The Rifftides discussion about the size of the jazz audience moves along as comments continue to come in. Most them are posted following the original item, which you will find here. We’re adding the following communique from the pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, who goes beyond the effect of formal music education to questions of commerce and cultural health. Pandora’s box is now officially open.
1) Why does something have to be commercially successful to be judged as meritorious? Jazz was rarely ever commercially successful except on a very small scale. Soundscan changed everything, because then music was assessed not by its merits but by its absolute sales figures. The slippage between monetary and cultural value is typically American and it lies at the heart of this issue.
2) The entire market for music (not just jazz) is crumbling because of new technologies and unprecedented levels of access to the entire recorded archive. Meanwhile, however, more and more musicians of all levels of accomplishment are able to create, record, and distribute their own music. There are difficult repercussions here, but let’s not blind ourselves to what’s undeniably positive about both of these new realities.
3) There is essentially no jazz radio of any kind here. Gone are the days when Miles, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, and Sam Rivers were played on the same station. This is Clear Channel country; we have been divided and conquered.
Anyway, why should artists or audiences take any blame for any of this?
This is a music that requires nurturing and noncommercial support at all levels. There should be no stigma here; the same is true of classical music, even more so, and nobody doubts its merit or cultural value. In fact, individual patrons shell out big bucks to preserve classical and “new” music.
It takes vision to make this happen for jazz. Having toured all over the world, I must say that there’s very little of it in this country. One of the few glowing examples in the US is Outpost Performance Space in Albuquerque. Look at their web site, especially this page, and ask yourself: how many other jazz presenters in the US are willing to pursue such a combination of fundraising, partnerships with community organizations, local businesses, and academic institutions, strong curatorial vision, and audience development over such a long term? You can count them on one hand.
What if we had one or two such upstart venues in every state? The entire scene would be different.