Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking on the Jazz challenge –
Submit Jazz music TV performances you’ve seen here

Afro-Blue playfully attacks Sing-Off Judge Ben Folds

The Sing-Off a cappella singing competition TV show was unexpectedly amiss in controversy this year after Afro-Blue, the 9-member a cappella class-turned-performance-group from Howard University in Washington, D.C. was eliminated by the panel of expert judges on the brink of the semi-finals.

To say that viewers at home were disappointed is a bit of an understatement as social media was flooded with comments. Many of my personal friends told me that Afro-Blue was their favorite group, and although Pentatonix was my favorite by a long shot, I honestly could not understand why Afro-Blue was eliminated. America should have been given the opportunity to vote for them, perhaps allowing four groups to move forward as was done last year. They may have won, or at the very least, come in second place.

As it was, Pentatonix came in first, the Dartmouth Aires won second, and Urban Method won third after the public voted on these three choices. The public could not vote for Afro-Blue -- they were knocked out at the eleventh hour by the judges, Sara Bareilles and Ben Folds. Shawn Stockman was the only judge of the three who felt they should move forward instead.

Judge Ben Folds explained his reasoning for choosing the Dartmouth Aires over Afro-Blue in his Nov. 21, 2011 blog posted on NBC’s Sing-Off Website:
    “Afro-Blue stands for excellence in music education and for the great underdog American art form of jazz. Neither of these concepts often leads to lucrative ventures and both are under-represented on TV and radio.”
Essentially, Folds was saying in so many words in his blog that he feels that Afro-Blue is not as marketable as the Dartmouth Aires. Folds confessed that Afro-Blue was his own favorite group as well and that “they were actually great TV, and they could make records. They have a charm and charisma that transcends drama and competition.” However, he felt that they simply wouldn’t make as much money as the Dartmouth Aires could with a Sony Recording contract, the grand prize in the Sing-Off a cappella competition.

I think most of us at home just figured that was a bunch of hooey.

It's not hard to tell that pop, rock, hip-hop, and country are the big money makers today. However, I feel that Folds is incorrect in claiming that jazz won't make money since he feels that by appealing to a small, elite group of intelligent listeners, it won’t sell in the big mainstream market. But, does it need to sell in the mainstream market to make money?

I’m a huge Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five fan, and I have to say, he isn’t all that mainstream himself. Survey a few friends and you’ll find maybe one in ten people, depending on their ages, who have even heard of him (you may have to sing a few bars of Brick or Rockin’ the Suburbs). However, Ben Folds made Sony Records a good deal of money. Why? Because Ben Folds fans tend to be super fans. They will buy all of his CDs and tickets to shows in their area, spend money on T-shirts and other miscellaneous swag, and invest in collectible vinyl record versions of his CDs.

I think the same could be said for jazz lovers. There’s a lot of money to be made in that market, but perhaps, as Folds expains, that market is a bit untapped at the moment. Such a shame!

Folds challenged TV viewers in his latest blog on November 28, 2011, to “Survey the year's prime time network programming and get back to me with a list of live jazz performances you saw - hell, make that ten years.”
  • Live Performances – When Folds says “live,” I assume that he means actual bands playing the music, since nearly all primetime (save sports) is taped these days, and since I could probably meet this challenge in one or two weeks if I were allowed to simply list all of the jazz music tracks played in the background behind serious dramatic scenes on hit TV shows.
  • Network – By network, I assume Folds means the big seven: ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS and TBS, as opposed to say, BET or the Jazz channel, which would also make this challenge far too easy.
  • Primetime – Folds also asks that we find these performances in prime time, which is defined by as “The evening hours, generally between 7 and 11 P.M., when the largest television audience is available,” as opposed to late night or daytime. That eliminates the obvious: Conan, Kimmel, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, and Ferguson. It also knocks out their counterparts greeting us each morning: the Today Show, Good Morning America, the Early Show, Good Day, and CBS Sunday morning, who coincidentally featured a segment on kids dancing to a jazz band playing in the subway this past Sunday. Unfortunately, it also counts out midday talk shows, such as (The show formerly known as) Live with Regis and Kelly (since Regis “moved on” this past month) and the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Since we are currently in the midst of the Christmas holiday season, I think we can probably find a few jazz performances during prime time on major networks in the next month.

Please keep your ears and eyes peeled and get back to me if you see something worth watching. If you can, please take the time to comment here or email me at

I think one possible hit might be on tonight’s Sing-Off, which will feature a few holiday favorites. If I see a version of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, I’m counting that as one. The show airs tonight between 8 pm and 10 pm on NBC (WESH 2 here in Orlando, on Channel 4 and 1020 on Brighthouse Cable).

So, X-Factor, the Voice, American Idol, I hope you’re listening. Serve me up some jazz, pretty please!

We’ll keep track here in this blog and post updates to Dr. Folds, who adds in his blog:
    “When I say it's a miracle that we got vocal jazz on TV, I'm speaking reality. Further, I'm not commenting on the intelligence of the viewers but instead on the tolerance, systems, research, and paradigm of reality TV… You can hide under a rock and ignore it, or you can roll up your sleeves and get inside it and try to make a change. But expect to take some knocks because reality is more complicated than reality TV.”