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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Greater Madison Jazz Consortium takes pulse of city's scene

After launching last October, the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium began collecting data about the health of the local jazz community. Local nonprofit guru Boris Frank was recruited to survey nearly 300 local fans, performers and music educators, and the results arrived in early June.

Though the findings aren't scientific, they suggest that late show times and scant musician payments weaken Madison's jazz scene. More than 44% of the fans surveyed said concert start times discouraged them from attending, and 82% of the musicians surveyed said it was difficult or very difficult to get paying gigs. Many musicians said they were paid significantly more in the '70s and '80s.

Madison Music Collective member Howard Landsman, who serves as the consortium's facilitator, recalls this time well.

"Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Jefferson, Art Blakey, they all played here," he says. "That was probably the last time you could count on players of that caliber coming through town on a regular basis."

Landsman notes that quite a few State Street venues booked jazz, including Merlyn's and Good Karma on the 300 block. Many baby boomers he knows got into jazz as they grew into adult roles.

You won't see many millennials at local jazz concerts in 2013. You won't find many people of color, either. Well, that's what the survey says, but you can witness it for yourself at venues like the Brink Lounge and the Fountain. Professional booking outfits like True Endeavors know how to draw big crowds to rock concerts, but jazz booking tends to be done by volunteers who are retired or work a 9-to-5 job, Landsman says.

That's one reason the consortium exists, he says: to help different jazz organizations pool resources. But receiving the survey results was a turning point. Now the group must decide how to transform this knowledge into a prescription for positive change.

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