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As the Jazz Industry Takes a Brutal Hit, Artists and Advocates Band Together

Mykola Velychko

Just last week, guitarist Pat Metheny finished the Australia and New Zealand leg of an international concert tour, in support of his new album. Then his band flew on to South America and learned that a remaining slew of dates — in Brazil and Chile, and all over Europe — had been canceled due to the coronavirus.

Credit Florian Thoss / courtesy of the artist
courtesy of the artist
Pat Metheny, whose 2020 tour was cut short last week.

Metheny, of course, is far from alone. As the reality of a global pandemic began to sink in, musicians encountered cancelations around the world — and at home, now that New York, New Jersey and other states have imposed social restrictions.

To better understand the broad impact of these upheavals, I spoke with Ted Kurland of The Kurland Agency, which represents Metheny and dozens of other major artists, like Wynton Marsalis, Kurt Elling and Marcia Ball. The picture he painted was dire.

It’s pretty devastating. For the touring musicians, in most cases, if there’s a cancelation and it’s because of a public or municipal decision, then the presenter is entitled to claim the cancelation as a force majeure, meaning that the contract releases them from the obligation to compensate the artist – they’re not voluntarily canceling, they’re canceling because of a public proclamation. That really leaves the artist in a lurch. It’s further complicated when you have a performer going out on a tour or a series of dates and perhaps in some cities, there is that proclamation which forces the presenter to cancel, but yet in other cities, there is no such cancelation, and the booking is seemingly sustained – but then you have to cancel on that presenter because you can’t, if you’re a performer, afford to stay out on the road to do some of the dates. When the financial basis of the tour is formulated on the full series of dates. So that gets very complicated.

In the face of this difficult situation, musicians are doing what they can. Some have stepped up their online music lessons, among other services. Others have tried their hand at livestreaming. WBGO is tracking these efforts; we’ll do our best to keep audiences informed. Here is a resource for listeners wondering how best to support the musical community.

For his part, Kurland says the only time he can recall such a widespread disruption to the industry was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It took some time for the musical community to recover then, and he draws a parallel to what lies ahead for us today.

There’s a general mood that we’re all in this together. And all of the stakeholders here – the audience, the presenters, the performing arts organizations, the venues, the artists, the managers, the agents – we’re all trying to, on a daily basis, get through this. With an attitude that reflects the fact that we all need each other. We all want each other to survive and get through this mess.

So for all the talk of social distancing, this is a crisis that could bring people together.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.