So Long, Bud’s

I live 1725 miles from Bud’s Jazz Records in Seattle, but I feel vaguely guilty, and definitely frustrated. about its imminent closing. Back when I had disk space to buy music, I bought 90% of my music online, mostly from iTunes. I may buy two or three complete albums a year. MIA’s Kala was the last one I bought, and even that I purchased through iTunes because the Michigan Avenue Virgin store closed. I work a few blocks from The Jazz Record Mart, which bills itself as the world’s largest blues and jazz record store, and occasionally I’ll stop by there and buy a new CD by a major jazz musician, but it’s hard to find work from lesser-known, up-and-coming jazz musicians there. One day, when I went in looking for a Soweto Kinch CD, a clerk confided to me, "this place is stuck in the 1990s." I haven’t returned in months.

Jazz is a niche genre, to say the least, so its institutions are fragile. The Jazz Showcase is in the process of relocating, pushed out of its prime downtown location. You have to travel to Uptown for the next jazz club, the terrifically atmospheric Green Mill, to find the nearest true jazz club. That’s why Bud’s is so unique. The Seattle Times’ Paul de Barros describes Bud’s as jazz fans "could always depend on running into
someone they knew there, and conversations often ran hot and heavy
about the preferences for one artist over another. There was always an
album on the CD player to compete with — or support — the conversation." Unfortunately, online sales have cut into owner James Rasmussen’s profits, and with rents rising, he’s forced to close down the shop.

And yet, de Barros reports that Rasmussen is now wondering "if the stock were for sale online, business might improve." [You can’t see this, but I’m shaking my head in dismay.] People buy music online, especially when they can’t find what they’re looking for in local stores. This is just as true for jazz fans as it is for rock, hip hop–even classical music!–fans. The fate of Bud’s is emblematic of jazz in general: a wonderful place that can be maddeningly out of touch.

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