Many who know me have heard this before, but the topic keeps coming up, and really is important so I wanted to write this down so I can refer people to a more complete train of my own thoughts on this.
Stats vary but it generally believed that the size of the jazz audience is shrinking. Like anything that seems to be going in the wrong direction there are lots and lots of opinions about why that may be. This well written article that came across my Facebook feed today is one of may. Common themes are:
- The music is too complex for average listeners
- People are stupid/lazy/sheep like and can’t handle an art form like jazz
- Music is now about the video, without video it’s just a bunch of noise
- Without words, the music is just a bunch of noise
- The “real jazz” stopped in the 60’s and went downhill into a morass of technicians with no soul
- and so on
Nearly everybody that has a solution, and most just complain without suggesting anything, will bring up education as the way forward. I think this is wrong. How well has it worked out for classical music? There does have to be a place for people to get exposed to the music, but in school, as some sort of requirement? While sitting quietly in class? With tests? With some old guy or gal talking for an hour at a time about it? Without dancing?
That well written article does come close to what I believe helps us understand the problem. It talks about associations people have with words that make the music less abstract. It is a unique point of view, and there is no doubt some truth to it. Associations are what connects people to any art form, but music more so than others. Imagine the movie Jaws without the music. People know that music without the movie in a couple of notes. There is an emotional connection between the two. What would any movie be without the music? But it is not just movies. What was the music at some great party you were at? Were the people interesting to you, fun, made you feel great? You will be connected to that music in a way that never would have happened in a classroom. What music was playing on some wonderful evening with your girlfriend, spouse, partner? Were you moved? That music will always be a part of that experience. I think the reason pop music is so connected with people is just that it is what is playing where people are and as a result those people are bonded to that music.
Once you have that bond, you are hooked for life. Without that bond, it is just a bunch of noise
What we need is to find ways to include jazz in situations that also have some other social or emotional context to help people make that bond. It could be school, as anybody who struggles through a 3 month play or musical effort with late nights and before and after parties can attest too, but it doesn’t have to be in school and is not a classroom. These days, the clubs generally are non-smoking and serve food in addition to alcohol. Young people can go to clubs with the right planning and consideration. There needs to be a scene, a scene where people are having fun with each other and in which the music is a central part. A scene fun for more reasons that just sitting quietly listening to the music and somehow abstractly contemplating it’s inner merits. That my friends is for people who are already fans.