not saved

"Can Jazz Be Saved?" worries the headline to Terry Teachout's piece in Sunday's Wall Street Journal. Terry cites some new statistics from an NEA survey to bolster what has now become a long-standing trope: The jazz audience is "withering away." I'm not so sure the research and the conclusion are solid. Sure, jazz was but will never be"popular music," at the center of American culture during the middle decades of the 20th century. (Then again, in the newly splintered music world, even popular music isn't as popular as it was just a few years ago). 

I wonder how many of the respondents to the NEA's survey share the same definition of jazz, and how many of them may not wish to call what they listen to -- be it Bad Plus or Lionel Loueke or even Ornette Coleman-- as "jazz." Teachout cites the following: "The percentage of Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 who attended a live jazz performance in 2008 was 9.8%. In 2002, it was 13.9%. That's a 30% drop in attendance." Sounds compelling. But, depending upon where those questioned live, this may just be a case of a lack of live jazz to go out and hear. The jazz business and other forms of support are withering, or in need of pruning and other forms of care, much more so than the audience or the music. 

This is all timely stuff for me: I'm in the middle of research and interviews for a piece on the very topic of support for jazz presenters and for the music in Inside Arts, the excellent magazine put out by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. I'm hoping for insights that run deeper than the hand-wringing and desperation I've heard for more than a decade in jazz-industry circles. 

Jazz doesn't need a saviour, just a decent business plan and maybe some consistent and forward-thinking government and foundation support. 
August 11, 2009 12:14 PM |
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