Engaging Your Audience


Far too many artists choose to pretty much ignore or even disdain their audience.  They do so at their own peril.  While not every artist is Cannonball Adderley, who was always something of a stand-up comic with his between tunes patter, it is entirely necessary for artists to engage their audience.  You’d be surprised how deeply your audience will be impressed by a few simple words of introduction of what you’re about to play or outro of what you just concluded.  I’m almost certain you don’t compose in a vacuum – you must have some specific theme or intent in mind when you write your music; after all, every tune has a story.  Your audience will have a richer experience with your music – and demand return engagements – if you will simply let them in on the mystery.  Let the audience know why you’ve chosen to play a particular tune, and inform them who will be featured or who will be soloing on a given tune.



Stage craft is a very important and largely overlooked element from jazz education programs so many of today’s jazz musicians emanate from.  Besides letting your audience in on the mystery by introducing your selections and offering informative asides on your intent and on the musicians who are working with you, it is wise to be very vigilant on the content of each set.  Proper programming and pacing of a set is of great importance in enhancing your audience’s experience… and desire to hear you again.  For example, nothing is more boring than a set filled with selections during which every member of the band solos… and even more boring when the solos are in the same order every tune. 



Giving your audience the impression you’re on autopilot is not the way to develop a following.  Every member of the band need not solo every tune.  And be real mindful of how many choruses you’re playing each solo.  Strings of lengthy solos can easily cause an audience to zone out, minds wandering towards what they’re going to do if this set would ever end, rather than enjoying what you’re playing.  And try accompanying the drum and bass solos sometimes!  It’s always been a curious custom that the rhythm section accompanies the other soloists, but when their turn comes the rest of the band drops out or leaves the stage entirely.  There are bound to be a few diehards or hard cores in the audience, but when striving to build your fan base they’re not the ones you need to rope in, you’ve already got them.



In the case of stage manner, I’m afraid Miles Davis ruined more than a few musicians who thought they too could get away with not communicating with their audience, not introducing tunes, failure to introduce the musicians, and being largely disdainful of the audience.  But don’t forget, Miles had a speech impediment and could barely emote above a whisper.  And besides that how many of you remember late period Miles when he would at least hold up signs identifying his musicians?



As regards length of solos, I’m afraid John Coltrane may have ruined more than a few musicians.  Don’t forget, there was only one John Coltrane and there will never be another!  Also don’t forget those 3-minute classics Charlie Parker regularly spun out.  He was once quoted to the effect that when soloing, after 3-4 choruses you’re just practicing.  Just because you know your way around your instrument a bit doesn’t mean you have such a wealth of ideas or are capable of sustaining audience interest over 20 or 30 choruses.  John Coltrane had something to say for 20 minutes, you may not.  Proper solo editing is a skill all musicians need to nurture and observe, lest we fail to do our collective jobs at developing and broadening the audience for this wonderful music.



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