989)

    Organizational Memberships and Entertainment Promotions

    Technical and Social Networking Experience

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    About Your Host and This Blog

    Welcome all to TIMKAT's Jazz Corner of the World!  I'm your host, Kathryn Ballard Shut, president and owner of TIMKAT, but also a real, living breathing person, jazz pianist, vocalist, and over all roaring music fan. I love great and respectful conversations about how music shapes our lives.

    A brief bio of me:  I'm in my 40th year of life and not even feeling close to my age.  In that time, I have studied jazz for over 25 years, learned to play piano and several woodwinds (clarinets, saxes, some flute), and have been a professional musician in the Denver music scene for the past 5 years.

    I have served as a leader in several groups, and played with notable folks out of Denver such as Mark Diamond, Jean-Luc Davis, Keith Oxman, and Jared Johnson, but also with California-based film and music star Daniel Valdez, all good people and friends.  I also headed my own group for a time, now under the direction of my friend, Mike Evans (http://www.myspace.com/denverlostsoul)

    In addition to playing music, I love to discuss trends in jazz and music. I have been an (amateur) reviewer on forums such as AOL and Usenet (1990s), CDBABY and Amazon.com (2000s)(example: https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A3VBE9EA0ZXAHT?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_cr_pr_pdp - wow, has it been 7 years already!?)  Outside of classic jazz, my favorite bands are Steely Dan, Tower of Power, The Rebirth, Stevie Wonder, and so many more in the R&B genre.

    In 2007, my father, also a great jazz musician, Tim Ballard (http://www.allaboutjazz.com/timballard), and I opened TIMKAT as a means of exploring the richness of sharing music online, but also as a way of discussing jazz, spotting new talents, and basically serving as a home base for people as they launch their careers.  It is one reason that we use the black and white picture of a young man on trumpet as our "logo". That is my father, age 19, taken on Feb 25, 1967, playing in a band in Kansas City.  The photo reminds us that in everyone is first a dreamer and has to start somewhere.  Many are talents just waiting to be found, and even if you feel you've "made it" (I haven't), we should never forget how scary, confusing, competitive, and difficult the road you walked can be to someone else.  Success is a journey, after all, and not a destination, best traveled with friends.  TIMKAT attempts to be those professional friends.

    Over the past couple of years, the company has been relatively dormant as I dealt with Tim's passing; however, I am getting my second wind and once again ready to explore the changes in music, online, and in the industry.  We are digitizing and getting ready to release an album that Tim released in 1978, filled with fantastic cuts from the golden age of seventies soul, and it's an exciting time.  (Here's a shameless plug for our engineer, Colin, and his audio company, https://plus.google.com/115068147716989775423#115068147716989775423/posts.  I literally found him on Craigslist and he's excellent.  If you use him, tell him TIMKAT said hello.)

    So enough about me, already.  Come on in and pull up a chair.  Stay awhile and know that here, you're among a growing number of friends. Be free to contribute to the discussion, because it's no fun for me to hear myself talk.  Start a discussion, post a response, anything to pay tribute to one of the world's greatest art forms.

    Best always,
    Kathryn Ballard Shut  (pronounced /shoot/ with a long 'u')
    Website: http://about.me/timkatent

    Sunday, February 19, 2012

    Social Networking ... the game changer... even for jazz music!

    Hanging out on Twitter late last night, I came across a tweet under the #jazz tag, and it said something to the effect that the poster wished that more jazz musicians thought Twitter were cool enough to use it.  It got me thinking about social networking in general and what an amazing game-changer it has been in the last 5 years and certainly about how much I have come back to using it in the past few weeks.

    When my father and I launched TIMKAT Entertainment in 2008, the entire focus was on the ability to market jazz music in a whole new way, starting with a new online audience and new generation of listeners.  To swim upstream against the giant hip hop, rap, and rock tide. To do our best work at promoting not only our own company, but other fine talents as we found them.  The focus is still alive with our company today; however,  that statement last night really got me going.  How, in the age of information-in-your-face-all-the-time, and with jazz sales at such lows, would an aspiring jazz musician not want to learn something about social networking and utilize it to his or her fullest advantage?

    For us, streaming online and social networking have provided slow but necessary visibility to people who seek jazz and hunger for news on it.  This has been no more evident than this week's activity on Twitter, to which I am very grateful for the new followers.  I often try to follow people back as a gesture of solidarity in a tough marketplace.  Social networking is crucial, especially for an art form that only comprises about 5% or less of the music-buying public's tastes; I believe that there are more classical listeners out there than jazz!  Social networking is lifeblood, especially for a company that operates out of the midwestern United States, away from the glitz of jazz life on the coasts, and as far as away as it gets from the world's largest jazz fans: Japan! 

    Granted, our blog and following are not yet the biggest out there; but it's honestly due to my having taken a hiatus for the past 2 1/2 years, and that in itself drives home the theory that social networking as a marketing tool works, pending your commitment to it, just as with any business.  As many of you know, my partner in this business and my father, Mr. Tim Ballard, passed away in 2009 from a long battle with lung cancer, it knocked a lot of the wind out of my sails, and changed the direction of where the company needed to go.  Since then, I have had to muster the spirit and courage to want to play, write about, and promote jazz music again, both my own and others'.  It was all I could do to stay afloat in other areas of my life, but this isn't a pity party.  It's a celebration of the power of social networking and our continued presence in the music business online.

    As an indicator of growth, in the MBA business program, we learn that if you double your sales every quarter, you are doing something right.  In technology, if you double the amount of people using your database, you are doing something right.  It assumes that people are telling their friends and family about you; they are returning for more of your product or service.  With this, I have to assume that in the world of social networking, doubling like this might also be a trustworthy standard, only performed at a faster rate, due to the sheer speed of how people share information.  Case in point: when I started again with blogging and tweeting again early last week, I had all of 10 followers on Twitter.  Tonight, I have a legitimate 40 followers and it has doubled almost every day (always blocking and excluding the spammers).  Does that mean I'm doing something right?  If so, I'm going to keep at it and learn all the time how I can improve (and thank you all for coming along for the ride!)

    To close, which seems more uncool to you all -- you're obviously advocates of social networking or you wouldn't have found this blog --- "looking" uncool as a jazz musician and refusing to have a Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or some other account, or potentially "being" uncool because no one has the opportunity to learn who you are and thus you're giving up the free facility to share your work with others around the world?  I would tend to vote for the latter and of course welcome your thoughts here.  I could be completely all wet about this ;)

    Best always,

    Response: CDBABY: Why Music Venues Are Totally Lost: An Open Letter from a Professional Musician

    I love this letter from professional musician, Dave Goldberg, and if I could meet him, I would shake his hand and say thank you. http://diymusician.cdbaby.com/2012/02/why-music-venues-are-totally-lost-an-open-letter-from-a-professional-musician/

    What follows is my support and response, stemming from not only my personal experience as a band manager and jazz pianist, but also from the wisdom of my father, Tim Ballard, who worked in this industry for over 45 years.


    This is a great article with good follow-up from people who clearly care about this topic. Sadly, it is symptomatic of the state of booking live bands in many cities that I've visited throughout the United States. There are actually several reasons behind why some musicians have allowed clubs to get away with this, and I agree with the author's original ideas to improve the situation.

    1. With the advent of the iPod, many clubs have given up on booking a live venue at all. Why book a $300+ band for an evening when the owner can invest in an $80 iPod and be set for months? Why book a band that insists on free drinks and free food all night, when the iPod demands nothing? And hey, there's still a recession out there. Restaurant owners are often fighting just to stay in business, so one of the first things to be stricken from the budget is usually live entertainment.

    All of this taken together may push an unknown band to deal with the club owner, thinking that it's a win-win situation; however, as the article points out, only the restaurant owner (if there is a winner) will come out ahead.

    2. Weaker music union power due to right-to-work laws combined with other musicians' cheap gigs. Since many locales have passed laws that prohibit venues from mandating that their musicians be unionized, local pay scales have also predictably fallen. A couple of years ago, I found a scale from the AFM (American Federation of Musicians). Scale for 2008 was that a band leader should expect about $220 for a 3-4 hour set, and all sidemen/women should be paid about $110. Take your average quartet and this amounts to a minimum set fee of $550. By the time one adds another hour to set up and sound check, and another hour to tear down (5 total), the leader is expected to make $44 an hour, and the sidemen/women, $22. However, to use the horrible example at $75, there is no leader pay and now everyone is making about $15 over those 5 hours. This is a gross amount, before taxes, before retirement plan. Absolutely no one can live on this.

    All this said, aspiring bands, please, stop playing for super-cheap and/or free. You are ruining the business in your area in several ways for other artists, especially those musicians that elect to stay union, because you are driving down their ability to make a living at this craft. While some of us have day jobs, often union musicians do not, so the next time you consider booking a cheap gig for supposed gain, think about how you just might have hurt a fellow musician's ability to earn a living. It is up to us to help set the standard and therefore, a "musicians' economy." Furthermore, by playing for almost nothing, you contribute to the fantasy that playing music is not a serious craft. Ask any world-class musician how long he or she has studied his work to become that good, and you will find that most have studied and practiced for more years than any doctor or lawyer attended professional school. Yet, many artists do not demand such fees because music is considered "entertainment" or "fun time" and therefore not "serious." Playing for cheap only instills that fallacy.

    Lastly, in terms of "exposure", Simon Cowell is probably NOT going to be in the audience that night to grant you the fame and fortune that you so desperately crave; instead, you must have the dignity to price your craft well, and long-term exposure these days comes from blogging, social networks, radio interviews, reviews, and constantly endeavoring to play in respectable venues. If a restaurant owner lets you play for free, in the long run, think about this way: you likely came off as desperate and probably not very good, else you would have demanded better money. The ONE exception to this rule would be for a special charity that's close to your heart or a rare favor to a friend, and even then, do not let this become a habit.

    3. No auditions, no references. Along with no union, bands also do not have adequate references from other venues, attesting not only to the quality (volume, sound, appropriateness) of their music, but of their professionalism on and off the stage. Is this band a bunch of lushes that will empty your bar and never pay for it? Is the band timely -- shows up on time, takes 15-20 min breaks and gets back to work, leaves on time? Professionalism and references can go a LONG way to helping a band get the next gig and ease the restaurant owners' minds in the process.

    The battle can be won, one venue at a time, but it will take an army of artists everywhere to reinforce it. Please understand that my blog here is for our collective betterment, and if you see yourself in its pages, perhaps it just means that it's time to take a good look at what you can do to help us all to succeed this challenging but fulfilling profession. Thanks for reading and caring.

    Best always,
    Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
    President, Jazz Pianist / Vocalist
    TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
    Denver, CO

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    Saturday, February 18, 2012

    Jazz Soul, Church Roots, Raw Power

    Like thousands - maybe millions - of people today, at 11 AM Eastern, I awakened and immediately turned on CNN to experience Whitney Houston's funeral, otherwise known as her "Homegoing", and I am so glad that I did. After enduring the unavoidable media scrutiny for a full week following her untimely and tragic death, including both her illustrious career and the recollection of her difficult and drug-addled life with Bobby Brown, and culminating in the next chapter -- the unfortunate events befalling her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, and Bobby's children (her stepchildren) -- it was an absolute honor that the Houston and Winans families allowed media coverage of the Homegoing at all.

    As I watched the 5 hour coverage, I marveled at the respect that the mourners (including Bobby) afforded the fallen star. I reveled in the sheer humanity of Whitney's life -- her strong beliefs, friends that had gathered to say good bye, Kevin Costner's deep message, Stevie Wonder, the Winans Family, everything. And then I put my jazz historian's hat on and respected the service yet again as only a fellow musician could.

    CNN Blogger Stephen Prothero later this evening ( http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/18/my-take-houston-funeral-brings-world-inside-black-church/?iref=allsearch ) wrote that Cissy Houston "brought the world to church today" and indeed she and her family did. Futhermore, Mr. Prothero took the sentiment a step further when he added that so much of music today swirls around the humble beginnings of the black church. He writes:

    “There are more stars here than the Grammys,” said Houston’s music director, Rickey Minor, and the service did feature pop star Stevie Wonder and music mogul Clive Davis, among others. But so much of popular music started in the black church, and today the black church talked back.

    Mr. Prothero hit the nail on the head; the black church not only talked back, but showed the world that everyone is always invited in, Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, whatever your persuasion. And in that invitation came a joyful combined choir, some of the biggest legends in American music history, laughter, tears, and worship. Positive messages on the nature of the soul. Homegoing, instead of mourning. Powerful.

    Mr Prothero writes in his blog that he has often wanted to share this spirit with his white Christian children and has never done so; my advice to him -- do it. It's OK. It is a welcoming place and you must trust me on this, as I have experienced it myself, a fellow "white girl".

    When I was 20 years old, I responded to an ad posted at my university's job center, searching for a skilled pianist to accompany a small but growing Christian "Free" congregation in downtown Warrensburg, Missouri, a few miles from where I lived and attended school. Being a somewhat poor college student, I leapt at the chance to make some money playing music, so I drove right down to the church that afternoon to speak to the pastor.

    At the time, I had no idea what a "Free" church meant, and soon found out that this style of worship is a Christian movement: a mix of Baptist, Pentacostal, Lutheran, and probably 3 other ideaologies, but most of all, African-American! When I walked in the door, I met not only the pastor but about 2 or 3 deacons that presided that night as well.

    My interview was short and I ended up getting the job due to the church's urgency for a pianist. I was led to a piano and asked if I knew any gospel or blues riffs (I did). I was asked if my ears were good (absolute pitch don't fail me now, yes) and I was asked if I was able to play for several hours on Thursday nights and all day Sunday (yes). My pay would be a meager $15 a set (and a set in that church could be 3-4 hours!), but I later realized that the life experience would more than pay for itself. We all shook hands and the pastor told me to come back later that night, because they were having a huge revival and would need me.

    When I came back, the small storefront-based building was packed with people. Some of them turned around and stared curiously at the skinny, bespectacled, nerdy white girl who just walked in. I asked the pastor if there were any hymnals. He laughed heartily and said, oh no, we don't use anything like that. I asked how people knew what to sing. He answered that everyone in the church knew all the songs. I said, what if I don't know the songs? He said, I have faith in you, just listen and learn, we'll be right there with you. Gulp.

    Revival time came a few minutes later with a guest female pastor from California who was more than on-fire for the Lord. I was out of my element but soon became very interested in what was going on. I remember clearly a catchphrase that night where she intoned, "Don't let the Devil ride, 'cause then he'll want to drive!!!", followed by a chorus of Uh huh, That's right, Praise Jesus!, Mercy!, PREACH! and every other positive affirmation known. Then, at the drop of a finger, someone would stand up, start singing a worship song in whatever key was in their head, and I had about 3 seconds to make something up behind him or her, as the congregation burst into loud, joyous, powerful song that everyone knew but me. The blues and gospel riffs became my saving grace and the level of worship blew me away. I worked for the little church for a few months throughout Spring 1993. I was the only "white" person in the room most nights, but it didn't matter, because the music spoke for me and helped to lift the spirits of those that believed. Music brought the races together in a deep and mutual respect. After a while, congregants called me "Sister Katy" as though I were one of their very own - I was honored.

    What I saw at Whitney's Homegoing was remniscent of that experience. In the Black Baptist church, you are free, regardless of color, background, or experiences, and it makes sense that jazz, blues, and so much soul came from these roots. It makes sense that only in church could an African-American soul be set free long enough on Sundays to sing to his or her Creator and shrug off the yoke of slavery, oppression, establishmentarian second-ratedness, social belittlement, and all the other unfair and unjust noise that this people endured for so long. And even if one is not African-American, it is a vital lesson for all of us -- as human beings, it makes sense that we who wish for freedom from the trappings in our own lives relate so deeply to that longing. It is exactly what the world experienced on CNN today and why this Homegoing had us glued to the celebration. It is why we are still talking about it in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and any other place that can hold this level of excitement. It is the ultimately the humble and inspiring teacher underneath every jazz great, R&B superstar, rock and roll fantasy, and blues beacon that we as musicians and audiophiles love.

    I wish to thank Whitney's family for the televised invitation to such joy and have them all know that I am truly, deeply sorry for her untimely passing. But I also wish to thank them for leading, nurturing, and inspiring the golden talent in Whitney that we came to know later in her life, and have had the privilege of her music as a lasting legacy.

    Yours in music,
    Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
    TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
    Saturday, February 18, 2012
    Writing from Cleveland, OH

    TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
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