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DesMoinesMC.com - Iowa's first music commissioners have historic inaugural meeting
CoffeeHouse Productions News and Views
Pat OswaldCoffeeHouse Productions
Used with permission of the Des Moines Register Column published February 18
Pat Oswald is a Des Moines businessman.He's a Sioux Falls, S.D., native and a graduate of the University of Iowa.He's an aficionado of good music.He's a man somehow still wearing a shirt on his back. Oswald is the owner of CoffeeHouse Productions.He has a vision about the possibilities Des Moines offers.He's done something others have tried to do but failed.He's tried to pump life into Des Moines through great music. Several months ago, Oswald brought funk jazz artist Maceo Parker to the Hotel Fort Des Moines Grand Ballroom.It was a Sunday night, and some people left early.Some sat at their tables and listened.A good friend celebrating her birthday danced on the stage until the music stopped.I went back and forth between my seat and the lobby, preferring the more improvisational jazz featured in the 10-part PBS series, "Jazz." Last year, Oswald brought in Martin Sexton to the Hotel Fort Des Moines.Oswald is a music promoter who brings in top-notch entertainment.He's a one-man act who isn't trying to turn Des Moines into San Francisco.He just wants to make it as exciting as his hometown, Sioux Falls, population, 100,000. Don't laugh.When Oswald brought New Orleans jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard to the Hotel Fort Des Moines last year in mid-February, about 350 people showed up for two shows.The University of Nebraska, Oswald said, was on spring break. "I have never made a dime on a jazz concert in 10 years of doing it," Oswald said."It's a money-losing proposition." It doesn't have to be that way, I thought, recalling how Oswald called me a few months ago lamenting slow advance ticket sales for the Parker show.The Friday before that show, only 130 tickets had been sold.He needed to sell 400 just to turn a profit.That many people attend the first 30 minutes of the Downtown Farmers Market.When it was over, about 240 people showed up for the Sunday night event, but that was due to Oswald's last-minute blitz to several friends who support his efforts and recognize the importance of what he does.Despite the dismal numbers, Oswald perseveres."I'm a dyed-in-the-wool idealist," Oswald said."It'll happen one day." When that day will be is anybody's guess.Bringing in good acts is one thing.Being able to pay them is another.Having the ability to get them and others to return is tough.Oswald said one of the biggest impediments to Iowa's entertainment options and why certain genres of music don't go over big here is that Des Moines radio isn't public-service oriented when it comes to jazz.Radio stations cater mostly to young lovers of hard rock and sentimental middle-agers locked on oldies and goodies.There's little room for the laid-back genres of jazz, folk and blues.It's Britney and Whitney. Oswald would like to see the Des Moines public schools turn over its radio station, KDPS-FM, to a community-based group that would do programming geared toward jazz lovers.He'd also like to see the Jazz in July series tap into the full potential of corporate sponsorships.Oswald likes the concept; he just think it's underselling itself. Over the next few months, Oswald is producing 13 shows -five in the popular "Art In the Dark Coffeehouse" series at the Masonic Temple, three in the "Sunday Night Music" series in the Secret Handshake Room of the Masonic Temple, three at the Hotel Fort Des Moines Grand Ballroom and two at Hoyt Sherman Theater.Listening to Oswald makes you realize he's selling jazz to a city not sure it wants to listen.That's odd, considering the Jazz State Championship for high schools is Iowa's contribution to the continuity of this wonderful American art form.Yet, Oswald's dream of a vibrant Des Moines jazz scene often confronts a conflicted complacency. Let's hope Oswald doesn't lose his optimism.Let's hope he doesn't lose his shirt.Let's hope he doesn't give up.If he does, we're the ones who will lose much more. LOVELL BEAULIEU is a Register editorial writer.Copyright 2001 Des Moines Register and Tribune Company
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