Marc is right - contemporary jazz needs better audience appeal
Posted Aug 13, 2009 6:06 PM
Marc Myers (probably the best jazz blogger today, IMHO) wrote, "My suggestion is shorter tracks, for starters, and fewer solos that drag on forever by instruments that aren't appealing."
He's right, of course. If you've ever played music professionally, you know that you'll lose your audience as a tune drags on. Perhaps that's why Big Band and traditional jazz still has a lot of appeal. Short tunes (~ 3:00 or so) with short solos and a song form that is easy to follow. Familiarity is also important. People will stop and listen to a "favorite song" much more often than they will stop to listen to a ten minute long saxophone solo. And dancing. People will listen to peppy music that makes them tap their feet and dance. Or they will listen to a nice, short (~3:00 - 4:00) version of a pretty ballad that works for a slow dance. Having a good singer is also a plus, particularly if your singer is attractive and can sing familiar songs convincingly. Does anyone really wonder why Diana Krall and Norah Jones continually outsell virtually everyone else in the jazz category?
(I'll insert a shameless plug here for my friend and fellow Oklahoman Champian Fulton, who has taken the NYC jazz scene by storm: http://www.champian.net/live/)
Sometimes I think we forget that Big Band Era musicians played for their audiences, which were primarily young people who wanted to dance and have a good time. They didn't play for posterity, or for music critics or scholars, or to teach other people how to play.
If jazz turns itself around, and again embraces young people who want to dance, perhaps building on some of the better current pop songs while also introducing young audiences to classic tunes and standards, then it has a bright future. If it continues on the trajectory of extended length concert hall music, then that is where it will end up.