I N - T H I S - I S S U E :
Jazz Audience Education and Growth:
The Mission of Jazz Audience
During a panel discussion at the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference last January, Herbie Hancock stated "People need jazz," and then went on to elaborate quite eloquently. Those of us at Jazz Audience Advocates (JAA) agree wholeheartedly and would add the flip side, "Jazz needs people." Allow me to explain.
Sadly, interest in jazz has been dwindling over the years. I outlined some evidence for this in a previous article (T. Brown, "Jazz Audience Advocates." Detroit Jazz, v 6:1, Jan/Feb, 2000, pp. 18-19). In our area, while there are still some local audiences that are sincerely interested in the music the Kerrytown Concert House and the Greystone Jazz Museum audiences come to mind I'm afraid that in general, things ain't what they used to be.
I can recall the jazz audiences in the mid-fifties when I began to play in public. In addition to my recollection of their sophistication and attentiveness, I can cite numerous examples on recorded performances that support these memories. One of my favorite examples is found on Jazz At the Philharmonic, v 17, 1954. Buddy DeFranco was playing "Flying Home" with the Oscar Peterson trio. in the second "A" of his forth chorus, Buddy slips in the first half of a quote from "All Night Long," an R & B classic at the time. The audience of over a thousand immediately explodes en masse into cheers and applause. The response was quite striking, even as I listen to it now! If something comparable to that occurred on stage today, I'm afraid it would go unnoticed by most of the audience along with all the other remarkable moments of the performance.
I think most will agree that a greater percentage of jazz audience members knew how to listen in earlier days. After all, jazz was the popular music of the time. Does it follow therefore, that because a greater number of people possessed listening skills, there was more interest in the music? At the very least, we feel there is some kind of a direct relationship between the two. However, that is not to say that the loss of listening skills over the years is the only explanation for the accompanying loss of interest in jazz. But, one would be hard pressed to make a convincing argument suggesting that a robust and sustainable interest in jazz does not require some knowledge of what the process of improvisation is all about.
A number of "experts" agree. For example, Bret Primack, a free lance jazz writer, discussed this issue on his Web site. He reminds us that while there well over 100 Web sites that teach young jazz musicians how to play jazz, and tens of products in book form that teach those with knowledge of music theory how to listen to jazz, "there is not one [source] that takes the [novice jazz listener] by the hand and presents an explanation of the music, and how to listen to and enjoy it. [People] have to be taught how to appreciate it." While he and numerous others, including Wynton Marsalis, express the need for lay jazz audience education, no instructional products fulfilling this need are available. Our organization was formed in order to correct this situation.
JAA proposes to produce educational products that will teach listening skills specifically addressing improvisation. Our target audience member is the non-musician who is naturally engaged by the music, but who runs into listening and comprehension problems regarding improvisation. These are people in substantial numbers who have come on their own to the jazz portal and are eagerly waiting for entry instructions.
Furthermore, we seek out these "naturally occurring" jazz fans from the global community. We are vigorously and enthusiastically committed to the multilingual/multicultural audience. One component of audience growth entails sharing knowledge and examples of our art form through global dissemination. We all know that the audience for jazz will probably remain a relatively small portion of the total music consuming public; however, if one adds these small percentages from all segments of the global community, the size of the jazz audience becomes significant. We have devised a unique and innovative teaching approach that lends itself to this heterogeneous audience.
Initially, the teaching tool will be a series of multilingual, instructional DVDs/videos distributed from our Web site. Since we are a visual society, they will be relatively heavy in graphics and other visual content and will utilize jazz groups playing specifically to exemplify and reinforce the listening concepts as they apply to various jazz styles. As a motivator, we try to make use of the spontaneous, pleasing emotional response to the music by encouraging its development within the context of structured listening. At this point, it is our intent to make the DVDs available at cost to whomever requests them. However, 60-minute DVDs are very expensive to produce. While working on the budget page of our grant proposal, I suffered from multiple sticker shock as I compiled the cost of video production and post-production editing from various studios' estimates and quotations.
Funding for a project such as this comes essentially from three sources, friends-of-jazz philanthropists, corporations and foundations. All of them must acclimate to the idea of teaching jazz listening skills to the lay jazz audience. This activity doesn't fit into any of their usual categories of projects being considered for funding. As a result, in our current fund-raising efforts, the presentation of our goals and objectives to these individuals and entities must include familiarizing them with the benefits of jazz audience education.
We feel that support of our educational project truly bolsters jazz as an art form, not just jazz as a point-in-time product or performance. Consequently, our version of the old "Give a man a fish" adage is, "Sponsor a jazz performance and the audience enjoys jazz for a few hours. Sponsor our jazz audience education project and you will cultivate a group of jazz aficionados who will contribute life-long support to this art form while enjoying its aesthetic and intellectual benefits."
This expansion of the jazz audience is what Jazz Audience Advocates is all about. "People need jazz" and "Jazz needs people."
If you wish additional information, or if you care to make a donation, please contact:
Tom Brown is a veteran jazz drummer, composer, and music educator active on the Detroit jazz scene since the 1950s. In addition to being a first-call drummer in southeastern Michigan, he has performed with numerous internationally known jazz musicians and has recorded with Pepper Adams and Buddy Tate. He is Mose Allison's drummer for performances in Detroit and surrounding tri-state area venues and has enjoyed that position for the past 16 years. In addition to his associations with university music departments, he has organized and performed for Reed & Associates management seminars demonstrating the small jazz group as a metaphor for management teams. To support his jazz endeavors, his day gig over the years has been bio-medical research and he holds a Ph.D. in physiology. He recently resigned from a faculty position as research professor in the Department of Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, in order to devote more time to Jazz Audience Advocates.