Saturday, August 08, 2009

Jazz Isn't Dead, It Just Smells Funny

Terry Teachout's article in The Wall Street Journal has been spreading waves through the jazz community. He thinks that the audience for jazz is getting older (he supplies some nice quantitative data for this) and that getting young people interested in the music is critical. He writes:
Any symphony orchestra that thinks it can appeal to under-30 listeners by suggesting that they should like Schubert and Stravinsky has already lost the battle. If you’re marketing Schubert and Stravinsky to those listeners, you have no choice but to start from scratch and make the case for the beauty of their music to otherwise intelligent people who simply don’t take it for granted. By the same token, jazz musicians who want to keep their own equally beautiful music alive and well have got to start thinking hard about how to pitch it to young listeners—not next month, not next week, but right now.
He's right about this, of course, but I wonder if he isn't a little bit out of touch with the younger musicians and fans that are out there. Publicist Matt Merewitz is out there, representing progressive jazz musicians and interacting with their fans, and he believes that that scene isn't nearly so dire:
I do not intend to attack Mr. Teachout, whom I have the utmost respect for. But I am saying that a corollary must be written to offer the other side of the story; that jazz is alive among many younger folks and that it's thriving - not just in NY but in LA, Philly, Richmond, VA, Detroit, Seattle, SF, Denver-Boulder, Chicago, etc. We must emphasize the things going on that are positive factors in the continuation of the music. (via e-mail)
I think I have to side with Matt on this issue. Sure, the number of younger people frequenting the Village Vanguard or The Blue Note may be down (who under 30 can afford a night out there anyway!) but how about Smalls, The Stone or any other performance space that features young musicians at a reasonable price? I see high school age students at my library every day checking out CDs by Dave Douglas and Medeski, Martin and Wood, they might not recognize it as "jazz" but they know good music when they hear it. What I would love to see is poeple like Terry Teachout put their money where their mouths are by interacting with young with young people on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and the plethora of social networking sites young people use. Teachout and company have a lifetime of experience in the music and have wonderful stories and memories to share. Not only that, but talented young musicians like Rudresh Mahantahppa, Steve Lehman, Jason Moran and many others are making new and vital music today. We need to get away from the idea of jazz as a museum piece and realize that the music we call jazz is an ever evolving artform, that will never really die.

Send comments to: Tim