By Deanna Albohn and Sarah Beckford
Ellis B. Holmes lightly tapped and scratched his sticks against his maroon drum set, keeping the fast paced beat for the rest of the band who alternatively looked at him and at the conductor. It was Thursday, March 5 at the Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, N.Y, during The Jazz Loft’s monthly Big Band show.
A flickering purple neon sign that displayed the venue’s name hung above the 17 band members. Each man sat behind a backlit booth decorated with a caricature of jazz legends like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington.
“[Jazz is] a true American art form,” Holmes said during intermission. “ [The younger generations] should at least try to listen to it, try to understand it, and realize that it’s out there. You may not like it, but should be able to at least appreciate it and respect it.” The longtime drummer has been playing with the Big Band since The Jazz Loft was founded in 2015 by Thomas Manuel.
Record stores across Long Island are gearing up for Record Store Day, a semi-annual event taking place on April 18. The revival of vinyl is partly in thanks to the event, Joseph Ostermeier, President and CEO of Infinity Records in Massapequa Park, N.Y. said. The event has helped local record stores bring in customers, increase revenue and promote special sales and performances.
There will be no live jazz music performances at any record store on Long Island on on Record Store Day, however there will be five limited edition special release jazz records for sale.
“We specialize in everything in our store, but when we opened in 1990 we were one of the premier jazz stores on Long Island because we stocked all the CDs and vinyl that we could,” Ostermeier said. “I employed managers that actually knew the music very well and the history of it.”
During last year’s Record Store Day, Infinity Records raised money for many local charities and sold 90 percent of their RSD exclusive items, a press release on their website reads.
The Jazz Loft is one of the few jazz venues left on Long Island. It doubles as a museum and performance space, dedicated to all things jazz. From floor to ceiling, and in every hidden room, there is memorabilia for any music fan to appreciate. The entire building is dedicated to keeping jazz music alive, and to educate its visitors on the genre’s history, as well as how jazz influences popular music today.
“A lot of things we carry are all types of genres,” Joshua Goldberg, owner and CEO of Mr. Cheapo Records and CDs in Mineola, N.Y. said. “People line up at five o’clock in the morning sometimes to get records that you’d never think would sell. It could be jazz, it could be blues and it could be rock.”
Outside of the Jazz Loft, the genre is not as popular. Vinyl record sales have been on a steady 14 year rise, according to the Recording Industry Association of America’s 2019 yearly report. Vinyl records nearly outsold CDs for the first time since 1986. Despite this spike in sales, only one percent of music consumed in America was classified as jazz. For comparison, in 2010, 2.5 percent of albums sold in the U.S. were jazz, according to the Nielson and Billboard end of year report. In 2019, 39.5 percent of album sales were rock, 12.6 percent were R&B/hip-hop and 11.2 percent were pop. Album consumption is based on physical sales and on demand audio streams. The resurgence of vinyl has renewed interest in records, but much of those sales are attributed to popular music, not jazz.
“There is a long history of jazz’s dismal sales figures,” Kevin Fellezs, Associate Professor of Music at Columbia University, said. “Historically, the low numbers for jazz recordings really begins in the post-WWII period when jazz was no longer the popular music of the day. As early rock and roll and mainstream pop music superseded jazz in terms of sales, jazz increasingly shed its connection to popular culture.”
The audience at the Jazz Loft consisted of nearly five dozen adults who appeared to be 60 or older. There were no teenagers or younger adults in attendance.
Many people are indirectly exposed to jazz music through other genres such as hip hop and R&B, according to Jazz Loft employee Gabriel Nekrutman. A lot of popular genres implement elements of jazz.
“[The] disconnect between jazz and young people has seemingly grown larger,” Michael Titlebaum, Associate Professor of Music Performance and Director of Jazz Studies at Ithaca College, said. “I think one reason jazz may sell less well is that jazz is really not a product that can be sold– it’s a process. Jazz is a unique method for making music.”