Now that America’s music industry is once again paying attention to New Orleans music, the question is when will New Orleans pay attention?
At the 32nd annual Grammy Awards, New Orleans artists won in four categories: Aaron Neville (with Linda Ronstadt) for best pop duo, Dr. John (with Rickie Lee Jones) for best jazz vocal duo, Harry Connick, Jr. for best solo jazz vocal, and the Neville Brothers for best pop instrumental. Although there was disappointment that neither Branford nor Wynton Marsalis won, overall it was an excellent showing.
So what are the Grammys? The Grammys are essentially a peer voted award program of the commercial music industry. Of course there’s a lot of politics involved, and major labels have the biggest clout. Also, because all members—music professionals who range from producers and liner note writers to performers and engineers—can vote in every category, winners are often determined by people who know little about the particular category, especially in the traditional music and jazz categories.
But the real problem is not who votes or even what the voters know. The reason New Orleans is only beginning to receive the attention our music is due is because New Orleans doesn’t really push New Orleans.
The city government and private business sectors of New Orleans should work hand in hand to develop New Orleans music. Here are four suggestions:
• Hold an Annual New Orleans Music Awards program, modeled on the Grammys, in which New Orleans music professionals vote for the best of New Orleans talent—and get a commitment from COX Cable to have that program televised, and a commitment from the Times-Picayune to offer feature coverage to the program.
• Set up a $250,000 grants program specifically for New Orleans music projects. Other cities of comparable size, but with far less talent, spend far more money than New Orleans does in this area.
• The city administration should establish a monthly (ideally, a weekly) showcase music program in the Theatre For The Performing Arts featuring New Orleans talent of all genres, from traditional jazz to contemporary pop.
• In conjunction with airline companies, offer discount tickets (on a space available basis) to New Orleans musicians who are scheduled to perform nationally and internationally.
The general idea is for the private and public sector to take an active interest in supporting New Orleans music. Until New Orleans actively starts supporting the music that already exists, talk about building a music industry is only hot air. Although we all would like to believe that great talent will win out in the end, the fact is talent must be supported. New Orleans has the talent, and now is the time to support that great musical talent. It’s time for New Orleans to put up or shut up!