Twenty years of contemporary jazz!

original logo for ContemporaryJazz.com, from 1996
John Hilderbrand Avatar

Twenty years ago this month, I launched this site.

Where does the time go? When I started out in 1996, I was 25 years old. Being a fan of contemporary jazz was a core part of my identity. I seemed to have all the time in the world. I loved working on the site as much as possible. My wife and the site were my top passions. Since then, a lot has happened with me and contemporary jazz. I found a deeper passion – being a father. I could not be more blessed with my two wonderful children. Contemporary jazz was overshadowed by smooth jazz. And then vocals became the thing – the worst music I remember is when instrumentalists tried to be singers. Illegal downloading cut into record company profits and genres were cut. Jazz, with a couple of rare exceptions, was solely delegated to independent labels. The smooth jazz radio format disappeared. Touring seems to have been eliminated.

At least, that’s what I’ve observed.

Today, it’s easier than ever to find the music you want to hear through an abundance of online radio and services. AccuJazz has nearly every type of jazz you can imagine. For ten dollars a month you can listen to almost any recording with Google Play Music or Apple Music. Getting the word out is the hard part. Without a centralized hub, you can’t spread the word to the masses. So artists are on their own a lot to get the word out. I think most of them want to make music and not spend time with the business and marketing aspect of it. You can communicate with your existing audience with social media but how do you build a new audience? It’s the best of times and the worst of times for some. Record labels were sometimes seen as a pain if they insisted on a certain type of record or a set number of vocals. But they had a resource or resources to get the music to people who could write about it or play it. Now there is freedom from record companies since you can pretty easily sell your music online but the outreach is gone.

This is speculation on my part. I’m a communicator, not a musician. Your thoughts are welcome.

I have plans for ContemporaryJazz.com. It’s been an important part of my life and I’ll never let it go. So stay tuned as I am determined to have 40th and 60th anniversaries too!

First logo for the site, made in late 1995 with Paint Shop Pro:

original logo for ContemporaryJazz.com, from 1996





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John Hilderbrand Avatar

3 responses to “Twenty years of contemporary jazz!”

  1. Peter J Blume Avatar
    Peter J Blume

    Hey John—you had me worried there for a sec; wasn’t sure where you were going with this post. The first part of it sounded like you were getting ready to ‘throw in the towel’, but I am relieved to learn that in addition to your (understandably & noble) shifting priorities & joys towards fatherhood, that you still also believe in the cause here & want to continue onward with your site! Congratulations on the 20 years…

    I found your observations here to be very insightful & right-on-the-money. ‘Contemporary Jazz’ had caught my ears too, way back when groups like Spyro Gyra & the Generation Band (Victor Feldman) were starting to get airplay on the straight-ahead Jazz stations of FM radio, like WJAZ out of Norwalk CT. As it caught on, CJ (which then morphed rather quickly into ‘Smooth Jazz’) started getting its own designated stations—like CD101.9 out of NYC. What I really liked about the genre was that in addition to it being ‘smooth’ or ‘contemporary’, the music was still ‘Jazz’; it still had all those elements of interesting rhythms, chord progressions & harmonies, dynamic interplay between all the musicians involved—in a band setting…& very competent impromptu improvisations. One of the reasons why I often mention ‘GRP’ is because it really was an ideal label—for musicians, BY musicians (as opposed to corporate lawyers). Its signed artists were allowed & encouraged a relatively generous amount of artistic freedom.

    Like everything else though, things changed over time—not necessarily for the better or the worse, but different. As technology advanced, labels (& musicians) discovered it could be very useful to keep production costs down, & thus maximize profits. Instead of needing a full band, every musician could now become like their own “solo artist”—‘blowing’ over prerecorded (&/or) sampled backing tracks. I’m sure it opened the door to many new artists who might not have been able to assemble the commitment of a working band, or who might not otherwise have had the funds to do so. But it also changed the dynamics of ‘the music’; it definitely made it more pre-determined…& thus, ‘stale’, at least in my opinion. It started sounding less like anything that actually resembled ‘Jazz’, & more like ‘Instrumental Pop’…or maybe even karaoke for individual instruments. Again, not that there hasn’t been some really great music that’s still come out of this, but definitely different. Initially touring was probably made easier too, because travel was really only necessary for the 1 artist; different available accompanying musicians could be used at each venue, or even the pre-recorded backing tracks could be used for those venues that didn’t want to pay for a full band. But eventually, who wants to see/hear that? It was no longer about achieving ‘the optimal sound’; it was just more cost effective.

    We are actually a lot alike John; I too am in my mid (ok, late) 40’s & now have 2 young kids that I am deeply passionate about. My wife & I are very active in their upbringing—not just because we have to be, but because we want to be. I’m proud to say that our kids are good kids; polite, kind, smart, social, athletic, etc. Making the investment of spending time & energy with them has also encouraged them to develop healthy curiosities & interests…in many subjects, including music. My 10yo is studying the guitar; my 7yo is studying the piano—all starting well before the age of when I even 1st started at my own instrument (4th grade). Like most kids who are trying to fit in with their piers at school, they often want to listen to whatever is the most current teeny-bopper stuff. However coming from a musical family—where they are exposed to a wide variety of REAL music on a daily basis—they can’t help but develop a more discerning ear. That’s why continuing to keep quality music alive is so important; it’s really not about ‘entertainment’; it’s more like ‘brain food’ nourishment, & as such, it is still possible to cultivate ‘good taste’.

    One of the recent joys we shared as a family was when we went to see David Benoit, who came around in December on his annual ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ special tour. After the show, we even got to meet David who was graciously interactive with my kids & then also signed a CD! It was so rewarding for me to hear them gushing about it as we walked back to the car; he undoubtedly made a lasting impression on them—a great musician, with a lot of class.

    I’m sure you probably have more correspondence-interaction through the social media; I don’t use that anymore (just seemed like everyone talking, nobody listening), so I visit your site here directly & RELY on it to keep informed in matters of CJ, SJ..& Jazz. I want you to know John that your site is 1 of a small handful that I personally check on a regular basis; like I go to Sting’s site to get his ‘quote of the day’, I check out WQXR’s site because I am also interested in Classical music, etc. Although I don’t see many other people commenting to your posts, I’m quite sure that they are being read by a much wider (all-be-it silent) audience-base…& you should know that your efforts here are very much appreciated.
    Keep the faith John & catch you next time,

  2. John Hilderbrand Avatar

    Wow! Thank you very much, Peter! That was very inspiring. We are indeed similar.

    I don’t think this site has much of an audience any more and I can only blame that on myself. If I don’t provide content, what is the point of visiting? I’m working on that. It is nice to interact. Once I rebuild some fans here, I’ll start dropping some items to discuss.

  3. Scott Avatar

    Hello,Trying to id some older jazz songs from 1988-1991.Very obscure.Taped off radio back in the day.Need someone to listen and try to remember who the artists were.Thanks

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