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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Jazz performers should embrace on-the-spot recording

I've seen two amazing jazz performances in the last month--Return to Forever and Wynton Marsalis--and would have been delighted to buy a recording of them at the venue, had one been available.

I had the opportunity to see Wynton Marsalis perform with the 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra last night in Seattle, and it was an absolutely stellar performance, with great song selection (Marsalis's own "The Holy Ghost" was a standout) and some of the most incredible technical playing I've ever heard--they did Duke Ellington's "Braggin' in Brass," which contains a trombone part in which each player plays a note or two in sequence, together creating this fast complicated line. (Listen here--that part starts around the -2:06 mark.) I've heard from some jazz fans that Wynton's a little too stiff or formal for their tastes, but that wasn't my experience at all--he even walked back on stage for an impromptu second encore vamp with only the piano, bass, and drums backing him up.

I would have been happy to buy a recording of last night's performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (shown here). Wynton Marsalis Web site

Jazz performances lend themselves to live recordings--setlists change nightly (Marsalis announces his setlist from the stage as the show goes on) and improvisation is the rule rather than a rarity. I would have been happy to buy a recording of this show or last month's Return to Forever performance. But so far, I don't see jazz musicians embracing the practice of recording their shows and selling them--something that's become pretty common with jam bands like Widespread Panic. A few acts, like Willie Nelson, even sell USB memory sticks containing a recording of the show right at the door as you're leaving.

Rights clearance might be one problem: most of the Marsalis set consisted of songs by other composers, some from the orchestra, others long-passed like Duke Ellington. Figuring out how to split the sale proceeds from a live performance among all these rights holders might be a problem--something that rock bands, who tend to perform mostly their own material, don't face. Then again, every Widespread Panic show contains at least one cover, and they seem to have figured out how to disburse the proceeds. So I hope the jazz world will begin to embrace on-the-spot live recordings soon--I want to give them more of my money, if they'll let me.