Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Barnhart and the Anatomy of the Jazz Blockbuster

You can tell when a CD is intended to be a Jazz blockbuster today without a lot of work. The telltale signs are many. Here are a few ways to signify blockbuster:

1. Put the artist on the front in suite and tie, playing his instrument
2. Get as many ringers into the program as you can, like Wynton and Ellis Marsalis, Clark Terry
3. Use a testimonial quote from somebody everybody will recognize, preferably outside of Jazz, like Bill Cosby
4. Start one or more tunes with the funky New Orleans Marching Band Beat
5. Have at least one vocal track
6. Play as many standards as you can
7. Play at least one tune with the Neotrad Swing veneer

All these preconditional formulas are true of trumpeter Scotty Barnhart's Say it Plain (Dig). It's built from the ground up as a blockbuster. Now he happens to be a very good trumpet player and that's plain from his performances on the album. Of course, the truth is that you can't entirely rely on formulas to get blockbuster results. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue didn't have guest appearances by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. They played no standards. There were no testimonials. Yet it is the blockbuster of blockbusters. Well duh.

These formulas do disservice to the artists who let themselves in for such treatment. Nonetheless the Scotty Barnhart CD shows a talent we should be appreciating. I'd like to hear a CD with him and his group, just flat out playing without the trappings. I think that would be a good thing for his career. I could be wrong.

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