Friday, June 01, 2007

Jazz and Race - Yoshis 10th Anniversary CD controversy

California's premier jazz venue, Yoshi's at Jack London Square in Oakland, just celebrated its 10th anniversary at its current location, and released a CD to go along with the celebration. The CD has tracks by Poncho Sanchez, Marian McPartland, Joe Pass, Joey DeFrancesco, Robben Ford, and Madeleine Peyroux. Sounds good, right? The problem - no black artists. This has many in the Bay Area jazz community concerned, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (link). Yoshi's has apologized for the oversight. But then last week another issue came up: the Berkeley Downtown Jazz Festival, which presents music at a number of venues, didn't have any black artists performing at one of their venues, Anna's Jazz Island, though a number of black artists are performing at other BDJF venues.

I don't have time to weigh in too much on the whole issue, other than to make a few comments, first about this particular situation and then the issue at large.

1) I see that most of the artists on the Yoshi's CD have other commercially available "Live at Yoshi's" albums available. Peter Williams mentioned the recording rights issue with the Chronicle, and I imagine this played a big role in who wound up on the CD. However, just off the top of my head, Mulgrew Miller, Dee Dee Bridgewater, also have "Live at Yoshi's" discs. Both are African-American artists.

2) With the exception of Madeleine Peyroux and Robben Ford, all of the other artists on the Yoshi's 10th anniversary CD are affiliated with Concord Records. It might have been an issue where Concord was easy to negotiate with regarding these tracks, other labels weren't, and these tracks and artists were chosen accordingly.

3) I don't think anyone has any justification to question Yoshi's overall booking policy and artist lineup based on race. I've seen many other jazz venues which seem to present only white artists, but not Yoshi's.

4) I don't think it so much applies in the BDJF case, as they do have a diverse artist roster, just not at the festival events at Anna's Jazz Island.

5) I think this is a legitimate issue which jazz presenters and educators need to pay attention to. Maybe this incident will spark some further discussion on this issue in the jazz community, even if the criticism in these cases isn't entirely justified.

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