Finding an Audience for Jazz


“Jazz simply needs to continue doing what made it great in the first place: engage with popular culture in an intelligent, nuanced and sophisticated manner, as some successful groups are doing today. If there is any hope of audience building, this is where it lies. It must be organic, visceral and culturally relevant, qualities which cannot be consciously conjured by an audience development committee.”


NPR Jazz has a thought-provoking blog post by Kurt Ellenberger titled “It Can’t Be Done”: The Difficulty of Growing a Jazz Audience where he makes the point that in many places, the very language we use to define the “problem” of modern jazz is what prevents us from finding the answer.


“Wasn’t jazz a street music to begin with? A hybrid that drank from many wells and remade itself every decade (much to the chagrin of many artists then and now)? Why not write music that utilizes electronics and looping, hip-hop, rap, gamelan, minimalism, trance, rock, yodeling, country and anything else that you listen to and find interesting? These things will happen because people need to express themselves, not because they need to land a gig.”


I believe the author is on to something here and I believe his piece conforms to my beliefs about “jazz” music: do what you love and an audience will find you.  Jazz will ossify if people are concerned about finding audiences that are in the past.  The audience you want is in the future, and you must create something to find it.