Saturday, June 09, 2007

Jazz Audience Part II: Jazz and Youth Soccer?

I was listening to sports talk radio the other day, and the topic was how no one really cares about the Stanley Cup Finals. (I'm not here to argue either way on that one) The conversation continued to other sports that don't get much TV attention, and thus big fan bases here in the US. Lacrosse was mentioned, and so was soccer. We all know that soccer has grown in popularity here in the US over the past few decades, but it hasn't truly taken off. And much of the growth can be attributed to a changing population, and changing demographics, with new immigrants who are already futbol fans.

Then one of the hosts brought up the disconnect between of the number of kids playing soccer, versus the size of the adult soccer audience. It's hugely popular, right up there with basketball, and baseball, and has been for some time. Millions of kids are in soccer leagues. I drive past a major soccer complex often on the freeway, and it's always PACKED at night with various teams playing, hundreds if not thousands of people. But despite the HUGE numbers of kids playing soccer, most don't go on to be soccer fans. This CNN Money article (a bit old, from 2002) talks about this issue. This of course is of concern to many in soccer, and presumably to the MLS, which is hoping its product will catch on and be as mainstream as baseball or football someday (with the revenues that follow).

How does this relate to jazz? Well, we always talk about building the next generation of jazz listeners and focusing on getting kids in jazz bands (good thing for a lot of reasons, I'm not questioning that). But the problem is those kids aren't becoming LISTENERS! They may be in the program out of coercion. They may like playing an instrument, or the social aspect of being in the band, but as they mature they aren't seeking out jazz events, or recordings. Now, of course, the kids in the band are more likely than those the average student population to become jazz fans (a guess, but I think it's a safe one). But still, the numbers aren't very good. How else can you explain the explosion of jazz education of the last 30 years, compared with the simultaneous decline in the jazz audience, jazz venues, jazz record sales.

Jazz faces the same issue as soccer. If we only rely on youth participatory programs to generate next generation audiences, we're not going to grow the audience as we think we would. We need to take a serious look at audience development, how we can make jazz relevant to new generations of listeners, and find out what interests them. I'm not talking about watering down music. I'm talking about taking a moment and saying "what's going on here?" To be continued.

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Blogger Unknown said...

I think the same thing can be said about classical music, in an even greater degree. The problem is that Jazz(or classical music) is not something that most kids can appreciate. Forcing someone into something will have the opposite effect in the long run. I am not sure if the same can be said about soccer(I don't have a kid =), so maybe someone can chime in here.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you might enjoy these videos from a sadly now defunct jazz/blues band. (includes a video of them playing with screaming jay hawkins, and appearances at the montreaux jazz festival))

Leave a comment please if you like any of it.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

There aren't enough kid friendly jazz venues is part of the problem. Clubs are expensive, even if kids are allowed in, and festival settings are seldom ideal either. Matt Wilson did a Sunday afternoon workshop after he played a Saturday evening show here in Buffalo a year or so ago, and that worked pretty well. I liked the show so much I brought my kids, and a couple of kids from the neighborhood, but the event was still pretty lightly attended.

People will find their own way to the music, if they care about music. The real problem is that the majority of people don't. The stop listening when they stop school, for the most part, which is why there are so many "classic rock" stations out there.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I might be an exception as I play double bass but at sixteen years old I'm an avid fan of jazz - mainly Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Coltrane but Im expanding what I listen to all the time.

I got into jazz through some local bands I know and playing/watching at the Jazz bar in town where they encourage a younger audience on certain nights.
Its sometimes expensive but its good how they're trying at least here in Edinburgh.

Toby I agree its not good to force it upon people but at least to educate them on it might be a good idea through some means.
The first time I heard jazz I admit I didn't really understand it but with each additional listen I find beauty in the music being played and over time I appreciate it more and more.

Classical was even harder for me to get into and I'm still not really a massive fan though I do love a bit of Gustav Mahler while relaxing.

I definitely agree with Bill's comment of:
"People will find their own way to the music, if they care about music"
but maybe sometimes they need a light push in the right direction... I know that I have introduced a couple of friends just by lending a CD (one now a bigger fan then myself)

love your blog by the way :)

8:32 AM  
Blogger Mara Marich Tardy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a school music teacher and private teacher, I can support the theory that students aren't listening to jazz.

I grew up in a musical community where jazz was pretty central to our daily lives (albeit a middle/upper class mostly white community). My classmates and I wanted to pursue jazz because we were inspired by the upperclassmen, who had been inspired by their upperclassmen.

As a teacher, I have been learning that without that cultural mindset, without the inspiration from older talented students, it is difficult to inspire a new generation of students to play and love jazz.

My hope is that after a few years of training my current students, a younger generation will catch the vision of how exciting it can be to play a Basie chart really well, or improvise a great solo.

Any thoughts?

Check out my blog at

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same might be said about literature in general, come to think of it, and having seen how literature is taught in schools I suspect that jazz appreciation is taught in the same uninspired way.

If you are really learning about jazz, then you should also be learning about the history of the USA, of New Orleans, of Chicago, of the northward migration of blacks, of the Civil Rights movement, of Hollywood, of the Carnegie Hall concert, of the great composers of the jazz age, of the developing technology of instruments (such as the invention of the saxophone or vibraphone, etc., etc. all of which are fascinating and exciting topics.

If you start teaching jazz with the music that came after jazz was the popular music of America, then it becomes much more esoteric and hard to understand.

If I was teaching a jazz appreciation course, I would use Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lately i have been following this blog but i never was that kinda guy who loves to post
anything in any article. However, i saw these cool list that shows the best jazz musicians off all time and
i will like to see what you guys think about that list (Miles Davis should be in the #1!!)
Anyway...congrats for the blog!
Here's the link:

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem here may be that kids quite honestly do not know how to leap from playing "Green Onions" or Dave Sanborn arrangements in their high school jazz bands to LISTENING to jazz. I know that I was a Nirvana/Pearl Jam listener in high school, and even though I played quite enthusiastically in the school jazz band, I'm not sure I would've gotten into the music were it not for a fascination with Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr, and the affects they seemed to have on the young ladies I played them for.

I would imagine that a big part of the problem here is that the educators who are introducing kids to "jazz" in their high schools are not necessarily aware of any recordings that will get kids into jazz in any kind of lasting way. My own high school band teacher was a great man who's doubtlessly responsible for my belief that I could become a professional musician. (And so I have.) But I don't recall him ever pointing me at a jazz recording that I feel holds up today; I don't REALLY remember him pointing me towards anything (besides playing in the school band) that even served as a 'gateway drug' to recordings I value now. And it would be silly to have expected him to: he liked jazz and he did a good job with the band, but he wasn't an aficionado by any means; by 11th grade I was asking him about all kinds of musicians and recordings he'd never heard of.

Maybe it's the same way with kids' soccer: maybe the coaches quite often have little or no link to or even awareness of the history (or present-day events) of professional soccer. And these are the guys who are going to inspire the kids to watch it-- their coaches.

If I was professional soccer, I would do all I could to send pros to soccer complexes like the one you describe to work with and excite the younger players; if they're smart, they'd find a way to do it at low or no cost to the teams and kids. And I would imagine we professional jazz musicians would do well to do the same kind of outreach. Right now that kind of work (save for some lucky kids who get clinics with great New York bands that are on tour in their areas) is done by Maynard Furgueson and his ilk, and while I'm sure lots of kids buy his CDs after his high-octane concerts and clinics, I doubt that alone will turn them into fans of contemporary, arty jazz as adults.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous JAmes said...

Oh, man, and I think, in response to Amerigo's comment, I have to say, with all due respect, that this is, in my mind, a really ineffective, ill-conceived way of getting kids into jazz, and if it works, it still may not ever expose them to the jazz of TODAY.

Kids spend all day learning early American history, advanced maths, Shakespeare, etc, and statistically, we now that precious few of them are into it. So to suggest that the way we lead kids to thinking jazz is cool and worth listening to the way they think about whatever current music they're into is by starting them with the CIVIL WAR and taking them up to LOUIS ARMSTRONG... I mean, Jesus, get a clue. I love Louis Armstrong, but to think this is the route to a teenager's heart; this is the path of either a graduate student or an exCEPTIONALLY nerdy high-school kid, and right now nerds are the only kids we get into the music. They're great, but they're not enough, and we kind of have them covered already.

I think the answer is much more to take what they're listening to, and show them how a band like Medeski, Martin, and Wood or Kneebody sounds a bit like that. And then show how they were influenced by electric Miles. And then show how Miles's career evolved. For people who are into it, they can follow that thread all the way BACK to Louis Armstrong, if they choose to. But Jesus, to try to take those kids and START with Louis Armstrong; it's like saying if you notice kids are into graffiti and comic book art, you should start with the bubonic plague, and then introduce them to the work of Masaccio.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Mus14 said...

Well jazz is not longer popular music. But do not think that jazz has not grown. You act as if jazz is doing poorly and it's not. If you want jazz to become more popular with the youth, you have to mix it with today's genres of music and it has with Nu-jazz as well as other genres of jazz.

9:33 AM  
Blogger said...

Great blog and a topic that should be close to all those involved in Jazz.
Jazz may be different in the UK (where I am from) but by the sounds of it there is much the same attitude in the States as there is in UK.

Over here there is a strange opinion that you need to understand it to enjoy it, and the only way to understand it is to have the skills to give it a full analytical appraisal! Which to me is rubbish.

So on that point you don’t need to be able to play Jazz to enjoy Jazz. It is not just Jazz musicians who listen to Jazz. The audience does not have to come from musicians, it doesn’t in other musical genres. Maybe there is a place for ‘The Jazz Factor’ on TV’ to broaden the audience? OK that might be going too far.

I do feel that a lot of potential fans are put off by the ‘closed shop’ attitude by the Jazz fans and musicians. I was at a festival recently and the bloke in front of me was going as if he was the worlds expert in the subject, he described a group as ‘post bop’ not a style I was familiar with, so when I delved a bit deeper this just seemed to be his label for anything after be bop! But to someone who is just beginning to appreciate Jazz I could see that they may not want to spend their social time with someone like him. Or think that they need to be fully versed in the 100 year history of Jazz to enjoy it.

As for Jazz not being popular… Listen to the TV adverts or the Sex and the City Sound tracks!

Me how did I get into Jazz? 2 ways really, we were lucky enough to have some Jazz in the pop charts in the 70s. (Dave Brubeck and Acker Bilk both had no1s) and I did play trombone!
Why am I into Jazz now, because my wife is a Jazz singer and my ear is tuned to it.

As a post script thank you for introducing Anat Cohen to me!


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