A recent technical change to the Jazz at Lincoln Center website has some jazz fans up in arms.

Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) has used the domain “jalc.org” ever since the organization first went online in early 2000. However, in August 2014 they acquired the “jazz.org” domain and started using it as the main URL for their website soon after.

Changing domains is a common occurrence on the internet, and on the surface JALC’s change appears to be a perfectly innocent attempt at Search Engine Optimization.

However, Christian McBride‘s manager and former JALC Vice President André Guess was so concerned by the move that he started a petition urging JALC to switch back to their old domain and use “jazz.org” as an independent website curated and administered by the broader jazz community.

Writing on his Change.org petition page, which now has 40 supporters, Guess wrote:

While a two letter difference in a four letter domain name doesn’t seem like much, symbolically it is a big deal and in my opinion a big mistake.

In making this move, the organization has intentionally or unintentionally branded and positioned itself as the very art form that it was founded to uphold and support. In my discussion with executives at the organization it was explained to me that this move was made to drive more traffic from generic Google searches to their site. These executives also went on to say that their plan was to expand the presence of jazz on their site to be more inclusive so as to give the uninitiated Google searcher an expanded view of the art form.

While this is a noble gesture and on one level I applaud it, Jazz at Lincoln’s view of jazz at jazz.org could never be truly inclusive of the art form because they are but one of many organizations and voices in a much larger and broader jazz community. Furthermore by making this bold move Jazz at Lincoln Center is violating it’s own mission statement.

Guess’ argument is not a new one in our community, and it runs much deeper than just a name. JALC has been in the process of aligning its entire brand much more closely with the word ‘jazz’ for a long time now, which has some jazz fans worried.

That process took a major leap forward in 2013 when they hired Pentagram Design, the world’s largest independent design agency, to overhaul their image. The result removed the words “at lincoln center” from the organization’s logo, leaving the just the world “jazz,” as illustrated above. The company’s explanation for the change can be found in their design brief, which reads:

“The original identity accompanied Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2004 move into its new home at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, several blocks away from Lincoln Center proper. Now that Jazz is recognized as a major cultural institution in its own right, the update clears away the ‘at Lincoln Center’ and leaves the organization as exactly what it is: Jazz.”

Much like critics of JALC Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis say that he ‘appointed himself as the ambassador of jazz,’ some believe JALC is now intentionally conflating its brand with the genre it serves to drive greater revenues for itself.

With over $190 million in assets and $30 million in revenue for the 2012 tax year, Jazz at Lincoln Center is -by far- the largest jazz-arts organization in the world. Their sheer size and budget allow them to do things most arts organizations couldn’t even dream of; such as taking on multi-million dollar construction projects, spending $4 million on education initiatives, or buying a domain like “jazz.org,” which was appraised at just over $40,000.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Do you think JALC should allow the broader jazz community to use their shiny new jazz.org domain?