But being in Chicago and seeing sold-out evenings at the Umbrella Music Festival in November, seeing good crowds for complex music this summer in Vancouver and intense audience reaction in the Perspectives Festival in Sweden in March, I am generally encouraged by the health of progressive music (which really absorbs everything that we’ve mentioned in these posts, including jazz artists not having issues getting exposure). Ken Vandermark and I once spoke about the subject of audience and I made the comment that all it would take was LeBron James plugging Paul Bley and record sales would explode. Ken disagreed about that... who knows who is right (since I don’t see it happening). But probably what jazz needs is a continued stream of conscientious listeners, even if that stream is more like a trickle.
Jazz is certainly not ever going to reclaim its mantle as popular music (when was that again? ‘50s? ‘40s? ‘30s?) so a little bit of realism is necessary. AllAboutJazz-New York received over 2,000 CDs in 2009, which is a staggering number, even when considering that comes from all over the globe. So the musicians are still there and, to some extent, a support structure (labels, clubs, festivals, promoters) is as well. The audience is also there and while it might not be large in number, it is huge when it comes to enthusiasm and grass-roots energy.
I teach a class about writing on live music; one of my students was exposed to Han Bennink at 15 and has gone on to interview him for the Stuyvesant High School newspaper, invited William Hooker to her college and plays Sun Ra on her university radio program. I’m not patting myself on the back for this but it shows that jazz can gain new audiences as long as musicians keep being sincere in their efforts. I close with a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Warriors, which is germane to this conversation. Or maybe it isn’t...I just love this flick.
Happy New Decade!