Random Noise 

The Big Question

The Big Gig was opened with a performance by smooth-R&B singer Jeffrey Osborne. Its Hottest Weekend event featured the world-jazz of horn player Arturo Sandoval and Latin-jazz bandleader Tito Puente Jr., and The Coolest Night event with jazz-fusion band Spyro Gyra seemed interchangeable.

So how do you call some adult contemporary jazz hot and some cool? That's as odd as calling former Lonesome River Band vocalist Ronnie Bowman a celebrity.

But even forgetting the constant exaggeration and near hyperbole, the Big Gig just doesn't deliver for "the whole community." One might make a case for "the whole community over 40," even though a portion of the two-week event — the Kids Night Out — was set aside for their children.

Aside from a few token performances for the folk and country demographic, there was a depressing lack of variety. Jazz, lite-jazz, Carribean jazz, world music — should Downtown Presents have called it the Big Gig Jazz Festival? That, too, would be inherently incorrect, as it is hard to argue that much on the bill was as challenging as the jazz you usually expect to hear in a dark smoky bar.

In fact, though there were at least 15 jazz bands in attendance, hardly any jazz from the '50s and '60s (bop, avant-garde, free jazz) was even represented, as if some of the most important parts of our American musical heritage were not important enough for the Richmond Big Gig.

Maybe you've noticed that I haven't mentioned rock or pop music, another obvious and egregious omission. I've been afraid that one of the decision-makers for the Big Gig might actually try to include Big Gig-style rock and pop bands next year. All anyone needs to do is look at the rosters for our summer music festivals to see what kind of watered-down version of music for a younger audience we'd be getting.

The Big Gig has been around for 15 years. Like always, some performers drew and some didn't. Some people made plans to see a certain group and others just happen to be standing at the foodcart when the band started up.

But should it be our Big Gig? Do we need two weeks of lite-jazz, especially when it's by and large the same every year (ie: Spyro Gyra)? Maybe it's time someone else stepped in to breathe new life into the event and give it some variety. Add some music for people of other tastes and ages. Include hip-hop and rock from up-and-coming performers. Or even some of the signed bands here in town. — Wayne Melton


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