Creating a new audience development paradigm

Amidst all the various perceived “ills” prescribed to jazz by its enthusiasts – young musicians failing to “advance” the music stylistically; the younger generations of musicians arriving on the jazz scene simply pale next to the founders and the masters; lack of enough venues fostering jazz performance opportunities; the dwindling jazz radio universe; the holistic, big umbrella approach of so many jazz festivals which invite other music under the big tent and still call the event a “jazz” festival; the “cookie-cutter” view of jazz education, despite the fact that it is perhaps the healthiest sector of the so-called jazz community; jazz somehow being “taken” from its originators, the African American community, etc., etc. I have long maintained that the biggest issue facing jazz and other creative music forms is audience: lack (of sufficient) thereof, lack of substantive numbers of “new” audience, the graying of the creative music audience… The fact remains that there are more than sufficient numbers of young people who still desire to make creative music arriving on the scene daily. Whether there will be sufficient audience to enjoy, nurture, and appreciate the efforts of those young (middle-aged and old for that matter) musicians is another matter entirely. Audience development remains job #1.

We’ve editorialized about and reported on various audience development efforts around the country in The Independent Ear, and on occasion taken musicians to task for their seeming lack of care in nurturing and developing audience for their efforts. In response to our most recent editorial on jazz audience development reader Shoshana Fanizza contributed the following cogent comments:

“The classical music world has similar problems. The education is technically efficient, yet education alone is not building bigger audiences. It has been reported in various research endeavors that people are more likely to attend if they have a hands-on relationship to the music. If a child had played an instrument in band at school, they are more likely to attend a performance later in life.

With arts education being cut right and left, more kids are not getting this hands-on experience. The education they are getting is more along the lines of very dry music history education, if that. Think about the best way to learn a language. You won’t really learn a language by the books, you have to be immersed in the language and to hear and speak the language yourself.

The ones that are being educated today would rather play their instrument than be a polite audience member. Kids these days are doers.

I believe audience involvement during the concerts could help boost audience in the future. As mentioned, the younger generations want to be a part of the experience hands-on. However, I do feel that the best way to build the jazz (and classical music) audience is through a grassroots effort. Let me explain:

Remember the days when we shared music while sitting on the floor with our friends listening to records? One of our friends would pipe up “You gotta hear this one!” and then proceeded to put on the latest Miles Davis record. The other friends got hooked in the excitement of their friend’s joy for the music. New jazz listeners were born in this very simple yet effective interaction. I started to listen to jazz since my parents shared music with me. My college friends would open my eyes to even more intricate jazz music.

Flash forward to today’s scene. Kids (people in general) are still sharing their music. Music is being passed along at faster rates due to the capability of downloading via the internet and easy to share files on social media. It is rare when I see jazz and classical music shared in this fashion. Perhaps a new program that generates a spark in the younger generation to share the music would do the trick. Maybe mentorship programs would be more effective than dry education programs.
[Editor’s note: At the Jazz Education Network we’re developing a jazz mentorship program; stay tuned…]

The main point here is that we need to get back to the old fashioned ways of turning people on to good music using the amazing technology of today. I have seen kids enjoy jazz when it is shared with them, but it needs to be shared with them in a way where they too will start”speaking the language” and begin to share with their friends.

What also intrigued me about Shoshana’s comments is that she signed off representing what to me was a new entity: Audience Development Specialists ( based in Boulder, CO). Clearly some follow-up questions were in order; I asked, Shoshana agreed…

Shoshana Fanizza, Audience Development Specialists:

I’m intrigued by your organization title, Audience Development Specialists; tell us more.

Back in 2006 I went through an audience development initiative hosted by our local arts alliance, Boulder County Arts Alliance (BCAA). After these sessions, something clicked with me. I began an audience development plan for the second half of my season with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, and it made a huge difference! We increased audiences until we sold out the last event of the season. A sold out show had not happened in 7 years. In 2008 I opened Audience Development Specialists to help a variety of artists and arts organizations to build their audiences with audience development. Each artist and organization is unique. I help each one to discover who they are, research and find the right audience matches, and design a plan with them that they can begin to implement. During this 3-step method process, which I also like to call The Matchmaker Audience Development Program, my clients become educated about audience development and eventually learn a new philosophy for how to manage their arts businesses. When the audience development plan has all the right elements, I have seen increases in audience and resources of 30-50% within one concert! Audience development works when you put the time and effort into implementing a thoughtful plan.

In your work with Audience Development Specialists, have you done any specific work to address the jazz audience? If so, what have you discovered?

I have yet to work with a jazz artist/organization, but I am most welcome to the opportunity. I lived in the Chicago area for about 28 years, and my parents did listen to jazz in our household. I was a music major at Northern Illinois University, which has a focused jazz program. Many of my friends were jazz majors, and despite being a horn student, I did learn the basics on how to improvise and transcribe through my jazz history class. Through my experiences of being in touch with jazz musicians and being a member of the jazz audience, I do have some insight.

What I have discovered through my jazz experiences is that jazz definitely has similar challenges to the classical music world. The label of “jazz” can be a barrier, since the term has preconceptions attached to it. When the label is dropped, people discover that “jazz” consists of many different styles, and they are likely to find a style that they enjoy.

Other discoveries, audiences attend when they are a fan of the musicians and word of mouth is one of the biggest factors in how they found out about an event and why they attend.

For example, I always enjoyed attending Jazz Combo Night at the university. I found a big difference in audience attendance from combo to combo. These musicians didn’t have the history or the marketing to gain their audience, they had to earn it themselves by building their following. There were musicians that were naturals at building relationships and starting the buzz for word of mouth. These musicians had more of an audience compared to the others. This is what made the difference back then, before social media, and now that we do have social media, everyone has the opportunity and can learn how to master these skills.

Lastly, I have seen how authentic jazz education can help to build audiences. I mention “authentic” because the education needs to be presented passionately and expressed sincerely in a way that is down to earth for people to understand. I do not feel it is about changing the music, but perhaps more about how you present the music. I would love to see more efforts toward programs that ease the potential jazz audience member into learning about and listening to jazz. This means that you may have special concerts for this particular group. Listening to jazz (and classical for that matter) requires building new ear muscles, especially for people that are foreign to jazz.

Some of the best authentic jazz presentations occur at festivals since it is a more relaxed and open atmosphere for both the musicians and the audience. The music offerings at these festivals are more in line with the beginner listener too. For obtaining new audiences, community outreach concerts can make a difference, but they would need to be incorporated on a regular basis. Afterward, continuing a relationship with these people and increasing their jazz listening experiences is recommended.

In addition to your very detailed and thoughtful comment, left in the wake of my jazz audience editorial, there was another comment from a veteran and quite skeptical jazz journalist. He was skeptical about the idea I posited of artists and presenters considering an expanded level of audience-to-artist interaction during a performance as one potential way of demystifying jazz and helping grow the jazz audience. Your comments seemed to indicate that you think otherwise on that subject; please elaborate your take.

I am a big advocate for levels of presentations. I feel that for the beginning jazz audience members, an increase in interaction would be welcome. As an audience member grows into jazz, they will not require as much interaction. This is why knowing your audience is important since this knowledge will be key in selecting which type of presentation would be best. If you are performing in a jazz club where the patrons are already jazz aficionados, you may not need as much interaction. However, if you are performing an outreach concert for newbies, increased interaction is very helpful, especially when carried out in an authentic way as aforementioned. Don’t be shy in asking if there are new jazz listeners in your audience and then cater your interaction to the percentage that is in attendance.

What would you say jazz artists might consider adapting to their performance that could potentially assist in making the music more audience friendly?

It would be best if music sets were selected for the audience that is attending. Again, if you are likely to have more beginner listeners, you may not want to present something that makes the ear do flip flops. Ease the listeners in and then increase their level of listening by adding more challenging sets in succession. Perhaps present a series of performances that will take a group of beginners through this process, or make sure you build relationships with people to keep in touch with where they are in their jazz listening journeys.

Any further thoughts on this subject you’d like to share?

In thinking about building jazz audiences, I do feel it is a matter of exposing more people to the music. More outreach efforts, grassroots sharing and authentic educational programs can be very effective. In general, audience development is about building relationships with your audiences. This means that you are thinking about the audience in conjunction with your music. When jazz was popular, the music was listened to because it was everywhere. Now that jazz is more of a niche in our expanding world of music, building relationships with an audience that would enjoy jazz is the way to increase popularity and build audiences. I do feel that jazz would benefit from more collaborations so it is not as isolated. Jazz can become a part of the community again. Be true to jazz, but also be open to possibilities that will increase jazz awareness.

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