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Can Jazz Be Saved?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout set off a heated debate in jazz circles recently with a column that cited declining attendance for jazz concerts and concluded the future for the art form is bleak. He joins us along with jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, to discuss why the audience for America’s great art form is withering away – and what needs to be done.

Tell us: What do you think the future holds for jazz? Does it need "saving?"


Vijay Iyer

Comments [26]

Rez Abbasi from NYC

One thing that may be attributed to the audience decline in live jazz is the creation of the ipod. If your listening to music all day, what's going to give you the incentive to go out and hear it live? This of course is not unique to jazz and I wonder if surveys on other music types have been done recently?

As far as declining CD sales in jazz, again not unique to jazz, we have to look at the vastness of output and the glut it has created in the minds of buyers. There is no par adhered to and players these days are required to have a CD in place of a business card. New recordings are coming out almost daily and when a fan takes a chance on something that ends up being a weak statement, hesitation can come into play the following time.

Anyway, jazz is no longer one music, so it's difficult to
put in a nut shell.

Aug. 27 2009 09:19 PM
Jim Allen from Toronto ON Canada

Gershwin are you kidding me? Never. Also one night two weeks back I went to see a friend who plays jazz trumpet. He was playing solo piano that night and was singing a lot of Reinhart things and a table of 12 comes into the club. The noise level was excrutiating and
the efftivness ofthe music was drowned out by the group.
The management did nothing . Then as we awere relaxing in the backyard diner the owners representative scomes over and tells my friend that they want to swtich his friday gig to Sunday brunch. I left as I just thought it was bad taste to discuss it in front a friend. I would never go back there to listen to anyone who would rise up from the dead. Its that way all the time in many clubs. Toronto has a good jazz base and we have some of the best mucisions playing this music. Its hard for them to work consistantly but overall lately there are many wonderful singers. I don't
know. Getting new people to listen is difficult. We lack repsect when we go to club and make so much noise that it obvious you just never of heard the word RESPECT> terrible thing to do to any muscisian as the practice and care taken to please is incalculable. It deserves better.If you want beer go to a ber hall and do what they do there. If you want to hear classical go to classical concert but shutup. Anywhere when you see people put out thier best for you.

Jim Allen

Aug. 27 2009 03:48 AM
Cynthia Hollod from Somerville, NJ

I listened with great interest to today's discussion. My town of Somerville, NJ is launching an annual jazz festival this September 13th with jazz master Jimmy Heath headling the line-up. We have gotten a great response to the festival - so here's hoping jazz isn't dying!

Aug. 26 2009 10:52 PM
Dennis Day from Harlem USA

It's ironic that the only original art form created in this country is jazz, yet it perennially seems to need a life-line, particularly in times of economic austerity.It thrived during the post WWII years,receded during the Reagan era,and appears somewhat anemic during the current recession.Conversely,other so called developed nations and even emerging ones are seeing an exponential increase of interest in jazz. Nations like Russia,Japan and a host of Eastern European countries are flocking to jazz venues and training young jazz musicians, many of whom arrive in NYC to develop their craft.The problem lies in our collective failure to acculturate younger generations.JLC and Wynton Marsalis are attempting to introduce new and younger audiences to the music, but void of any unified national affirmation of the art form vis-a-vis curricular from k-12, interest may continue to wane.When music appreciation was virtually eliminated from urban schools in the 70s and 80s, city youth responded by filling the vacuum with their own brand of rhythmic/poetic musical forms called Rapp and Hip Hop,hence the "cultural wars" ensued, with the neo-cons Pat Buchanan and company,threatening to take back "their" culture.This cultural divide has deepened within the urban polity as well as throughout the nation in general. Urban youth view jazz as too structured and inaccessible,older and younger audiences can click on performances on You tube and other interactive sites without paying a cover and two drink minimum. School administrators, trade Associations, Jazz promoters, marketers, club-owners,and musicians must "step up" if jazz is to thrive and not merely survive.

Aug. 26 2009 03:29 PM
DJA from Brooklyn

"Why would anyone take a date to, or meet friends at, a club where you will get "shushed"?"

Is it too much to hope that you'd actually want to listen to the music being made right in front of you?

You'd get shushed if you talked during a play, or a movie, or during a singer-songwriter set at the Living Room. In fact, here's Carla Kihlstedt handling a talky crowd from the stage:

If you talk during a live set, you're not only missing the music, you're ruining it for everyone else. If you want to talk, there are plenty of places you can go to do that. But if you're going to a gig, I don't think it's too much to ask that you actually listen to the music, or at least refrain from spoiling it for everyone else.

Aug. 26 2009 03:13 PM
Lauren Bielski from Astoria, NY (Queens)

I appreciate all types of music and admittedly listen to jazz only in passing—with the exception of Monk's stuff, which I like a great deal. (Mostly I'm an aging pop/alt. rock person. Used to love Rage, love Radiohead, Grizzly Bear...) But I enjoyed the segment—the idea of statistical vs. anecdotal truth alone made the discussion interesting. (Such distinctions should come up in political discussions, actually :)

Many good points were made, to which I'd add, it's pricey to go to clubs—and sometimes it can be a limiting atmosphere for the reasons Ken from Manhattan mentioned. It would be nice to have additional, less expensive options to listen (not that I begrudge any working musician his or her pay day.) Hmmm...maybe at a coffee house? Some of those "unlabeled" "un-styled" Starbucks might be the place.

Aug. 26 2009 02:54 PM
Alan Siegal from NYC

The original bond was a common framework -- popular songs known to all. Every audience member understood the meaning of a solo as a variant of the melody in common currency. That generation so appreciated the soloist's ability that the artform was able to leap to creating "material" to work with during the bop era, that defined itself and let the soloist run. No commonly known song was needed. Alas, the next generation had neither appreciation of the soloist's art, nor a common song thread to hold on to, and thus was impressed only by virtuosity and other things that grew like goiters. I suspect that, unless the American standards -- complete with complex melodies employing the circle of fifths, replete with substitutions, key shifts and returns to the home key -- unless those standards find their way into the common lexicon, jazz will be doomed. IMHO, music education in public schools, is the only remedy. Unlike classical music (which I love dearly but it is quite European), this belongs to all of us and is probably more important in the long run than health care insurance. People must die, but our cultural inheretance doesn't have to. If we want to cultivate a nation of people who are truly American, this is a front-burner issue.
Stepping down from soapbox.

Aug. 26 2009 02:50 PM
Mary Arnold from NYC, Queens

Terry Teachout is more concerned in defending his relatively simplistic thesis about the "death of jazz," as put forward in his WSJ article, than he is in participating in a serious discussion about the issues concerning the institutional infrastructure of jazz that are being respectfully raised. Thumbs down on this guest. Lack of radio stations, clubs, cost, advertising, raising the drinking age, the declines of cities, etc. that have limited access to jazz in the country as a whole are real barriers. Where there is access, as in NYC, there is support for clubs, a radio station/programs, media coverage, and audiences, including in classical music venues. Jazz may live in niche markets, but it lives.

Aug. 26 2009 02:46 PM
Ken from Manhattan

The problem is not that you can't drink, and can't smoke. It's that you can't talk.

If you talk during the solo, you get "shushed!"

Why would anyone take a date to, or meet friends at, a club where you will get "shushed"?

No dancing allowed, no laughing allowed, no talking allowed. Just pay your 2-drink minimum and and take scholarly notes.

Jazz musicians, and their audiences, take themselves too seriously. They want to be "artists" when they should be be entertainers.

Aug. 26 2009 02:36 PM
Charles from New York City

Why do you need to rely on surveys and the Census Bureau? Just look at record sales and downloads for an accurate measure of the decline in the jazz listening audience.

Aug. 26 2009 02:36 PM
erin from manhattan

The opinion in my circle of musicians is that jazz has become too "heady" for the mainstream. All the technique, layer upon layer of dissonant patterns, compositions in odd-meters... it's generally taken a direction of complexity over the last 40 years. We love it, but it's not surprising the audience has dwindled.

Aug. 26 2009 02:36 PM
Ryan from Brooklyn

Anecdotal Evidence:
When I went to college in the Midwest, I lived and breathed Jazz, as did most of my friends.
Attended Jazz concerts weekly and bought CD with every extra dollar. It was an adult, sophisticated world of music with a history. It also had a cachet that set me apart from my peers. Back then, the one thing i wanted to do when I visited NYC was to go to a famous Jazz club.

But once i finally moved to NYC a few years later, my interest in Jazz had already waned. I no longer buy jazz, haven't seen live jazz in years. I think this holds true for many of my friends. Maybe once I matured, and no longer needed my music to define me as smart, sophisticated or just different, jazz simply lost its purpose for me.

I have actively attempted to reignite my interest in Jazz and my hundreds of Jazz cds by buying a record player, hoping that by changing format that emphasizes the album and that entails some searching to buy would do the trick. I am still waiting for the results.

Aug. 26 2009 02:33 PM
Zach from Hoboken, NJ

I think both these gentlemen have hit on some key points about the decline of jazz.

But no one is talking about the way jazz and rock have merged recently. Hear a band like Phish, or Soulive, or Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and tell me, is that rock? funk? jazz? it is based on improvisation, tunes are stretched, it's built around bands that listen, and great musicians, and generally it isn't radio friendly. Young people like myself get excited about groups like that and may see many concerts of that ilk while not going to a more traditional jazz club. Or players like Bela Fleck who play so many styles, if I go see him, is that a folk show? world music? jazz?

Maybe the classification of what is jazz needs to be expanded some. I have seen more than 100 jam band shows, so do we get to count any of those in the stats for jazz concerts?

Aug. 26 2009 02:32 PM
Christine Berthet from New yOrk

Teh Jazz industry has concentrated exclusively on producing records instead of touring .
there is a darth of tour managers for Jazz artists, there is really no "significant" tours to support livelyhood of artists.

the industry needs to migrate to a focus on "live". Unfortunatly it is a rough and low margin business.

Aug. 26 2009 02:31 PM
Elizabeth Torres from San Francisco

As a working woman, why are all the shows at 9pm-sometimes later? I tend not to go to late shows because I need to go to work the next day and I do not feel safe walking back to my car at midnight. How about a 6pm show?

Aug. 26 2009 02:31 PM
David from Manhattan

Sevearl comments:
The formats for listening to jazz have narrowed and become a lot more expensive. Long ago there were midnight concerts in Carneigie Hall, and you could sit all night in a club.

I've lived most of my life in NYC, but long stretches in places that never had much jazz in the first place (after the 1930s) like Minneapolis.

I don't think the actual music is any more difficult than it was in the days of Bird and Tristano. People were already complaining that it had lost its popular touch and was becoming more like western classical music in its appeal.

Aug. 26 2009 02:30 PM
nina from east village nyc

It's alive!!My students at NYU consistently report that they're stunned, once they start getting into it, that they haven't heard of these amazing musicians before.

Aug. 26 2009 02:30 PM
michael coffey from nyc

What are the reasons behind the ending of the JVC jazz festival? The last concertn i attended--i took my 17 yr old son--was a jvc event at carnegie hall feature Mos Def in a jazz program, with appearance by Gil Scot Heron. I nice reach out to new audience by JVC, what what now?

Aug. 26 2009 02:29 PM
nina from east village nyc

Jazz is alive!!! I have to agree with Bill and Vijay: I teach a course introducing college students to jazz. They meet musicians and hear them play and get the opportunity here in New York to talk with them while learning the music's history. Over and over again, 18-20year old students are bowled over: "Why haven't I heard of this guy/woman before?" They ask. They're stunned and they love the music. Some of them tell me, ia facebook, after they've long since stopped taking my course, that they're still going out to hear the music, and they're listening on YouTube and downloading . . .

Aug. 26 2009 02:28 PM
Justin from NYC

I'm curious if the inflation in single show cost at a venue like The Blue Note or other big name venue is in relation to the general inflation.

Today it's a terribly expensive outing to see a name player at a top club in NY.

Finding smaller clubs and good music is much harder unless one is involved in the scene.

Aug. 26 2009 02:27 PM
Karen OT10 from Westchester Cnty

parallels overall decline in education in America, cutbacks in the arts in the schools such as classical music training in public schools in NY as of 20 yrs ago Parents bring their kids to classical ballet training after school, but classical music training requires public school education support while appreciating classical jazz requires education in classical music in the broadest sense. Now we have reality tv, crime scene tv dramas, and lots of sports/dance interest. you get what you pay for and as a nation we pay for what is overall good for business. that's our ethic.

Aug. 26 2009 02:20 PM
Faith from Rockland County, NY

As someone who is frequently the youngest member of the audience along with my boyfriend (ages 24 and 22 respectively) at jazz concerts, I think part of the problem is the older jazz community. We are often treated rudely, as if we don't deserve good seats, don't get it, and don't belong.

Aug. 26 2009 02:20 PM
Bill Zavatsky from New York City

Reports of jazz's demise (as Mark Twain said of reports of his own death) are greatly exaggerated. Anybody remember what Frank Zappa said circa 1967: "Jazz isn't dead, it just smells bad."

Aug. 26 2009 02:20 PM
Mitch from NY city

The jazz audience ages because the product became old. I say this as a composer and musician who was a jazzer for years.

Jazz peaked in the late 60's, with the last of great jazz coming out of the mid-70's. Since then, the art form is not the future-looking world-sensing lens it used to be. It's an archive.

Aug. 26 2009 02:18 PM
Ted in Atlanta from Design dept.

John, sorry to tell ya it's dead. For now. It's elegant, it's tasteful, it's sophisticated... Like classical or opera, all on the outs as the state of culture requires irreverent in-your-face aggression.

The level of "musicianship" in younger people interested in creating audio art seems to be going in a different direction also, not so conducive to playing Jazz. And while in jazz the instruments often took the place of vocal dialogue and discourse, now you can just do some talking over a beat to prove your attitude, much more important than talent. Maybe this is good, maybe it's the final development of the rock n' roll mentality, but not very "musical" sensibilities are required for audio success any more; kind of like the smart kid playing dumb so as not to seem nerdy, perhaps.

Aug. 26 2009 02:18 PM
Chicken Little from Terre Haute, IN

Terry Teachout is so right. The sky is falling.

Aug. 26 2009 11:37 AM

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