Today’s blog entry is special for (at least) two reasons. First of all, the subject of the day is jazz music. As we’ll explore below, jazz lends itself well to dissection in a RepMan blog. Second, today’s entry was written by two RepMan guest bloggers – young Peppercommers and jazz enthusiasts, Laura Bedrossian and Nick Light. As always, comments are encouraged in order to continue the conversation.
Can you identify any of the musicians mentioned in this post and pictured above in this famous 1958 photo taken in Harlem?
Greetings, readers. In order to kick off the discussion, I’d like to briefly talk about why Laura and I chose jazz music as the subject of today’s entry. Given that the general overarching theme (we think) of RepMan is reputation, we thought it appropriate to examine a topic that couldn’t have a more confused reputation (which is to say image or brand). In my experience, when I tell new acquaintances that I like jazz, their notions of what jazz is rarely come close to the real modern jazz experience. Now, I’m not saying that everyone should have the same experience as my own, nor that my experience is the real one.
The most common associations with Jazz music that I encounter are: 1) Those who see jazz as elevator music. jazz is not elevator music, and the music you hear in elevators or shopping at JCPenny is rarely jazz. 2) Those who associate jazz with John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I enjoy Miles and Coltrane, and they certainly played jazz music, but their careers have long since ended, and jazz has expanded in so many directions since their golden years. Check this out, for example. 3) Those who see jazz as an exclusive, white glove genre for individuals who are too polished to associate with the groundlings. In my experience, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In short, jazz music lacks consistent branding. We could spend a lot of time debating why. One suspects money is a large issue. But I digress. Laura?
Completely agreed, Nick. Though I would like to add that for someone who says that jazz music is her favorite type of music, it is usually accompanied by a –“What are you, 70?” I’ll chalk that one up to inconsistent/incorrect branding (if any).
In addition to our love of jazz and the obvious issues with the image that people have in their heads, I also am fascinated by the history of the genre. There once was a time where jazz and drug/alcohol addiction seemed to go hand-in-hand. Which is not to say that all musicians did, but I still think that is an image issue today. My own observations and studies have gotten me to wish I could jump in a time machine and work on the personal brand of some musicians, or if I wanted to fight an uphill battle, some bigger challenges.
- Glenn Miller – when Jimmy Stewart portrays you in the movie about your life, you’re automatically a PR dream.
- Benny Goodman – credited with one of the most recognizable jazz tunes ever – Sing, Sing, Sing.
- Louis Armstrong – no explanation necessary. He’s the man.
- Ben Pollack – as the “Father of Swing,” five famous jazz musicians started off in his group—two of whom are on this list.
Not-at-all-as-dreamy PR Dreams (aka nightmares):
- Bix Biederbecke – alcoholic, father was a minister who openly disapproved of his son’s choice of career.
- Charlie Parker – drug addict/alcoholic. Didn’t show up to a gig one time, everyone thought he was dead, but he was actually blackout drunk under the bandstand.
- Richard Twardzik – died from a heroin overdose.
- Chet Baker – very publicized drug habit.
- Billie Holiday – multiple arrests throughout her life for drug possession, including on her deathbed.
If each of the people in these lists, and those who are unnamed in both categories had PR representation, would jazz be in a different light today? With the right PR pros (cough, cough, me and Nick, cough), yes.
While this could easily turn into a two-part blog or (fingers crossed) a book deal, there is so much we did not cover, we’d love to hear your thoughts. What are your impressions of jazz? Think we’re on target with our thoughts on how the whole genre could be presented differently?