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27 August 2009


Josh Sinton

"...it seems to me like it might be more productive to talk about the stuff people are actually doing..." To that end, I have a question that I'd like to throw out to the blogosphere at large: Are any jazz musicians actively seeking gigs at non-jazz music venues?

It seems like one of Vijay's main concerns is whether or not there's enough exposure for this music. One answer to the dilemma would be creating more venues, but another might be making room at existing venues.

So has anyone out there tried getting a show at a rock club? a hip-hop club? a country-music club? And as a larger question, has anyone tried splitting a bill at one of these establishments with a non-jazz group?

Maybe if we start presenting our music alongside our personal favorite music (irregardless of genre) it'll start to build the audience we're each looking for.


Well, of course, we've played rock clubs before and will continue to do so. What's harder is mixing up the bills -- To cite a high-profile example, The Bad Plus opened for the Pixies a while back, and of course you know that Colin Stetson's been opening for The National. These kinds of pairings are not that unusual anymore -- though I'd love to see a creative programmer have Matana Roberts open for TV On The Radio, or Guillermo Klein open for The Dirty Projectors, or Slavic Soul Party open for Gogol Bordello, or (work with me here) Fieldwork open for Mastodon, etc. But it seems like what would really be helpful is something more bottom-up and locally sustainable.

Also, I think what you say about presenting "our personal favorite music" is key: the artists have to really want to play on the same bill. When jazz and classical artists play SXSW, they are shuffled off to the fringes, not integrated with the action, which kind of defeats the purpose.


Seems like the key is right here: the artists have to really want to play on the same bill. When jazz and classical artists play SXSW, they are shuffled off to the fringes, not integrated with the action, which kind of defeats the purpose.

It's the artificial silo-building that forces people to choose - I'm going to hear jazz, I'm going to hear a classical concert, I'm going to a punk whow - that segregates the audience. Look how well Ronen and Wordless Music have done counteracting that segregation in classical/new music/indie/electronic...

tom g

1WorkinMusician: Just heard The Teaching in Seattle. Killer jazz musicians! #jazzlives

Wow: How interesting! Killer message! Have to check out that band at once!

Twitter saves jazz? Hahaha ...

What jazz needs are more guys like Wynton M. but who are much more open-minded than him = more venues that pay decent money & present the music in new ways ... And less jazz schools: there are just too many musicians out there, but there's not enough urgency ...


Hey thanks for the #jazzlives widget- gonna at it tom my website right now!

And many thanks to Howard Mandel for this positive action- I hope it helps propagate even more positive action to promoting and encouraging jazz attendance and involvement.

Steve Raegele

Darcy, one problem with presenting jazz and classical music alongside "indie" rock (or whatever the kids are calling it these days...) at venues and festivals geared towards the latter, is that however well intentioned, the people attending are oblivious to the "concert ritual". (good or bad, it exists...) Which, in the end, means that all music presented on the bill has to be devoid of any dynamic contrast. Any quiet parts usually end up exposing the fact that no one is listening and that the primary objective is getting more beer.
God knows I've played enough of these situations (wearing both my indie rock hat, and my "new/chamber music" hat) to know that it is a utopian vision to think that it can work. At least at outside festivals! If the music is framed by an appropriately awe inspiring venue, it CAN trigger the dormant listening gene.


Hi Steve,

I agree, context is important, and outdoor shows can be tricky ("We're not going to do a free-form jazz exploration in front of a festival crowd"), though I can think of lots of bands that would thrive in that environment. That said, the crowd at the aforementioned Wordless Music series has always been attentively silent, and those shows generally take place in a club (LPR).

But the other thing is, dealing with noisy/indifferent/hostile crowds is just something that goes with the territory. You've never played a gig at a jazz club with a talkative crowd? NYC's generally a pretty good listening town, but at no-cover-charge venues like Zebulon or the Tea Lounge, artists still have to struggle to catch and hold people's attention. That's just part of the gig, isn't it?

Steve Raegele

Yes. Context. I was at LPR in the spring and was very impressed with the vibe. The audience seemed aware that this was a transplanted ritual situation and behaved appropriately. (Nicky had a piece played by So Percussion at the MATA fest.)

The jazz club situation is funny because in that scenario, you can change up the vibe, play louder, etc, to play to the audience. And that scene is rife with a history of people talking over the music because of its speakeasy origins. With strictly composed music (read "classical") it can be pretty rough, though. And forget playing in a beer tent. A world of hurt awaits!

Josh Sinton

Yes, putting seemingly disparate bands on the same bill will require changed expectations on both sides of the concert hall. But I think those changes are a good thing. No, I take that back, they're a great thing.

Jazz-trained musicians playing in unfamiliar venues will come to grips first hand with the fact that audience attention/approval is not a given but is earned. And likewise, audiences will learn that just because someone's not singing or playing an amplified instrument doesn't mean the music's boring or pointless (or sucks).

If there are two bands on a bill and one plays with lots of dynamic contrasts while the other is rock-out-loud the whole time, that's probably not going to be a good fit. But I''m sure everyone reading can think of bands that would be a good fit. Both non-stop-loud jazz bands and quiet, intimate rock bands.

I'm just saying let's not talk ourselves out of presenting these possibilities before they've happened. Putting together these bills would be one strategy among many to create "something more bottom-up and locally sustainable. "

Gregory Weaver

Hey Darcy,

I have a couple thoughts on the survey results and was wondering your opinion on them.
First, how do you think the dynamic of the size of the concert venue holds to the age range? When I attend jazz concerts at the venues around my home in Virginia Beach (or even when I was attending school in Charlottesville), the headliners are, and intuitively so, usually rather big/well-established names. For example, at a concert hall in Charlottesville over the last four years, the performers were Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny. Similarly, around the Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads area, the attractions were, again, more well-known names such as Terrence Blanchard and Diana Krall.
My point to this is, in determining whether or not jazz is dying with the younger crowd, shouldn't the focus be on the smaller clubs and the newer names? This is not saying that the younger crowd wouldn't want to attend a show by Chick or any of those guys by any means, but is it economically feasible for them to? Concerts with big names at big venues cost a lot more. Also, one would wonder about the support given to the new artists: though the numbers in general would surely be lower in terms of attendees, I would assume the age median would also be significantly lower. (by the way, I realize that I'm writing about relatively arid areas in terms of being able to see and hear live jazz, so I understand that my assumptions could very well be unfounded)
My second question is, how could the grouping of the pop incarnations of fusion and smooth "jazz" with (how should I put this) "real"/"purist"/"art" jazz affect these numbers? Again, I would assume the age median would drop as well as the numbers of those who attend the concerts, but what do you think? It's unfortunate that to separate the two in a poll would be near impossible.


Hi Greg,

Thanks for your comment. You can check out the survey itself here (PDF) -- the question asked was:

"With the exception of elementary or high school performances, did you go to a live jazz performance during the last 12 months?"

The survey was administered by the US Census bureau -- and my understanding is that it was a statistically representative door-to-door (not phone-based) survey. So the data doesn't come from box-office receipts, which -- you're right -- would skew towards the older audience that can afford to go to concert hall shows, and underrepresent hard-to-track small clubs.

Clearly the audience for younger artists is younger -- like I said in a comment at Nate Chinen's blog, often the 18-35 crowd are the only people who show up to our gigs. But I also think there's no real reason to doubt the survey's finding that this audience is a small part of the overall audience for jazz as a whole, which is getting older all the time. One thing that the survey doesn't really capture is that there are many different jazz audiences, and the people who buy subscriptions to Jazz at Lincoln Center don't really have a whole lot in common -- demographically or aesthetically -- with the people who are turning out to catch Mostly Other People Do The Killing at Zebulon.

As to your second question, this is an issue a lot of commenters have been bringing up. It's up to the respondent to decide if what they heard counted as "jazz" -- and would a 21-year old who saw shows by MMW, Soulive, Kneebody, or Colin Stetson answer, "Yes, I went to a live jazz performance"?

Andrew Durkin

Are any jazz musicians actively seeking gigs at non-jazz music venues?

Whether by design or necessity, that has been far more of a rule than an exception for us. In LA, the best known dedicated jazz venues, like Catalina, the Jazz Bakery, Steamers, etc., would never book us. In PDX, we've had a similar experience.

We've done gigs with rock bands, blues bands, country bands, a heavy metal / prog band, singer-songwriters, a shoegazer / emo band, etc., etc.

I don't think that sort of thing is terribly unusual, though I agree that it would be good if there were more of it...

Gregory Weaver

Yeah, I think it's safe to say that the issue of what people are considering jazz (and if the influence of the non-jazz jazz was heavier at certain periods) is a huge factor that is missing, and a factor that may certainly never be able to be put into play.

One last thing: Due to jazz being a relatively new art form, who is to say that the audiences won't reach a near-constant in the next fifty years, only to be diminished by things such as the slowing trend of support for the arts, as Vijay pointed out, or economic turmoil? I'm willing to bet that one will pop up, or at least, a slowing of the age gap will happen (but of course, this will depend on the frequency of distribution of what the new younger people consider jazz). The kinds of classical music that is most popular has had hundreds of years to settle into a certain groove--jazz will find its own soon enough.


Hi Greg,

Thing is, classical music has not settled into a groove at all -- its audience has been getting precipitously older for most of the 20th century. They have a ton more institutional support, of course, but the traditional classical concert model isn't sustainable either.

Gregory Weaver

Ah, yes, indeed. Sorry for making you repost that when I should have reread more carefully. One can only hope, then, that the sharpness of the increase is due more to its coupling with the lack of general support for art at an early age. Maybe the bleeding won't stop, but also maybe the possibility of it slowing significantly from how much it is now exists with the right increase of exposure.

Until then, I say more jazz groups need to make more swag, heh.


Which, in the end, means that all music presented on the bill has to be devoid of any dynamic contrast. Any quiet parts usually end up exposing the fact that no one is listening and that the primary objective is getting more beer.

Of course this happens with the acts that are native to those venues, as well; you go see the Books or Alasdair Roberts or the Black Ox Orkestar (Nicole Mitchell opened when I did), and there'll be a bunch of yahoos at the back making you wonder why they bothered to pay to come in. (Once Michael Gira, of all people, berated the audience before he would start playing, insisting that they be quiet, but not everyone can get away with that, of course.) But it can certainly be done, though it seems as if you need a fairly popular scene in the beginning to get it off the ground. There are lots of normally rock-oriented venues in San Francisco that occasionally play host to jazz acts, but none that do so regularly the way, in Chicago, the Empty Bottle used to and the Hideout currently does—and SF&Oakland have a fair amount going on, even.

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