Pursuant to my previous post - here's another about perceptions we believe because the press hammers the point until thinking otherwise is seen as not serious.
In 1989 the jazz trumpeter and bandleader Wynton Marsalis released an album entitled The Majesty of the Blues. The last track on the record was a three-part suite entitled "The New Orleans Function," which contained a sermon called "Premature Autopsies." The sermon was basically a treatise on how jazz as a music was not dead despite press reports to the contrary. As Frank Zappa famously stated: "Jazz isn't dead; it just smells funny." And that seems to have been the pervasive opinion of that era. During the previous decade Marsalis had embraced the reclamation of jazz from the funeral pyre as a personal mission.
By 1989 that missionary zeal had begun to bear fruit; a cadre of young, attractive jazz musicians had begun to emerge that injected new ife into both the business and the art of jazz. The movement, sometimes known as the "Young Lions," got both major and independent labels re-energized; the "tipping point" may have been when Marsalis appeared on the cover of "Time" magazine in 1990. Jazz clubs grew their audiences, even such stalwart venues as The Village Vanguard.
The rising tide lifted a lot of boats. A lot of people have strong opinions about Wynton Marsalis the artist and the provocateur, but his presence made people sit up and pay attention to jazz, to the benefit of many musicians who, but for the emergence of someone like Wynton, might have labored in further obscurity and never reached the type of global audience they did in his wake. Artists like Joe Henderson, Shirley Horn, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, and others would still have been regarded as top-flight musicians, but the marketplace would have been much less receptive to jazz as a marketable genre without the presence of youth and energy Wynton and the Young Lions represented.
The revival movement in jazz did not last if you look at record sales from 2000 on. There was a time in the 90s it would have been ludicrous to think Columbia Records and Sony Classical would ever not be Wynton's label home; he now records for Blue Note, but with a much smaller profile. But he, like so many jazz artists who achieved a level of commercial success in the 90s, and echoing a general market trend in music, sales declined precipitously.
My point is that if one were to believe the hype about jazz's impending demise in 1980, or even 1983 when it seemed like only Wynton was selling jazz records, the genre may have indeed died.
In the year 2007 the doomsayers are at it again (NY Times Select - subscription required), and, despite much evidence to the contrary, I don't believe the "premature autopsy" declaring the CD dead, null and void. While the rise of digital and mobile as alternate or preferred methods of receiving music is absolutely upon us we also have available to us as consumers a ton of great music at prices lower than one could purchase albums or tracks on iTunes (although higher priced than free, illegal downloads). Any CD where the price of the album divided by the number of tracks on the album equals less than $.99/track is worth buying for a few reasons. 1) You've not only bought a CD, but one you can rip legally to your iTunes/iPod, and you can download it at a higher bit rate (and therefore higher audio quality) than an MP3 file. 2) If you're just a casual listener, then you've got a good album you can take in the car or play on your stereo or boom box, which all most likely contain CD players.
What labels don't understand is that it's not that consumers don't like CDs, it's just that they have been buying them for over two decades, and CDs last. If you bought a CD in 1985 or 1995 or 2000, then you can expect that CD to last. You may not have the latest remastered edition of a record, or own the version with the cool alternate takes or bonus, live tracks, but you've got the record.
So here's my pitch to both the record industry and to any retailer looking to do a private-label compilation if you can meet the criteria I described above: somewhere on your CD packaging place a sticker on the CD cover stating the following - "Less than $.99/track." It's a simple statement that acknowledges that the digital age is upon us, but that physical product can in certain cases provide a more cost-efficient and higher quality audio experience than an MP3 or similar type of digital file to the consumer. Someday soon we'll all be exchanging music in bits and bytes exclusively, but as long as physical product is in stores those who sell it ought to trumpet the advanatages they hold.