1. The mass media's lack of interest in jazz has marginalised it. Because of the disregard for
jazz in the mainstream media, fewer people than ever get to hear jazz, and many venues that have supported
jazz in the past no longer do so. The mass media needs to be tackled about this. You can help by
writing to newspapers and to broadcasting companies.
2. Does your local record shop stock jazz releases? Maybe they have a few token items, such as swing era big bands or popular vocalists. But the message this sends out to customers is that jazz is dead and nothing new is happening. Order some of your CD's from local record shops and make enquiries about new releases, particularly those recorded by musicians in your own country.
3. Governments meddle with things they don't understand. That also applies to jazz. Complain to them about legislation which goes against the best interests of jazz.
4. Does your local jazz club (if you have one) support local musicians? If not, get together with other local musicians and pester them until they do. And if they do put on a local act, try and rustle up some loyal fans to come along.
5. Organise your own concerts/gigs. It needs a bit of planning, especially the publicity, but it's worth it. Musicians would often opt to play for a small amount if it results in better-paid or more plentiful gigs in the long-term. Remember you have to build up an audience base which takes some time.
Some time ago, there was a video on youtube lamenting the fact that jazz was not more popular. The presenter seemed to pin a lot of the blame on two people: Kenny Gee and Wynton Marsalis. I found this very distasteful. The point is that people are attracted to jazz in the first place by players who are not always the bees knees of the jazz world. But once bitten, the listener then discovers other players who are more hard-line. I myself first discovered jazz by hearing on the radio some trad, Kenny Ball's Jazz Band, Glenn Miller and the commercial ragtime pianist, Russ Conway. From there I graduated to Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and so on. Had my fist exposure to jazz been by hearing Cecil Taylor, I may have rejected the music immediately. Other people tell me the same thing. It's important to be given a chance to hear all kinds of players in order to be turned on. Unfortunately nowadays, rock dominates the radio waves and there is no opportunity to hear anything else.
There are three basic music groups: classical music, pop/rock music, and thirdly, all other kinds of music - jazz, folk, world music, light music, etc. Classical music is well-entrenched in schools and colleges. It is the respected music, music which has the most status, music which still provides the content for musical examinations. This music, which includes opera, ballet and symphonic, chamber music and solo instrumental music receives the vast majority of funding from the British arts council In the year 2010-2011, jazz by contrast received 0.29 percent of Arts Council England funding. (see page 12 of this document.) The audience for classical music and opera was only twice as much as that of jazz. Certainly classical music is expensive to stage to maintain large orchestras and opera companies. But the same amount of funding for jazz would give work to many bands and provide a decent living for jazz musicians. But as I have said before, improvisation is not regarded as being a valued highly-skilled artform.
Then there is the pop music world. It may not be a coincidence that jazz audiences declined at the same time as the emergence of the promoters of pop music. Today, pop music is a commodity which is there to make some people very rich. Nothing much to do with music but a lot to do with marketing, promotion and finding the right formula which is known to sell the music even down to the tuning of the bass drum. To be fair, pop music can be very well-presented. Jazz bands often tend to be the opposite. You get a bunch of musicians together and they talk amongst themselves thinking what tunes to play with total disregard for the audience. It may not be hip to be slick, but it does help. Then there is the situation when inexperienced, maybe duff musicians play in a band. In jazz, this seems to happen a lot. Of course they have to have the chance to play and to improve (if they are ever going to) but it doesn't help the overall reputation of jazz if the band is terrible. You don't get classical pianists messing up music which is beyond them to a room full of people. Neither should you get jazz musicians doing the same, but it happens. We should also admit that certain jazz bands can be dull or plodding when it needs to be exciting, and brash when it needs to be more restrained. I've certainly played in bands like this and can't escape part of the responsibility myself.
Riding on the back of the pop music industry is the mass media which chooses which music to deliver to the public. In Britain there are a number of local radio stations, the overwhelming majority of which play only pop music, and often exactly the same music from the charts. They claim it is market pressure - they have to. But isn't it a case more of helping to create the market in the first place and then responding to it.
On thinking it over in more depth I've come up with this analysis. This applies to the situation in Britain. Pop music is part of a whole package which is sold to the public. For pop musicians, image is important and is a selling point. Around this image and the individual lives of pop musicians, celebrity culture grows up which sells newspapers (even so-called quality newspapers), magazines and books and fills programmes on radio and television. Spin-offs also include the fashion industry and cosmetics industry and there is also a link with sports and the film industry. Princess Dianna and Sarah, the Duchess of York also gave pop music royal patronage. Then there are the items which these celebrities endorse or sponsor. All of this is (taxable) money so government is also very interested in promoting it. Pop music is also the music assocciated with night-clubs, so dating and dancing also enter the equation. Furthermore, Britain is obsessed with youth culture, often at the expense of culture aimed at a broader spectrum of society and amongst the youth peer pressure to conform with what is currently regarded as being "cool" or "hip" is overwhelming. Another factor is that we live in an age in which anyone can become a star overnight, talent is not so important. It's not just the music, then, but so many other things tied up with it by direct links and by association.
I am not against classical music or pop music. In fact, I like some of it and think that as jazz musicians, we can benefit by including elements of other music into jazz. But I do not like the fact that jazz (or other minoritiy kinds of music) is elbowed out by commercial pressures.
Well, I think that helps explain a little better why jazz is not more popular than it is. Interestingly enough two people said after the concert of mine how much they enjoyed it, neither of them British, neither of them jazz fans. It can be done. Jazz is not intrinsically a turn-off for the public. But we do need help to promote it and to keep it alive.
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