George Kahn CD Store

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jazz Leaves the Museum and enters the Old Age Home

Sad news continues to pour in for the music business in general, and jazz music in particular. I may be overly pessimistic, with the (temporary?) end of the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, but a recent article in the Wall Street Journal made me sad. It does seem like the glorious "Long Tail" of the internet may actually become, as the brilliant Hugh MacLeod said, a Short Tail with a large Pile of Dead Bodies next to it.

In an article on August 9, Terry Teachout quoted statistics from an NEA Survey of Public Participation completed in 2008. Here is a sampling:
- In 2002 (the last survey date) 10.8% of adult Americans attended at least one jazz performance. In 2008, that number fell to 7.8%, a 28% drop in attendance.
- The median age of adults that admitted to seeing jazz was 46. In 1982 (the first year the NEA did this study) the median age was 29.
- Even amongst college-educated adults, which would seem to be the main jazz audience, the attendance has shrunk from 19.4% in 1982 to 14.9% today, a 23% loss in attendance.

These numbers show that the jazz audience is both aging and shrinking, regardless of any attempts to blend hip hop or rap or trance music into "jazz". Or perhaps people are just afraid to admit that they went to a "jazz" concert when they went to see Chris Botti or (dare I call him jazz?) Kenny G.

And as the jazz audience ages, it puts us in the exact same demographics as the other "high art" forms of classical music, ballet, opera and theater: the average age of people attending these events in 2008 was from 46-49 years old. So in a way there is more competition for a shrinking and graying audience.

So what can we do today to change this? My experience over and over again is that we need to get people exposed to the music so that they can enjoy the groove, the excitement and the personality of great live jazz music (as was proven again the other week when I played for between 500 -700 enthusiastic people at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Allowing a jazz group open for Phish or Dave Matthews might help. We need to get out of the Jazz Ghetto before it turns into an Old Age Home, and then a graveyard.

No comments: