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New York City Proves Worse for Jazz Musicians Than Ever Before, Says Gary Giddins

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Feb 17, 2014 04:27 PM EST

New York City may be the emblem of the "American Dream," and yet so many have fallen victim to the underbelly of Gotham's music scene.

Plenty of folkies, rockers and especially jazz musicians haven't found their way, and some of them even fall victim to supplementing their failure by selling drugs--this in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman's alleged drug dealer.

Jazzers have found it exceptionally hard over the years to make ends meet, existing outside the parameters of success here in the city.

But now, a consensus from a CUNY Graduate Center panel reveals that jazz musicians have it harder than ever before!

"In every decade, New York has welcomed, housed and encouraged jazz," says Gary Giddins, a former jazz critic for the Village Voice and director of CUNY's Leon Levy Center for Biography.

Alas, Giddins' conviction about jazz stardom in the Big Apple seems to no longer be tangible.

Giddins recently moderated a talk called "Jazz and New York: A Fragile Economy" in the Proshansky Auditorium. The discussion honed in on some key components to the failing jazz economy in Manhattan.

Venues catering to jazz audiences seem to be on the decline as rents rise, critics are being cut from newspapers and the recording industry switches to a singles market catering more to the mainstream.

Giddins also pointed out specific periods in the city's history and infrastructure that supported the live jazz scene. The bebop era of the 1940s and the loft scene of '70s proved to be a hard time economically for the city, but it remained positive growth for the city's artistic scene.

Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts, commented on the possibilities of a time past.

"It's a real paradox. New York was on the verge of bankruptcy then, so there was abandoned real estate and artists could squat and lay claim to that," she said during the panel.

"The poverty of the city, in an ironic way, worked to the advantage of artists," she continued.

So, there must be a remedy to this madness. Right?

Luckily, record sales don't contribute too much to the pockets of jazz musicians. Instead, their true yield comes from live performances. (A real paradox since the clubs are closing down, huh?)

While the city may not be welcoming for musicians, it's still, somehow, the jazz hub of the world, and possibly the center of the universe for everything else.

To wit, here's a short doc about a 10-day excursion into New York City's jazz scene.

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TagsGary Giddins, Tish School of the Arts, Jazz and New York: A Fragile Economy, Proshansky Auditorium, CUNY, Leon Levy Center, The Village Voice, Mary Schmidt Campbell

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