Another POV About Cornelia Street

I’m always supportive and sympathetic when it comes to restaurants that host experimental music, even stuff that’s only glancingly avant-garde. They’ve got a clientele that isn’t there for the music and that won’t be willing to pay a cover. It’s hard to make it all work. Hence, my enthusiasm for what Duende is doing in Oakland.

Along those lines, I gave New York’s Cornelia Street Cafe some kudos and the benefit of the doubt after a reasonably good experience there.

Weeks later, up came a blog posting reminding me that the business side of restaurant music can get ugly. It’s by by Adam Tendler, an Upper West Side pianist who’d come to see Andy Costello, a colleague from Montreal:

But after seeing Andy Costello, who came from Montreal to perform his 6pm recital Sunday evening, humiliated onstage by [Cornelia Street’s music curator at the time] because of a poor turnout and an apparently confounding program, and then, after being forced to cut his set short — he had two pieces left, 15 minutes, and this man insisted he “make it ten” because “they needed the room” (the next performance was in an hour-and-a-half) — guilt-tripped even further for having not drawn a crowd and lectured about how much money was lost… well, I was stunned.

George Colligan’s Jazz Truth blog followed up with some similar experiences.

I know it’s hard to make it work presenting creative music. But when the venues make us jump through hoops to even GET a gig, make us do all of the promotion, don’t guarantee any money, and EVEN THEN treat us like scum, it’s no wonder jazz venues are hurting. I think we are all in this together: if you treat us with respect, it will make us not only want to play there, but it will make us feel like we are in this together. It will make us feel like we want to HELP your venue.

Booking adventurous music is difficult for a moneymaking establishement. We all get that. I would like to think some places do it to help nurture a community or to try something different to fill a slow night. Eventually, when someone in charge gets tired of it, or resentful about it, they go back to what they’d done before. The Ivy Room bar is a relatively recent example.

No one here is disputing the realities of commerce. It’s just sad to hear about the abuse heaped on the musicians. It’s not as though they play for single-digit crowds as a prank.

It sounds like the Cornelia Street nightmares stemmed from the music booker and not the venue itself. Maybe things could get better — but we might never know, because who knows if the creative music and new music communities will just turn its back on the venue. The frustrating part is that Cornelia Street might not notice the difference.

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