Any night of the week, there’s likely a performance happening somewhere in Columbia, but bringing these acts to the city is easier said than done. Relationships and timing have to be perfect for both the venue and the artist. Vox caught up with The Blue Note and the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series to find out how they convince performers a stop in CoMo is worth their while.
As the lead talent buyer for The Blue Note and Rose Music Hall, Pat Kay says bringing performers to Columbia isn’t like ordering from McDonald’s, where everything that’s on the menu is available 24 hours a day. It’s a process that can take months.
In a perfect world, Kay’s job would be as simple as contacting an artist’s agent, letting them know the venue is interested and eventually agreeing on a show date. But it often proves more difficult than that.
“You reach out to them, and there doesn’t seem to be any interest,” he says. “After following up for months and months and months, you finally get a hold on the calendar. You send them an offer; they don’t reply, and you follow up and follow up, and finally they tell you they want to hold a different date.”
It could be months before they talk about a price, at which point the artist might be over-budget anyway. Kay says these are the most frustrating interactions because they’re ultimately a waste of time.
Things are easier if an artist is in the price range for either of Kay’s venues. Some artists claim priority on a day, which limits dates for other acts Kay is negotiating with. But the act could try to rework its deal once it has the negotiation power, pushing Kay to pay more or drop the agreement altogether. He then has to scramble to try to pencil in one of the other shows he turned away.
“We Always Swing” Jazz Series also has its fair share of obstacles. Because the nonprofit does not have its own performance space, a venue is never guaranteed, assistant director Josh Chittum says. That makes booking a challenge. The Jazz Series has to make sure there’s an appropriate spot available on a given date for the incoming act.
Chittum says most of the Jazz Series’ shows are the product of routing dates, the days when an artist or group is traveling near Columbia. “They’re playing in Chicago and then two to three days later, they’re playing in Tulsa, so they’ve got to come through here anyway,” he says. The act’s travel proximity and availability makes the date more affordable, something Chittum says he has to be cognizant of as part of a nonprofit in a small market. Another factor the Jazz Series considers is avoiding overlap with busy CoMo weekends such as True/False Film Fest and Roots N Blues N BBQ.
The Jazz Series books more than 16 months in advance, using the summer months to finalize who’s coming to town and create promotional material for those artists. As the Jazz Series puts together its upcoming season’s events, it focuses on acts that best fit its mission, which is to “present, promote, preserve and celebrate the great American art form known as ‘Jazz.’”
Regardless of genre or venue size, the task of booking talent isn’t glamorous. For both Chittum and Kay, it’s a lot of staring at a computer while deep in negotiations. But while the challenges seem frequent, that’s only because they’re more likely to stick in Kay’s mind. For every loss, he’ll have about three or four wins. Eventually, all the hoops are jumped through, dates are booked, tickets are sold and crowds get what they came for. ￼