Jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners–not next month, not next week, but right now.
I wouldn’t want to undo the transformation of jazz into a sophisticated art music. But there’s no sense in pretending that it didn’t happen, or that contemporary jazz is capable of appealing to the same kind of mass audience that thrilled to the big bands of the swing era.
And he prescribes the very thing most practical, professional jazz musicians of the level worth paying special attention to already do:
And it is precisely because jazz is now widely viewed as a high-culture art form that its makers must start to grapple with the same problems of presentation, marketing and audience development as do symphony orchestras, drama companies and art museums–a task that will be made all the more daunting by the fact that jazz is made for the most part by individuals, not established institutions with deep pockets.
Yeah, ok — meet Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, SFJazz, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Earshot Jazz, the Jazz Institute of Chicago — among the numerous educational and grass roots institutions jazz musicians align with/partake of to further their individual and collective careers. This endeavor can be dated to have started in its present form in the early ’90s or depending how you want to narrow it, considerably further back. Concurrently, there is a present day generation of Young Lions — not the ’80s or the ’90s bunch but the newcomers right now pitching jazz to young audiences without pandering to low common denominators, Jonathan Batiste, Esperanza Spalding, Mary Halvorson and Jessica Pavone, Corey Wilkes, Tyshawn Sorey, the Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau, Mostly Other People Do The Killing, to name a few. Let’s look squarely at NEA evidence cited to demonstrate jazz’s endangerment —
- As the study covers the years 2002 to 2008, the decline reeks of the Bush Affect. From 9/11 through Katrina to the bursting of the real estate and financial services bubble, what in American improved instead of declined during the years of W’s presidency?
- Contrarily: What does the amazing growth of enrollments in institutions of jazz education say about the age of jazz audiences, the interest of the young in jazz, jazz’s future?
- And with Obama in the White House, might some of the numbers turn around?
There are persistent patterns of decline in participation for most art forms. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. adults – or an estimated 78 million – attended an art museum or an arts performance in the 2008 survey
period, compared with about 40 percent in 1982, 1992, and 2002. i ii
One of the conclusions Teachout deducts from the study is that jazz is now considered a high art form, like classical music, non-musical plays, opera and ballet, and that jazz musicians act like artists rather than attempting to entertain. Maybe so, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story — I heard young tenor saxophonist Noah Preminger with a quintet playing music of Tristano, Konitz and Warne Marsh at Brooklyn’s Tea Lounge on Saturday, and though the band didn’t have much of a slick act together, a couple of dozen alt-looking people in their 20s seemed rapt. That’s not a Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall’s crowd, yet there are approximately 200 jazz venues in NYC, not completely empty on most nights. Somebody’s listening.
The Internet and mass media are reaching substantial audiences for the arts.
That seems likely to be the key to reversing declines in all the arts — mastery of the Internet and new media to reach young audiences. That’s why everything’s different now — you just don’t have to go out to fine good music. Personally, I’m listening to George Wein’s Care Fusion 55 Newport Jazz Festival for free live from NPR via WBGO (Newark) on my computer — Esperanza Spalding just ended, Miguel Zenon’s coming on, Michel Camilo after that, last night’s set by Steve Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra — so the competition is stiff getting me out of my chair just now to attend a performance somewhere else. But I’m enjoying a great afternoon of very current, solid jazz.