A Place For Jazz: Moving Beyond Audience Development

image from www.google.comA discussion broke out on the web about building audiences for jazz.  It began at the Huffington Post (with a blogged prelude elsewhere) and continued on NPR at A Blog Supreme with three writers involved to date.  The discussion revealed that, for some, jazz still needs to move out of an age when audiences are an abstract force to be developed and into an age of audience engagement.

The uproar began with a piece by Kurt Ellengerger attempting to connect the rise in jazz education and the reduction in jazz audience as proving that educating people about jazz will not increase the audience for jazz. Ellengerger follows up at NPR on A Blog Supreme with a more well thought out discussion of the challenges facing professional jazz musicians and concludes that one's best bet is to make moBlog-supremeney from a day job and enjoy one's music as one will.

This led to much discussion and disagreement as one might expect. Eventually Alex W. Rodriguez offered some concrete insights with his description of the efforts of "Six Creative Presenters Finding New Audiences For Jazz."  Here are his examples:

SF Offside Festival

The SF Offside Festival focuses on bringing together a diverse mix of fans and artists. Their audiences tend to be younger with a more even gender mix than many Bay Area jazz audiences.

The Discovery Sessions

Josh Nelson's Discovery Sessions pairs improvisational musicians with a live painter for a unique performance event accessible on many levels.

Cathedral Park Jazz Festival

Coming out of bankruptcy and into the arms of a nonprofit, Portland's Cathedral Park Jazz Festival is embracing the "entire spectrum of jazz" and expanding programming rather than pulling back. So far the community is responding enthusiastically.

Posi-Tone Records

For LA's Posi-Tone Records the secret to success has been in embracing the business aspects of the music business. They approach record releases as joint ventures and find the best success with artists who consider selling records part of their job.


Smalls jazz club in New York extends its reach by recording and broadcasting shows and jam sessions over the web.

Discos Pendiente

In Santiago, Chile a group of jazz musicians bypassed the lack of labels by starting their own, Discos Pendiente.

Despite the rather convoluted discussion that led to these examples, none of them are particularly complex or radical. If anything, they are simply examples of musicians successfully adapting their business to contemporary realities rather than extreme experiments.

Patrick Jarenwattananon states:

"Frustratingly, if there is hope, it lies scattered in many interlocking parts, often working independently and at a grassroots level: new ways of presenting music, new funding models, new marketing and journalism efforts. Effectively, this scatters the discussion and leads to misunderstandings. It's enough to make anyone rant wildly, or retreat from the debate entirely out of bewilderment."

But it's those independent yet interlocking parts scattered at a grassroots level that are where understanding lies. Why not be excited rather than bewildered by "new ways of presenting music, new funding models, new marketing and journalism efforts?"


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith blogs about business at Flux Research: Business Changes and about dance at All World Dance: News. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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