Recently on A Blog Supreme, pianist and blogger Kurt Ellenberger expressed doubt that audiences for jazz can continue to grow, writing that audience development is “a tall order that seems insurmountable.” Although this alarm bell has been sounded by jazz writers for at least seven decades, musicians stubbornly seem to keep on playing, and new fans keep on discovering the music.
It’s true, though, that the shape of jazz audience development to come seems to be changing. Rather than linking up with national entertainment circuits or large-scale public campaigns like the Ken Burns film Jazz, many successful efforts are operating on a grassroots scale, through local efforts and dedicated distribution channels. By playing creatively both on and off the bandstand, musicians are actually bringing their sound to new audiences all over the world.
Examples abound. CapitalBop, Search and Restore, Revive Music Group, the Center City Jazz Festival, the Blue Whale, Darcy James Argue, the Outpost Performance Space, and many, many others — these cases were simply drawn from NPR Music stories — are creating communities around art. Taken together, these efforts show that Ellenberger’s lament doesn’t reflect this staggeringly vibrant reality. Rather than pining for grand solutions, perhaps it’s time to recognize the vast diversity and creativity that jazz is offering to its audiences today. Continue reading