Blue Rondo à la Rep: What Happened to Jazz?

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.
Harlem JazzCan 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. 

PR Dreams:

  • 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?

12 thoughts on “Blue Rondo à la Rep: What Happened to Jazz?

  1. Glenn Miller is still “missing in action” in my eyes. Though he was born about 15 or 16 years later than Miller, Dave Brubeck is still jazzing it up on the stage–always amazing. With that said, I think Miller would play the trombone and arrange music with the same gusto.

  2. Also, the hyperlink apparently didn’t make the final post, but when I mentioned how jazz has expanded in so many ways since Miles and Coltrane, I meant to provide this video:

  3. Thanks for the comments, everyone. First of all, if I could work with one jazz musician right now, it would have to be the Avishai Cohen trio. Follow this link for a video of the group:

    reason for choosing this group is that they have integrated international elements (in this case, Israeli folk melodies) into jazz. In so doing, they have opened the door to new audiences and pushed jazz in a new direction.
    Jason Fischbach, good question. I would have to agree with Laura. I hinted to it in the original post, but if jazz’s image is confused or tarnished, and jazz musicians can’t afford to perpetuate their music, that would be problematic for jazz music (and not necessarily other genres). And, to Mark’s point, regardless of what we call jazz, it’s unfair to the genre to be remembered for a snapshot in time that no longer exists. Think about if Pop music meant The Beatles instead of Justin Bieber.

  4. Laura, if Glenn Miller were still alive, he’d have to be over 100 years old. If so, I doubt there’d be much swing left in him.

  5. Spot on, Laura. As a struggling stand-up comedian, I must admit to prefer performing in front of a packed house who know me and my material as opposed to one with three, silent, stone-faced tourists from Belgium who thought going to see a New York comedy show might be fun (but didn’t factor in the language and culture barriers first).

  6. I think that jazz’s issue, when it comes to marketing itself is two-fold.
    As Nick stated, Jazz has a lot of negative connotations in the general public. But I think that if you dig a little deeper “Jazz” has those connotations but if I said ‘Bluegrass’, ‘Funk’, Brass Band’ or any other genres of music that are very jazz-based, there are close followings.
    Jazz by its very nature has broken up into such a wide variety of seemingly unrelated music that when you refer to Jazz, the most recent iterations of jazz as a recognizable genre are Coltrane, Big Bands, etc.
    If I hired a PR firm and wanted to market “Sports”, I would expect them to ask for some specifics. “Jazz” is the same way. If jazz is to stay a viable option as a genre, it needs to find a way to claim it’s offspring. “Rock” music manages to encompass Grace Potter and Megadeath. Jazz doesn’t have as much reach anymore.
    I’ll leave it up to the PR pros to figure out how to do it!

  7. I see your point, Jason F., but in the context of our post we’re discussing a lack of branding from the POV of PR. As PR pros, if we said that about any of our clients–“if people like your product, why does it matter if it’s branded correctly,”–we wouldn’t be very effective. To your point, I think it is fair to say that many musicians simply care about the music they are making, not how many people are listening–but they also need to pay the bills and also probably would enjoy it more if they had an audience to perform for rather than playing in their basement.

  8. Thanks, JMarkGreen. Great points and I totally agree.
    In response to your question, in all honesty, I would love to take on any of these talented artists as a client. I do have a soft spot in my heart for Glenn Miller, who I still think could be alive . . . no one has proved he has died yet.
    I suggest starting with a little Dexter Gordon during your Spotify session.

  9. What does it matter if people know xyz music as jazz? If people like the music, regardless of what genre they refer to it as, isn’t that all that matters? Isn’t the spirit of jazz more important than the word which refers to it?

  10. Couldn’t agree more, Nick and Laura. I associate Jazz with creativity and the freedom to explore music free from its traditional structure. The genre certainly does not get due credit for “birthing” and inspiring an impressively broad range of artists over the years.
    My question (to the both of you): Which artist is your ideal client?
    And thanks for the post. It reminded me that I need to make a Jazz playlist on Spotify.