The Easy Answer to the “How to Build a Jazz Audience” Question

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In the last couple weeks or so there’s been some talk in the jazz blogosphere about ways in which the jazz community can increase the audience for jazz.  Part of this stems from a recent post on the A Blog Supreme by Kurt Ellenberger called “It Can’t Be Done: The Difficulty of Growing a Jazz Audience.”   This past weekend A Blog Supreme posted a lengthy entry that highlighted several of the comments in response to Ellenberger’s piece.  There have been a ton of answers, comments and theories as to whether or not the jazz audience can grow and how it can be achieved, the overwhelming majority of which I think are thoughtful and in most cases pretty good.

All this being said, I think people are making this way too complicated of an issue.  The way to grow the jazz audience is pretty simple.  There are two easy and uncomplicated steps to this:

1. Exposure.  People won’t like jazz of any sub-genre or style if they don’t know about it.

2. Play music people will like.  This point came to me while listening to the first track from Things Fall Apart by The Roots.  Take a listen, the nuts and bolts are explained starting at about the 30 second mark (warning: there’s some profanity, just so you know if that makes you uncomfortable).

That’s all there is, if you play music that people like, then people will come.  I’m not suggesting that all of us who play jazz sell out, or that we all compromise our artistic principles in order to build an audience.  What I’m saying is that if you make difficult music that’s not accessible to a wide group of people, then you shouldn’t complain about not having an audience.  Charles Ives didn’t have an audience for the most of his life.  And after putting out dozens of innovative records Anthony Braxton still isn’t popular.

You can’t make people like you.  And unless it’s your mom or your friends, you can’t make people come to your shows if they don’t like your music.  There’s a reason why jazz was the popular music in the 30s and 40s; it’s because it was popular.  Or as one of my professors likes to say: “jazz stopped being popular when it lost the booty.”  I.E., when it became an art music and stopped being something to dance to, to enjoy, to have fun to.

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