Is Jazz Doomed?

Is it a dying art? Are the audience all old? Obviously this has been discussed before recently, in The Independent, but I have just read a brilliant, witty article in All About Jazz, stereotyping the different Careers in Jazz and their ultimate futility.  It states that University courses are pumping out highly talented musicians into a performance environment, within which there is little demand for, or appreciation of their skills; “People who want to play jazz actually outnumber those who enjoy or even tolerate it, let alone pay to hear it.”  I do largely agree with this pessimistic analysis but I think the described audience numbers are flawed.

Granted, in my experience thus far, UK jazz clubs (excluding the famous tourist attraction that is Ronnie Scott’s) do have an overtly elderly audience, sadly, a mostly tight fisted crowd who will nurse a lone pint of ale all night… The younger members of the audience (and this is true of Ronnie’s too, particularly upstairs) are often musicians themselves looking for an opportunity to get a gig – they too often spend little or no money while there.

This can make the environment what one might call a ‘bear pit’ especially at jams, with too many musicians scratching round for ‘the crumbs’, staring at each other, or the floor, desperately waiting for their moment (or ploughing in without invitation) to solo and do 8 chorus’ of Night and Day until night does actually become day.

It is hardly ‘Stomping at the Savoy’.

And this is where I have my issue.  Rarely does anyone dance – as jazz is usually considered too highbrow to be fun.

How did this happen?

Jazz in its first incarnation of organically grown, individual expression by musicians and audience alike, has become too much about the musician and too little about the audience.

I personally count myself as one and the same – I may be described as a Gig Whore or Career Professional in the aforementioned article, but my experience of all gigs (private functions, jazz clubs, concerts or jams) are coloured by my own love of listening to jazz, and dancing to this beautiful, complex, moving, exciting music.

This I believe is the missing link.

I know there is a vast potential jazz audience out there – I have seen them; the packed dance floor at weddings, the man who repeatedly asked;

“What was that you were playing?”
“Jazz.”
“No, I hate jazz – what was that you were playing?”
“Jazz, popular jazz, but jazz…”
“No, what you were just playing, what was it…??”
“…….errr”

Maybe what we are experiencing is just an image problem – a lack of communication with the wider audience..?

Most people are currently being spoon fed dumbed down music, but they are ripe for being enlightened to something new (old) and more adventurous – they just don’t know that it is called Jazz!  Vintage events are roaring with people in their teens, twenties and thirties – why can’t this scene be further melded with jazz clubs?  Would it help if there were a dance floor? I think for sure…

I realise that some jazz, particularly ballads are best appreciated in a quiet reflective atmosphere, but I refuse to believe that any music should be digested in stony silence by stiff audients.  After all, live performance relies on call and response – an energy flow – that is the magic of it – the chemistry – the illusive Higgs Boson!

I am interested to know what other people think?  Whether you are a musician and/or a listener do let me know! Xj