If Not Jazz Education, What Will Rebuild Jazz Audiences?

In a recent Huffington Post submission, pianist and composer Kurt Ellenberger writes about what he calls “the education fallacy”: the premise that an increase in music education will lead to increased audiences. He’s writing here about classical music, but draws a parallel with jazz:

On the education spending issue, it’s common to hear musicians say, “well, we’re not spending enough, that’s why we’re not building classical music audiences — we need to spend more on education.” I return to Jazz Education, where we went from spending very little, to spending hundreds of millions, with nothing to show for it in regards to audience development. Why did the jazz audience decline, not grow, as the spending rapidly increased? Is there any reason to think that more spending would succeed with classical music where it has failed with jazz?

As evidence that jazz education has “failed” to produce new audiences, Ellenberger cites data demonstrating the proliferation of jazz education in colleges, summer camps and high schools. At the same time, he also states that discussions like the Jazz Audiences Initiative are responses to declining jazz audiences.

Ellenberger, I gather, is also on faculty at Grand Valley State University, and from that perch once helped to produce jazz concerts himself. (He plays in the Grand Valley State New Music Ensemble once featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition.) That is, he’s seen the shifts in education spending and audience decline in person. As he is paid to be a jazz educator, it seems unlikely that he’s attacking the entire system that supports him — just its efficacy at seeding jazz audiences.

I find this perspective compelling, but also a bit frustrating. Continue reading

‘It Can’t Be Done’: The Difficulty Of Growing A Jazz Audience

Last week, we published a much-discussed blog post about the connection — or lack thereof — between jazz education and the development of new audiences. It examined a viewpoint by pianist, composer and music professor Kurt Ellenberger, and concluded by challenging Ellenberger to suggest some ways to win new audiences. Here is Ellenberger’s response. –Ed.

Since my Huffington Post article on jazz education and audience development, many (including this very blog) have asked “Well, if education isn’t the answer, what’s the solution? How do we develop and maintain a strong jazz audience?” Continue reading

Six Creative Presenters Finding New Audiences For Jazz

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