First USA Inc. seized the stage this week at an avant-garde New York music venue, the Knitting Factory, to launch a jazzy addition to its platinum line of credit cards.
The Dallas card issuer is hoping to expand the appeal of jazz by marketing its Real Jazz Visa as a lifestyle card for hip music lovers.
While an older segment of jazz fans is well established financially, and more upscale, said Jeffrey Baxter, principal at S.J. Baxter & Associates, Forest Hill, Md., "there is also a large segment that is young and into the music scene but not necessarily upscale yet."
Richard Vague, chairman and chief executive officer of First USA Bank, who is described as a jazz fanatic by his peers, planted the seed for a jazz card.
Famous for the jazz tunes that play in his office, Mr. Vague is also known for peppering his corporate speeches with jazz lore.
"Jazz is the only true original American art form," said Randy Christofferson, president of First USA Bank.
"We want to support jazz and provide consumers with an outlet for self- expression," he added.
To promote the card, First USA will sponsor a jazz awards event Sept. 18 in the Hammerstein Ballroom, New York. Proceeds will go to benefit the Jazz Foundation of America.
Jazz music's popularity has grown in recent years. For example, jazz festivals have increased from a handful to about 700 annually, and they can attract thousands of adults, said Jan Bryczek, publisher of the New York- based Jazz World data base.
In its most recent 10-year survey on jazz, released in 1992, the National Endowment for the Arts found that 130 million adults watched or listened to jazz on television, radio, or a recording-40.6% more than in 1982.
In its appeal to jazz aficionados, First USA is offering new cardholders an exclusive John Coltrane compact disc and a video of the jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall. Cardholders also get a 10% discount on their first purchase from the Jazz Store catalogue.
What's more, the card program includes savings on special jazz travel packages and discounts on limited-edition jazz merchandise.
Customers can pick from one of four images for their Real Jazz Visa. There are a 1968 photo of Miles Davis, Romare Bearden's "Jazz Village," and either color or black-and-white versions of an improvisational design.
The multicolored images are a diversion from the familiar platinum look for premium cards.
Paul T. Frantz, vice president of marketing at First USA, said the bank wanted to appeal to fans with a card that has a platinum feel combined with the artistic and expressive energy for which jazz is known.
The no-fee card carries an introductory interest rate of 5.9% for five months, then a fixed rate of 12.99%.
More platinum cards will be offered to niche markets, said Mark Queen, vice president of Florida-based Payment Services Inc.
"Platinum cards create the impression that it is for a more upscale audience without requiring issuers to grant all of the perks that Visa or MasterCard requires with a gold card," said Mr. Baxter, the Maryland consultant.