Where’s the Black Audience?

Below is my response to the JazzTimes website discussion of Ron Wynn’s story in the January/February 2003 issue about the changing complexion of jazz concert goers over the last 10 years.

“Jazz has had a major imprint on my life because I grew up listening to jazz and a lot of other good music. I have been going to jazz concerts since I was in my early 20’s and often I was the youngest person there. Amongst my peers, I am probably the only one who is deeply into jazz. I have seen changes in the concert audiences as well. I think that part of it is that some of the music that is being called jazz, is not really jazz and secondly, there is not enough exposure of the classic jazz artists in the mainstream media. In the beginnings of the smooth jazz era, there was a diverse mixture of jazz styles so there was something for everyone. Now there is more focus on the contemporary jazz artists, top sellers, and other music that is not even jazz but being called “smooth jazz.” The really some good jazz radio stations in the larger cities have dried up or changed their formats. Fortunately, there are good jazz stations on internet radio. Cost can be a factor as well but there are many free jazz events that need our support as well. I finally attended the Monterey Jazz Festival last year for my first time. Yes, it was pricey but worth every penny because of the exposure I got to the jazz legends, jazz history, and the newcomers that will keep the traditions alive for years to come. I try to get out once or twice a month to see live jazz especially now that one of our local Bay Area jazz clubs has $10 tickets for the 10pm shows of selected performers. You cannot get a better deal than that for good music. We could easily ask why Shirley Horn does not get the same props and media exposure as Diana Krall? Also, have you noticed the same trend in audience at your local blues festval? What is really important is that all of us keep supporting the music so the good music can keep coming.”

What are your thoughts/views?

5 Responses to “Where’s the Black Audience?”

  1. “…why Shirley Horn does not get the same props and media exposure as Diana Krall?”
    You went there! I can’t add much to this, James. You pretty much covered everything. Anitra and I had an IM convo about “smooth jazz” {shudder}. Funny, how we thought it was a relaxing and harmless (if not, mindless) trend when it debuted. However, I think it’s done more harm than good by burying accomplished artists in favor of new blood.

  2. George says:

    As talented as Horn is, a better question might to compare Krall and, say, Cassandra Wilson. Older artists and musicians of all races rarely get props and promotional pushes from record labels (less’n they’re fixin’ to keel over, or freshly, shall we say, discorporate).
    I grew up with jazz music, via radio stations, yearly Fish Middleton Jazz Festival attendance, piano lessons and primary/secondary/college music classes. (Last jazz show attended? Dee Dee Bridgewater at Yoshi’s, last spring. Audience composition? Slightly more salt than pepper, on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
    Work ties me up most evenings; I scan listings to determine when my “weekend” offers artists I’m keen on seeing. Still, there’s room for improvement when it comes to getting my butt in the seat and under the musical spell more often.

  3. r@d@r says:

    when i lived in boulder, co. in the nineties, there was this supremely annoying radio station that played elevator/on-hold music like kenny g., the yellowjackets, etc. etc. that would periodically break for this cheezy voiced announcer who would drawl the tag-line: “jazzzz………COLORADO STYYYLE!” which, in time, i came to interpret as “jazz……….by and for white people!” i would have to go home and blast some mingus to make the queasiness go away. oh, wait, now that i think of it, they DID have a little “jazz” by people of color…Sade, i think. maybe george benson once in awhile. just to, you know, SPICE THINGS UP A LITTLE. colorado style.
    hey, peter apfelbaum & hieroglyphics ensemble still getting gigs out there? that was the last show i caught at yoshi’s before i moved away.

  4. mjw says:

    If you want to see more pepper than salt at a concert, get thee to a Mary J Blige, Snoop Dog
    Show or one of those plays with titles like,
    “Mama, I wanna sing, but my man done left me
    last Tuesday” Go figure… Please stop complaining about who gets exposure and who doesn’t! Be a positive voice for all kinds of
    live music! You wanna see Black folks at Jazz
    and Blues concerts? Keep spreading the word!
    Start by taking your Black family to a show
    ’nuff said!

  5. Shelby says:

    I agree, we really need to get out in force for live shows by the artist we are interested in seeing and support them. I’ve gone to those smooth jazz concerts and yes you can count us on your finger tips. We need to just get out and support, SHOW UP!

Leave a Reply