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The Jazz Audience – What Has Worked In Your Town?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, Apr 18, 2003.

  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    For the last several years I’ve been involved in non-profit organizations which produce jazz concerts in Our Fair City. There’s a clear pattern: Dave Brubeck or Wynton Marsalis will sell out the biggest hall in town. There’s probably a pool of not more than several hundred people who might come to see a mainstream jazz show – say, Bobby Watson – and only about half of them want to come out on any given night, of course. As for Jazz-of-This-Moment, it’s even sadder: A concert by, say, Matthias Lupri or Bill McHenry essentially never draws a hundred people.

    Obviously, the key is to get those Brubeck/Marsalis/Krall fans out for shows by jazz demi-gods and mere mortals. Here are some of the things that were tried so far:

    * Fine publicity. The last big fest had killer newspaper coverage, strong TV spots, radio giveaways, thousands of targeted fliers and hundreds of posters. The Moment-fest also has strong newspaper coverage, radio giveaways and lots of fliers and posters.

    * Timing. The big fest moved from Labor Day weekend to late September with only modest effect.

    * Pricing. Wynton was $40; a big-name modern-jazz double-bill is usually $20; Now-Jazz tix are usually only $15.

    My question to you, o thoughtful folk, is this: Have you actively confronted this phenomenon in your town? What has worked?
  2. Seppie


    Aug 14, 2002
    Austria, Vienna
    :bawl: :bawl:

    yeah i know the problems...here in vienna too...

    last time i was with the singer from my jazzband (just began to sing jazz) at a jamsession and she was hugh impressed/surprised that the musicans didn´t get any money for their show up there :eek:

    thats the truth...a name is everything! :confused:

    gruezse sebastian
  3. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Only one thing works for niche music, be it jazz or Bulgarian folk dance: word of mouth.

    I have been involved in promoting a number of small scale concert and dance events and have found that the press and radio promotion in the world is almost useless. You have to have audience members drag down their friends and hope that those folks become converts and drag down even more people. I have never found anything else to work. Of course, this "one body at a time" approach means growing the audience takes a long time.

    Many jazz fans are fans of "jazz at home", i.e. CDs and radio. For years I had friends complain about late hours and stiff covers at jazz shows. So when a small jazz club opened up with shows running 6-10 PM :eek: and low or no covers. I told them all about it. A year later none of them have attended a single show there. The owner has since gone to a mix of jazz and blues after finding that he makes more money putting on nights that present blues than those that present jazz.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Good question. My belief is that you need to take the music to the people and make it inviting and fun to be around. I'm sure I'll catch a lot a **** for saying this, but in our market-driven society, any form of music is only worth as much as the bottom line it draws, and there's so much "low-brow" stuff out there eating up the entertainment dollars that jazz is a tough sell. Most people will pay money to hear music that specifically doesn't require them to think or interact in any way, and jazz is the polar opposite of that.

    One thing that seems to work here is to keep what I believe to be the spirit of the music alive rather than just the existing repertoire. By this I mean that jazz began as a music that was constantly changing and incorporating new and different stylistic influences. Back in the day, musicians were often using the popular music of the day as a vehicle for group improvisation, and for this reason, people could relate to it. As time went by, "JAZZ" came to be recognized as a static set of tunes and/or a "standardized" way of playing rather than a growing conceptual starting point. Put another way, it became ART MUSIC. And while a lot of people like to think of themselves as ARTISTS and therefore don't mind the label (as I suppose they feel it elevates them in some way), thinking of the music in this way does tend to make it more of a museum piece rather than something which is still alive and healthy and growing. (I'm talking about my perception of the public's perception of the music, and not trying to lecture anyone here).

    So what to do? Go back to the forest: if jazz was once truly about improvising over popular music that people already related to coming in, then consider that as an important part of the tradition and add some material that people will recognize in with the older stuff, and play it in a voice that adds something to it in some way. Even more sacriligious is the notion of playing older material in some newer styles/grooves. Basically, anything that can help recruit a younger audience into the realm of improvised music is a good thing.

    Most importantly, make sure the music FEELS GOOD to listen to. A lot of times I think some players get in this ARTIST mentality where they're thinking, "well, I know my **** is Baaaad, so I can play whatever I want, and if nobody digs what I'm playing, it's THEIR fault and not mine." This is a fine attitude if you can afford it, but if you can't, looking at some options might be wise.

    Let the flames begin. :)
  5. Chris, your post reminds me of why I liked recent release from Josh Roseman and Sex Mob. Also the Bad Plus, and 'Tonic' from a couple of years ago by Medeski Martin and Wood. I think the act of playing old standards now is cool, but I think the effect on an audience, especially a younger one, can be not as great as a more recent tune. Or even taking something from the more recent past, like when Charlie Hunter redid Bob Marley's Nattie Dread in its entirety. I think that once your audience has lost cultural recognition of the specific references of your music, you have lost a certain element of communication. However, I don't think this makes playing old standards, originals, etc, irrelevant or undesirable in any way. it just becomes more abstract and sheerly musical, without that endearing device of playing on the meaning and context of listener expectation that jazz does so well...
  6. For local bands around here, there is one element that seems essential for drawing a decent crowd: a singer. Seems like the general public (or "the Wad" as Norman Mailer refers to it) has a hard time connecting without the voice. As one audience member put it "do you just play music, or is there a singer too?"

    There is a very successful name-act jazz series here that seems to work -- it's an outdoor series held at the zoo. It's on the lake(Michigan) front, and there's a little bandshell; you sit on the grass with your blanket and pic-a-nic basket. Again, the singers (Nancy Wilson, New York Voices, etc) draw the biggest crowds. Problem is, it's more a social event than a concert. Most are less interested in listening to the concert than dicussing their begonias. Unless you sit in the front three rows, you aren't going to hear much of the concert above the din of conversation.
  7. Seppie


    Aug 14, 2002
    Austria, Vienna
    yeah that seems the problem...without a voice there...the people aren´t attracted by the normal listeners...
    thats sad and true

  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I know the people who run the Brighton Jazz club very well and it is a constant struggle and this is a huge question that would take a lot of words to do it justice.

    Virtually every monthly issue of Jazzwise magazine in the UK has articles devoted to this subject!


    What seems to work well for the local Jazz club is continuity - building up a "following" who like the atmosphere, get to know other Jazz fans and like meeting in comfortable surroundings to hear some great music that maintains a level - a high standard even if the names aren't well-known.

    So - they have a regular programme which is tastefully printed with photos and text explaining who is playing, who they've played with - why you should come to see them etc. But it has a consistent "image" which fits well - simple, elegant and informed - intelligent and tasteful.

    This programme is placed in record stores with Jazz sections, arts centres - everywhere where people interested in music/the arts are likely to see it.

    Over time - I think you can build up a group of peopel who will come along no matter who is playing and will "trust" the organisers to put on something that is interesting and well-played - even if at times it might be "experimental" or unusual. Of course - the trick is not to have these every week, but to intersperse with artist playing more in the tradition of Jazz, vocalists etc.

    But as I say it is a continual challenge and not something you can sum up ......
  9. tsolo


    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    You say it's non-profit organizations. If any money is brought in, I'd say that's a good thing. I don't listen to jazz 'cause I don't understand the music most of the time. I'm sorry to say, I'd be with the crowd that came to see the big names - for two reasons:

    1) it's for a good cause
    2) to taste something different

    Only help I can be is if money is made, and everyone involved has fun, press on.

    We've held a charity golf tournament every year since '91. We've tried most of the things you have: different dates, giveaways, radio ads, etc. It's lots of work, but we have fun. Some years we make lots of money, some years we loose a little. But, we keep on because it's for a good cause.
  10. Monte


    Jan 9, 2001
    DFW Area, Tejas
    This is a huge problem that I just don't understand. I have friends here in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma that can talk endlessly about the latest new jazz thing in NYC, who haven't even earned a mention in Downbeat or Jazz Times. They buy recordings on little labels like Sharp 9, Mapleshade, and Criss Cross, and get together on Sunday afternoons to dig new recordings.

    Yet these people can't be drug out of their house to hear live jazz. When Dave Pietro was in town with a great rhythm section, the same guys who raved about "Standard Wonder" before I knew who he was, didn't show and a great concert was seen by about 10 people.

    Another thing that kills jazz is the lessening of standards on what is jazz. I don't want to get in a whole debate on "Is MMW Jazz", "Is Kenny G Jazz", "IS Wynton Jazz", etc., but I'm talking about the cheapening of the music by people who call anything they don't know how to caterorize jazz.

    Musicians are equally culpable. OKC has a glut of musicians who have marginal skills improvising, but they know a few standards, so they call themselves jazz. Some are actually embarassing. When the public hears them, they think "Wow, is this boring. I guess I don't like jazz."

    OKC is opening a new "jazz" club in Deep Duece, the section of town that was once an African American cultural center, with such residents as Charlie Christian and Ralph Ellison. Word got out about the opening, and every one of these half-assed jazz acts has tried to get in to play. The manager approached our group about playing, and threw the fact in that "everyone in town was lining up for a gig there". Our leader asked what kind of piano they had, and when the manager replied they didn't have one , he said that they weren't ready for us anyway. He then said that when they had gotten tired of the crap, to give us a call.

    I agree with a lot of what Ed said, but there are some things that have been succesful for us. We have been packing out places that have NEVER had a crowd with jazz, and getting to play stuff we want to play. We are fortunate in that our pianist is also a decent singer (Mike Goodbar made some excellent points about that). So, we throw in an occasional The Very Thought of You, and then proceed to fill up the rest of the set with tunes like Serenata, Beautiful Friendship, Rainbow People, Bolivia and countless other tunes the audience has never heard. The vocals do keep them engaged, and when they are listening, you might be shocked at the tunes that get the most applause. Saturday night it was Milestones (old).

    I guess what I'm saying is that it doesn't have to be an either/ or proposition. You can have an audience and play what you like, but as has been pointed out, if people hear something they can grab on to, it is easier to keep them engaged. Just because it is an old chestnut you've played a million times, doesn't mean you have to do it the same way. The crowd will still probably love Fly Me to The Moon if you play it in 3/4, as on the Roy Haynes recording, even though they've probably never heard it done that way. The possibilities are endless, which is why I get frustrated with jazz musicians who say they are bored with the current repritoire. I always say "then you should do something different with it".

  11. I didn't suggest anybody change their repetoire. I was citing recent examples of bands who are Just Doing Their Thing but happen to pick tunes from recent memory rather than Enshrined Standards. If you ask me, musically it aint that different, just fresher and possibly Harder because you need to reinterpret something rather than playing the Kinda Jazz you mention on Standards, which is alot easier on Standards because lots of guys who preceded all of us have already given us lots of groundwork on these tunes that make it easier to Sound Like What They Are Expecting.

    "standards" ARE POP TUNES!

    I don't care if you are playing Korn or a showtune from 1930, but either way I'd like something interesting and fresh in terms of your take on it. I guess I don't see why all of the sudden it becomes CHANGING THE MUSIC (heresy?) if you play something from the last 30 years?

    Am I missing something?

    Anyway, this is now kind of off the point of this thread, because it is my firm conviction that although great music can be popular, it is usually a coincedence (from the 'pop' music genre, take Radiohead as an example). Original musicians should be willing to struggle in obscurity, whether they are playing All of Me or Purple Haze.
  12. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I just want to play music that's fulfilling to play. Sometimes it's standards. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes I write my own. I just don't think the set list should be found in a museum until the whole art form is long dead.
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Interesting how this has become about changing repertoire to attact crowds - I suppose the band I'm in, is an example of this - we all like Jazz but can't get to play it. But we can get gigs playing Salsa, Brazilian music and calling it Latin Jazz and getting people to dance - but it's not Jazz, really.

    At my local Jazz club, the best bands are writing their own material and I usually buy a CD of all-original tunes and make sure I turn up for these gigs. The only band I can remember, who were trying different repertoire from popular music was : "Acoustic Ladyland"!

    So - you've guessed they were playing the music of Jimi Hendrix and treating his songs as if they were Jazz standards - Tenor, Piano DB and Drums. It was great and it was amazing to be made aware how a ballad like Little Wing can be so melodic and sound good with any instrumentation.

    For this gig - I noticed more "young" people in the audience and my girlfriend even liked it - she usually only likes guitar-based groups or classical avant-garde but likes going to live gigs.
  14. Again, I don't recommend anyone change their repertoire to get fans. I just note these more recent song choices as something alot of bands have done lately, with good results from a *musical* standpoint. I do think an important aspect of jazz is repetition with a difference, to play on people's expectations - and that's easier to do when they know what the heck you're playing in the first place.

    But do I think its necessary, or will automatically either bring more people in OR make the music better? No. I've been in bands my whole life playing original music in obscurity, and I am completely happy with that. If you want people to come see you, you just need to work your butt off at it, and acknowledge that it is something you are trying to do.

    Does it ruin the 'purity' of your music to play something that your audience will recognize? Not if you do something interesting with it, not if you like it. Hell, even if you just plain play it with feeling and emotion, its a great thing. If its just a rehash (a 'cover'), then, yeah, maybe it does. But if I go out and try to play some Standard just like I heard it on some record, its the same integrity problem.
  15. I hear what Monte’s saying about the dearth of tight, rehearsed local bands with seasoned musicians who play original material and arrangements – and by original I mean something other than the Real Book Volume I in alphabetical order.

    Standards comprise a common language that enables four musicians who never met before to present an evening’s worth of sometimes great music. (How often have you been asked by an audience member how long the group’s been together and been tempted to say, “Oh, about an hour-and-a-half?) I’ll admit its fun to do, but I think bands do themselves a disservice by turning paying gigs into what amounts to a jam session.

    Relying on standards can lead to what can be interpreted as a certain lack of professionalism by the audience. Heck, I get embarrassed (whether I’m on the bandstand or in the crowd) when the band takes five minutes to decide which tune to play next and in which key. Or the shaky endings (inevitably the “Duke” or “Count” ending). As uneducated as I once thought they were about jazz, I’m beginning to realize more and more that the audience really knows when things are sucking.

    Maybe when I’m retired, the kids are gone, the wife is sick of me and all my household projects are completed, I’ll finally get that dream band together and write some cool charts, put together a slick set list, polish my banter, and get a gig where they’ll reward all the hard work I put into it with $35 and a free beer
  16. Agreed. (for the most part...)

    I will attribute this to your (mostly justified) NYC provincialism:

    I get together and play music for fun all the time. So do alot of other people in this town, so I will assume its not East Bum****.

    As for this

    Maybe. Maybe not. You can bring complex ideas to any simple melody/chord progression. Isn't that part of the fun?
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Hmmm ...interesting - does the typical 12-bar have that much harmonic interest? But Jazz musicians have made a lot out of it...so Hendrix was influenced by the Blues as well and did create some tunes which have interesting harmonic content - as I mentioned with the "Acoustic Ladyland" gig I attended.

    Is it really that these tunes are that interesting or harmonically rich or rather, that Jazz players have become familiar and "comfortable" with playing this type of material - is this the "Easy Listening" that older audiences were happy with - but that audience has "died off" - literally!! ;)

    So - most Jazz audiences are aging and will inevitably die out - the challenge is to involve a new generation in Jazz, who like myself didn't grow up with these "standards" as the background to their musical beginnings. So - I am more likely to recognise a Hendrix tune, than a showtune from the 30s or 40s and hence more likley to feel "involved" - whereas of course the opposite is true for audience members who are twenty or thirty years older than me - the norm for the Brighton Jazz club when I first attended!

    Now I meet more and more people who are in their thirties or forties and grew up with rock, R&B, even fusion, rather than bebop and show tunes......these people still like to hear a familiar tune occasionally - but what is "familiar" has changed!
  18. Thor

    Thor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well, being from the Newport RI area, the Newport Jazz Festival seems to have always worked, though it has had more than its share of difficulties.

    They always showcase a big act Friday night at the Newport Casino [ Home of Tennis Hall of Fame ]
    Last year Tony Bennet, previous year Diana 'hipper than thou' Krall, [ check out those Manolo Sarducci shoes ... ]. Sat and Sun you can only buy a whole day ticket at one outdoor venue. The headliners are intermingled with mere mortals so that the crowd can hear some jazz in between sunning themselves, yakking, getting a free show from the boat in front of Fort Adams, picnicking, changing diapers, and general people watching etc. If you bought your ticket because you wanted to hear Jazz, you are in a vast minority, compared to people who wanted to go to Newprt for the weekend.

    Once the jazz lovers have left, the bars revert to doing what the do best, selling beer to young people with fake ID's while serenading them with a guy with an Ovation doing Jimmy Buffet covers.

    At this point, to hear Jazz for the rest of the year, you have to head to the Regatta Bar in Boston, or MAYBE Chan's in Woonsocket, RI. A very careful search of the paper is required, lest you miss the semi-annual jazz band show from Brown or University of RI.

    The bar owners don't care, they are not going to promote jazz here. The only reason that they like it because it is a weekend to attract people who have money to spend, a upscale crowd to be fleeced of their hard earned cash.

    This has worked so well, they also have scheduled on other weekends the Folk festival, Black Ships Festival Tall Ships, Winter Festival, Octoberfest, the Moronfest ad nauseum, to the point where the Jazz festival has gotten lost. So now its become Zoofest, and I don't go anymore [ except I went to Tony B].

    I don't mean to be negative, but the difficulty is successfully promoting a new festival is quite a challenge. Newport JVC at least has a long reputation ... that JVC is busy killing by moving a new JVC Jazz fest to NYC.

    Culling jazz aficionados from the steady stream of tourist traffic going up 95 to LLBean @Freeport, Bar Harbor and Mt. Desert Island seems a daunting task.

    Rotsa ruck.

  19. tsolo


    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth

    I totally missed the meaning of this question. I thought it was about how to get people to participate in a worthy cause - that happend to involve jazz.
    Kinda like a religion, huh? And, like a religion, the members shouldn't assume superiority. Sorta hard for me to become a convert when the faithful display this type of attitude. As a listener, I don't understand jazz and instead of trying to educate me, I get turned away. And as a musician, I have more fun playing things I understand so, I make other commitments.

    I'm sure glad bluegrass doesn't have this identity problem. We play anything we feel we have the ability to make sound enjoyable. Ain't that right, bubba?

    Good luck, Samuel...
  20. yeah i think that this thread kind of ended up throwing certain ideas together.

    i would never change my repetoire only to be more popular. i am not interested in that, but i do know that *I* find it interesting when musicians choose to take something more recent and reinterpret it. I think that's true to what jazz is. i don't (personally) care if this turns people off - again this is not a *tactic* to gain some sense of false trust, but rather a way of speaking to people in a similar way that the current 'standards' spoke to their contemporaries when initially played as jazz way back when. The same intent - the idea is, as always, to make people think, and feel on an different level. If they can sing along to it just like the radio, you probably haven't accomplished that...

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