Marketing the Music

November 19, 2010

The drummer is the president as he’s the loudest one in the group. The bassist is the judiciary as he addresses the harmony and the rhythm, and the piano and rhythm section is the legislature represents all of the notes and all of the keys. They all work together by listening to one another.” These are the comments of Wynton Marsalis and Retired Justice, Sandra Day O’Conner on the videos that reside on www.letfreedomswing.org. These unique analogies that compare democracy and jazz for social studies teachers on this unique site bring the culture of jazz to a broader audience of students through a user friendly presentation. “Co-branding” could be a term that would be used to describe this project which brought together these two renowned leaders from highly disparate backgrounds but who share a common thread which is the love for music.

Mr. Marsalis has had a knack for helping to market jazz beyond the traditional channels, which makes his impact even greater than that of his tremendous performance abilities. Though his opinions have been at times controversial, his recognition as an ambassador of jazz is undisputed. In a similar vein, the recent loss of Harvey Phillips, who some called the Heifitz or Paganini of the Tuba, will be felt across many spectrums of music, from classical to jazz to Dixieland and more. Harvey performed with many jazz greats over the years and was highly skilled in many forms of music, but his influence transcended his tuba playing.

Marketing is not a word that is normally associated with musicians and educators, but Phillips was a great marketer of the tuba. His promotion of the instrument was global, especially with his development of the Octubafest and Tuba Christmas. These events could often be seen on morning news shows from Rockefeller Center, featuring hundreds of tuba players dressed up in Santa Claus suits playing “Jingle Bells” or some other uplifting holiday tune. People who may have played tuba at one time or another during their lives would pull out their big horns, polish them up, and make their way to these annual gatherings. It didn’t matter how good a player you were, it just mattered that you would be willing to join with other folks who would enjoy some time together playing music.

When you consider these two men, Marsalis and Phillips, it is astonishing how much both have contributed beyond musical performance. With the current economic climate affecting musicians of all genres, many could take a lesson from their playbook. In fact, if you were taking an MBA in music management, a case study for how to advance the cause of music could be written to account for their success. It’s essential to have an open mind to bringing these types of ideas to reach greater audiences, which may in turn bring more serious audiences into the fold…

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