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January 28, 2012


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Jason Crane | The Jazz Session

Hi Marc,

Interesting comments above. Thanks for them.

I gave a talk at the recent APAP/JazzTimes conference about musicians telling their stories and interacting with the audience. A partial video and complete audio are available here:


All the best,


Michael Palmer

Hi Marc:

Very, very true. This attitude started back in the '60s. Here is a quote about a London jazz club owner back in 1964:

"Personally, I blame the musicians. They've been playing for themselves and for each other for years, and not caring much about the audience. But now the audience doesn't care much about them any more, and they find themselves without a public." The speaker of those hard words was Sam Kruger, and the occasion was the ending, in 1964, of modern jazz sessions at the Flamingo Club, London, which Sam and his son Jeff had started twelve years earlier.

Think of the really great jazzmen who knew they had also to be entertainers:

Dizzy, Duke, Louis, Count, Earl, and I could go on and on.

It's called audience empathy.

Michael in Australia


That was my argument. Baby, I'm bored...



Marc -- I think the disengagement of jazz musicians predates the arrival of the university jazz program -- I guess it is a defensive posture that emerged with jazz's marginalization from popular culture which gets seriously underway in the early 60s.

I remember going to The Three Sisters in West Paterson, NJ to see Thad Jones & Mel lewis play in a quartet setting. Being a young enthusiast I dragged all my college friends to share my passion. My rock oriented friends were severely turned-off by the group's lack of interaction with the audience and an indifference that resulted in "call it in" performance, every member soloing on every number & mel lewis taking a drum solo on a slow ballad. The concensus among my friends was "they seem to playing for themselves" & it was hard to dispute that. And it was not untypical among the groups I saw at that time & remains true today.

Walt Whitman said "to have great poetry one must have great audiences" -- maybe that is the dilemma of jazz. When I was a teenager, I thought with the right support and the right exposure, jazz would find anew audience. I long gave up on the possibility.

Larry Kart

So who did you hear last week?

Doug Zielke

Marc, with all respect, I think you (living in the jazz capital of the world) are spoiled for choice. Every time I escape the hinterlands of Canada to visit NYC, I can't find enough hours to see and hear all the great jazz on tap. Between trips, I look at "Hot House" magazine online, and dream I'm makin' the scene. I've visited dozens of NY clubs, big and small, famous and not so, and have never felt "bored" with any of it. So, next time things are getting tedious for you, think of us poor cats who have to get their jazz fix, mostly from recordings and internet radio (sob).


Here are my two cents, coming from another practicing musician --

Since we aren't exactly Miles Davis's who was probably the best seller of himself, we have to sell our music as best as possible.

This includes:

- Rehearse your charts properly, but leave some uncertainty, so that the music is still surprising for the band;

- Dress well, but don't overdress;

- Be nice to your band on stage;

- Make announcements the audience would acoustically understand (they may be funny & personal, but they must not be too long);

- Try to be charming, but don't k... a.., got me?

- Forget all you've practiced at home, and take risks when improvising, 'cause there is nothing more boring than a, let's say, a routine solo on a blues in F, right?

Personal experience, what I've learned in the past:

I still regret one of my actions at a concert when I purposely insulted a bunch of very loud guys in the audience ... although they deserved it. -- Anyway, being rude is no solution.

And so ...

- Stay cool, and take annoying people with humor. -- The louder they are, the more should you focus on your sound, on the musical interaction with your band.

Your band will surely appreciate this very much; and there are enough folks in any audience who will calm down certain disturbers. It's not your job as a band leader.

Last but not least: Write good tunes, and mix them with interesting versions of standards. Make the music your own, and so you will find your audience.

Bill Kirchner

Marc, your "editorial" is well-intended and has some valid points. But it's unfair and unrealistic to place the responsibility entirely on the musicians. Music education in the U.S. has been on the decline for more than three decades and is now at an all-time low. This means that millions of people have no idea about how to listen to ANY music that makes demands on the listener.

Listening is for most people a skill that has to be learned. Otherwise, music for most Americans is a background for some other activity--feeling tribal, eating dinner, doing housework, getting laid, etc.

Audiences for jazz and other creative musics are better in Europe and Japan because those cultures value music for music's sake.

To Joel Lewis: I heard Thad and Mel in a quartet setting (with Harold Danko and Chip Jackson) in the mid-'70s on several magical nights. On those occasions, the music was anything but indifferent, and the audience was enthralled. Their method was to take standards and explore them in all sorts of imaginative ways. The music was subtle (including Mel playing a wonderful brush solo on "Body and Soul"), and if your friends had no experience with jazz, I suspect that it was over their heads.


"Audiences for jazz and other creative musics are better in Europe..."

That maybe right in general, Bill, alas, it became worse in the last ten years:

The virus of not really *listening* is spreading also here, especially among young folks.

And you are so right: Listening to music can be learned, and we, the musicians and music teachers should have the skills to make at least our students listen.

There are so many distractions nowadays; the internet itself is one of the most powerful of all those distractions.

We, as teachers, have to show our students how to turn them distractions off: The internet, the TV, the computer when it's not needed for listening.

There is still hope, I think, especially when I learned that one of my trumpet students (14) won the "Federal Youth Jazz Competition" just recently.

You can bet that he listened a lot to various, and only the best versions of the two tunes he played at the competition:

"Why Do I Love You" & "Blue Monk".


I can't resist pointing out that most commercial music IS worthless, downright annoying in fact.
Also, since the essence of jazz is personal expression, all jazz musicians are playing, first of all, "for themselves." When an artist dumbs-down, or gussies-up, his or her music in order to "reach a larger audience," the music loses something. The artist may become more prosperous and start to feel like a legitimate member of society, but another part of his audience is slipping away: the people that he was originally trying to reach, the ones that were actually listening.

Michael Bottini

To supplement your fav Clare Fischer albums he arranged, I strongly recommend, A Portrait Of The Duke featuring Diz. Wonderful playing by Diz and fantastic arrangements by Clare. Not sure it ever went to CD from vinyl but it certainly should.


It has been issued on CD, Michael, and another, even earlier work by Clare Fisher too:

#1: http://www.amazon.com/Portrait-Duke-Ellington-Dizzy-Gillespie/dp/B000008B04

#2: http://www.amazon.com/Strings-Donald-Byrd/dp/B000ENV322

Andrea Wolper

David said: "Also, since the essence of jazz is personal expression, all jazz musicians are playing, first of all, 'for themselves.'" Excellent point. BUT I think that very thing - personal expression -- is getting lost as time goes on. These days, a lot of music seems less about expressing something personal and creative, and more about. . . I don't know. . . interesting licks and changes. . . sounding like who ever's hot at the moment. . . playing correctly (if it's a choice between honest, real-time discovery and perfectly-played same-old-same-old, I'll take the former). It's not about what style of music you play, whether it's standards or free blowing or anything in between. I think if more of us could get back to those essential elements--digging deep for something personal, and the willingness to go out on a limb and take a risk--there would automatically be more engagement with audiences, and more audience interest.

Barry L. Nix

Audience ? What audience? Cats come on stage with ill-fitting, stained, faded polo shirts and laugh the supposed in-joke with each other. Cats lecture the audience. Cats insist on a reverential attitude towards the music (which I have already). Cats talk about the old days. Cats complain. It's enough to send me to the straight-up blues.

I remember seeing the brilliant trumpeter John McNeil in New York at Cornelia's several yaars ago. I left there musically happy and my sides aching from laughing so much. Talk about audience engagement! And the music, which challenged some neophytes, was made much more accessible because John McNeil had opened them up by telling jokes.

One of the best shows I've ever seen, among hundreds (thousands?) was a performance by Eubie Blake at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in about 1980. It was jazz of the highest order, and vaudeville and theater, too. He knew that enlightenment and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive. And he was 97! Of course, he was a great ragtime player and writer for the theater. He knew what audiences liked.

This brings to mind a show my mother took me to when I was 10, to see none other than Sammy Davis, Jr. in Philly. I still get goose bumps thinking about it. Sammy brought you in and belted those songs out. This was pure talent of the highest order.

The hipness of the old cats was not self-conscious (at leaast it didn't appear to be). When I watch old clips I see a lot of smiles and easy self-confidence, despite the dictates of the social climate and, maybe, despite what they felt inside.

Most jazz players today don't understand the importance of engaging the audience, even those who play more accessible music. I never liked Anthony Braxton's music, but damned if it wasn't because he didn't talk to the audience; a great, engaging man. But we live in narcissistic times. Some cats are uncomfortable around people. When it is only the "I" that counts, the "we" go home frustrated and play the blues and the old cats.

Scott Whitfield

Marc: Thanks for a very thought-provoking article! I agree that there needs to be MUCH more awareness of the audience on the part of performers of ANY kind.

To everyone else: some extremely insightful comments here! It's a GOOD thing that this discussion is happening!

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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