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Making jazz more popular with free CDs

Remember when jazz was pop music? Well, even if you don't, you've probably heard about the ``golden era'' of the big bands, when swing was king. Some say that all ended when bebop, epitomized in the music of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, came along in the late '40s: There were too many notes, they said. You couldn't dance to it! It was too, well, ... cerebral.

Since then, the term ``jazz'' has practically lost its meaning, as more and more musical forms have fused. Today the term is applied to everything from a new-age solo piano performance to a rock-fusion band and a ``serious'' work for symphony orchestra.

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Now along comes the five-year-old Florida-based Jazziz magazine with a national promotional campaign titled ``Making Jazz Popular Music.'' The promotion, which began in June, involves 17 record labels, 400 radio stations, and about 500 audio retail stores - which have agreed to help present jazz to new listeners.

In a recent interview, Jazziz co-founder Michael Fagien said, ``Pop music is in a cycle where the record companies produce product that radio plays and retail stores sell. We feel that jazz has never had an `in,' in that kind of cycle. If we can get major industries interested in jazz, we could edge into that cycle.''

To accomplish that end, Jazziz is putting together a series of compact disc jazz samplers that are available at no charge in participating record stores when a customer purchases two other compact discs by artists included on the sampler. If buyers complete and return a questionnaire attached to the CD, they also get a year's subscription to Jazziz.

The first CD, ``Jazziz - Collections, Volume 1,'' is in stores and consists of ``all light jazz and acoustic music,'' says Mr. Fagien. The artists include David Benoit, Acoustic Alchemy, the Rippingtons, Andy Sheppard, Full Circle, Steve Khan and Rob Mounsey, Michel Petrucciani, Richard Elliot, Stanley Clarke, and Shadowfax. Overall, with the exception of cuts by pianist Michel Petrucciani and saxophonist Andy Sheppard, the music leans heavily toward fusion, new age, and easy-listening.

So far, the plan seems to be working. Sales of albums by the artists on the sampler appear to be rising, and retailers are happy. Jazziz intends to continue producing the samplers at the rate of three a year.

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