The still-roiling controversy surrounding Terry Teachout's "Can Jazz Be Saved?" hit the airwaves earlier today, as Vijay Iyer debated Teachout on WNYC's Soundcheck (click here to listen). One thing that's perplexed me a bit about the various responses Teachout's piece has provoked is that, unlike many, I don't actually think his diagnosis is fundamentally mistaken. It's true that there are certain methodological problems with the NEA Survey (PDF) on which Teachout hangs his argument (and Vijay did a great job of enumerating some of them), but I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that jazz has been immune to the very same audience aging-and-erosion trends that have afflicted classical music (you know, the ones Greg Sandow writes about all the the time), and theatre, and dance and, well, basically every single art form. The traditional model of music-making for jazz musicians is simply not sustainable, and this much has been clear to a lot of people for quite some time -- indeed, as I said earlier, the only part of Teachout's piece I really take issue with is his mistaken belief that what he's saying comes as any surprise to those of us out there working in the trenches. It's not that the situation isn't dire -- it surely is. But rather than re-sounding the same old alarm bells, it seems to me like it might be more productive to talk about the stuff people are actually doing to try to reanimate the jazz audience.
To that end, critic and blogger Howard Mandel has launched a worthy Twitter trend: #jazzlives. If you are already on Twitter, you probably have a pretty good idea where this is headed: whenever you hear live jazz -- at a club, festival, concert hall, on the street, wherever -- throw up a Tweet with the #jazzlives hashtag, and let us know where you are and who you're hearing. Some samples so far:
1WorkinMusician: Just heard The Teaching in Seattle. Killer jazz musicians! #jazzlives
clarev17: I heard 13th Assembly THBynum cornet Tomas Fujiwara drms Mary Halvorson gtr Jessica Pavone viola Freddie's Backroom Brooklyn #jazzlives
Becca00 #jazzlives Mike LeDonne Quartet @ Smoke w Eric Alexander Peter Bernstein Joe Farnsworth GOOD #jazz
For those of you who are new to Twitter, hashtags like "#jazzlives" are a way of marking keywords or categories in Twitter messages (or "Tweets") so that they show up in searches. Twitter is simple to set up and use, and you don't need one of those fancy-schmancy smartphones to send Tweets -- if your phone can send text messages, then you can use it to send Tweets. You can also post Tweets from the Twitter website once you get back from the gig.
The point of all this, of course, is to leverage Twitter's social media juju to draw attention to the live jazz that's happening around us all the time. Even if we take the NEA survey numbers with a grain of salt, it's pretty clear that if you want the kids to come to your shows, you've got to start by reaching them the way they want to be reached.
[An aside -- ever since this debate started I can't stop thinking of this old-school SNL sketch, in which Frank Sinatra announces: "I want to do some tunes that the young people will enjoy. That's why I'm calling this album Frank Sings Tunes the Young People Will Enjoy." Unfortunately, that bit is cut off in the clip below, but Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo's "jazzy" rendition of "Ebony & Ivory" is classic.]
There is also a #jazzlives widget you can use to display #jazzlives Tweets as they come in. I've already added it to my sidebar -- if you would like the code for that, so you can add this widget to your own blog or website, it's below the fold.