POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 12, 2012:
Jamming and the Sky Crane
Saving the Jazz Hall of Fame. Or should it save itself?
"In jazz and in enterprise, jam sessions are designed to foster novel insights and accelerate learning. Jazz players engage in active experimentation, follow hunches, and build on others' ideas. Jam sessions are open and collaborative environments, with a band that's a collection of diverse specialists combining different instruments, backgrounds, a variety of preferences, styles, and skill levels -- the same as a startup office."
From Frank Barrett/Sept. 4 2012/in Fast Company magazine:
"What Charlie Parker And Thomas Edison Knew: Jam Sessions Make New Ideas Happen"
Jazz is American's quintessential, electrifying gift to world culture: a hyperkinetic, fevered product of the African American experience -- in triumph and in tragedy. Jazz is also a cultural shockwave that has rocked T-Town in spots like Cain's, the Brady and dozens of long vanished gin joints, seedy speakeasies and hideaway havens. It's totemic artists, wild driver as a revolutionary social force, ear wormy lingo and epic traditions work as a kind of soft machine that has propelled music, dance, theater and every part of the American cultural scene for well over a century. And Tulsa has, over its entire history, been a magnetic port of call for an exceptional range of giants in the Jazz arena.
Tulsa's Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (JHF), now in its 22nd year, is a fab multicultural collection of living and long gone jazz masters, their tools, music and images. But the Hall is also a spot for fevered, powerful performances, musician development and cultural interchange. And JHF is a vital asset if Tulsa wants to continue to be an aggressive, cross cultural agent in America's entertainment and cultural universe -- and it's very much about fostering T-Town improvisation and imagination.
The Sky Crane & Improv
Some two weeks ago, I stayed up until early morning watching a direct net feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California: the show was the landing of the giant, robotic Mars rover Curiosity.
The Curiosity project is an all hands re-examination, a full-on jamming, searching improvisation of the techniques the American space community had previously employed to land on a distant world. And the Sky Crane is the most audacious departure in the project. Imagine, after a 350-million mile journey, that a set of rocket engines fire on cue to suspend the probe package only a few hundred feet over the designated landing site -- this after a 13,000 mile-an-hour plunge through Mar's thin but very real atmosphere.
While the probe and its rover cargo is only a few dozen feet above the landing site, a cable/crane combo (the Sky Crane) comes to life and slowly lowers the car-sized mobile lab -- the business end of the new Mars mission -- to the surface. Once the rover was safely atop the landing site, the onboard computer cuts the lowering cable from the still hovering delivery/crane platform -- and finally, the still lofting lander platform flies away, leaving the rover to its multi-year mission on the Martian surface. It would be hard to find a better American ensemble of advanced robotics, precision navigation and breakout engineering -- improvisation and peerless imagineering was key to making it so.
A similar, if earth bound improvisation space, performance warren and players co-op allows Green Country jazz musicians and other performers to grow and deliver -- this is what we have in the "Hall." And our Hall is beginning to have a signature impact on our entire musical community, our cultural diversity and art economics/tourism in Tulsa.
So a big threat to this still-maturing hub of jamming, musician development, collaboration and new music will hobble us. And given Tulsa's odd history of birthing an unreasonable number of exceptional musical folks, and our elevated role in America's musical galaxy, losing the JHF would be a self defeating move.
The JHF, under its new chief and energized board, is a keen incubator for our music and performing arts community in Tulsa. And while the place and its recent governance is far from perfect, it is becoming an indispensable spot: There is nothing else quite like it in T-Town. Tulsa's Jazz Hall, like so many other artistic/nonprofit ventures with ambitious missions, finds itself at a crossroad, occasioned by our still fragile economy, anemic marketing budgets and by a revenue squeeze.
The Tulsa County Commission, the owner of the Union Depot, where the Jazz Hall sits, is demanding payment of electrical bills and a series of other back expenses. As a consequence, the Hall is in the midst of a close re-look at its operating expenses and basic costs. Changes in energy usage and other costs are on tap in addition to other steps that Chief Executive Officer Jason McIntosh and the Hall board are pondering.
Moreover, the Hall is entertaining a whole series of partnership and alliance projects that might create additional revenues. These are needed to both supplement their inventive new 4th-6th grade jazz/music immersion venture with the Deborah Brown Community School and augment its increasingly rich and varied offerings for folks of every age and taste here in town. A matrix of new partnerships with technology and educational players are being explored. They're also in very early discussions with the Charles Mingus foundation of New York City and are in early talks about an enduring connection to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.
Be There: Your Critical Role
So the Jazz Hall of Fame is in a spot of temporary trouble -- they have more than $60,000 of immediate expenses that need to be discharged -- that is, paid -- sooner than later and the Hall doesn't have a major fund-raising event until November to deal with these liabilities.
They have elected to use their upcoming three-day jazz festival, from Sept. 14-16, to forestall a threat to remove JHF from the Union Depot.
If you believe in jamming, if you believe in continuing the highly innovative and completely unreasonable production of musical innovators and performer originals that have long defined Tulsa -- and not just in Jazz -- come to one or all of the three days of Hall events starting this coming Friday, and bring all your buds.
Here is the grand lineup for this Friday's essential JHF Jazz Festival: Tim Shapley Quartet, Jambalaya Jass Band, Gogo Plumbay, Travis Fite, Annie Ellicott, Dean Demeritt, Mike Cameron and Olivia Duhon, High School Band, Seven Blue, Grupo Salsabor, Tommy Poole, Little Joe and Jr. Markham, Miss Blues, Cynthia Simmons, Shelby Eicher, Mark Bruner, Jeff Shadley Big Band, Diva's Concert, Tim Shadley Latin Jazz, Candido.
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