It seems like less people are dancing…

Posted by: admin on August 18, 2009 @ 11:10 am
Filed under: Culture, Events, Listening, Music

So many responses and comments regarding Terry Teachout’s “Can Jazz Be Saved?” post out there. Still more coming in daily.

Like this from Ramsey Lewis:

“…Diz was overheard telling Bird that “We better be careful ’cause it seems like less people are dancing than before.”

Even then, some jazz musicians desired to become artists and forsake entertainment. Some, however, found a way to do both without sacrificing their integrity, but alas, not enough of us.

The art of talking to and interacting with one’s audience does not cost an artist any loss of respect. On the contrary, it adds to the audience’s overall experience of the music.”

I’ve certainly felt this way before. But really only at the most polarizing of concerts — shows where the leader of the group refuses to acknowledge the audience in any way or say anything to them. I have to say that those few times I can think of, the music itself wasn’t very good to begin with, and being mindful of the audience I don’t think could have saved it.

I’m wondering how important it is for our readers — those who attend concerts regularly — for there to be a level of entertainment aside from listening to and watching the players play. Any thoughts?

Regardless, the conversation happening almost everywhere on the web is one to keep your eyes on.


  1. I’m not so worried about being entertained, but I’d like to see some humanity from the stage. I remember seeing DD with Mountain Passages in NOLA. He introduced one tune with a dedication to Lester Bowie. What he said, showed him to be, just like us, someone who digs music. That’s all, I just want to see musicians who present themselves as complete people, and don’t feel the need to hide all of the parts of themselves that don’t appear “artistic.” Be yourself and play good music, and audiences will respond.

    Comment by Jeff Albert — August 18, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  2. More than talk, it’s about the audience feeling included in on-stage rapport. I recently heard the Tomasz Stanko Quartet, who played for an hour without an announcement until the briefest introduction at the end. Captivating and not a word more needed.

    Comment by Fergus — August 18, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  3. Peter at A Blog Supreme:

    “Far be it from me to argue with pianist Ramsey Lewis about widening the jazz audience, as he is one of the greatest artists to find success with people who wouldn’t normally listen to jazz. The first half of his WSJ letter to the editor, in response to the Terry Teachout “Can Jazz Be Saved” op-ed, is completely on point. Jazz musicians do need to reach out to audiences, and interesting bills could help that process. But the latter half misses the point that audience outreach these days happens online. Lewis’ suggestions about wardrobe choices and calling for CD giveaways to students may help the cause marginally. However, the real problem with image and exposure is that artists and record labels aren’t reaching out on the Web. You know where you could market your own image, and give away music to both students and fans in formats today’s youth audience is accustomed to, and where this is already happening in seemingly every other genre except jazz? The Internet. Just sayin’.”

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — August 19, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  4. It depends what you mean by “a level of entertainment.” Don Byron makes each song a teachable moment by giving a little historical intro from the stage, and it makes it easier to listen more deeply. Ron Carter or Bill Frisell or Keith Jarrett say very little, but entertain & communicate like hell through the music. (That said, Jarrett makes less of an effort to forge a rapport with the audience, I think, and it makes for a less inviting experience than some others.)

    Comment by BeGee — August 19, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  5. Yeah. It’s a hard thing to define. People are entertained by different things.

    I liked Jeff and Fergus’ comments about being able to feel a level of humanity from stage. Not necessarily making it a spectacle but more something everyone shares in, giving something more than the other entertainment media out there competing for everyone’s eyes and ears. In this way, I think jazz has a leg up on other media. Guys aren’t just playing tunes but communicating something more than ‘here’s my new single,’ or ‘here’s my new show with limited commercial interruptions.’ That’s what draws me out to shows anyway.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — August 19, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  6. At the end of the day, they’ve been such a big part of your life, it’s nice to know you’ve been a small part of theirs.

    Comment by Zac Lee — August 27, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  7. I see about 40 live performances per year, and my priorities and/or expectations is that 1) the artist(s) appear to WANT TO BE THERE (not just “another gig” in another town), and 2) I need to sense passion and creativity (truly stretching personal limits).

    In many cases I find that when an artist satisfies these two “requirements”, they also tend to be effusive with the audience and between-song banter. However, as with the general population, there are artists who are introverted, shy or generally uncomfortable directly addressing large audiences. I personally love the sense of connection that results from a talkative artist, but it is certainly not a “deal-breaker” if it doesn’t occur.

    Comment by Dale Chapman — August 28, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

  8. Being a musician, I am, of course, biased but the good news is that I do believe jazz can be saved. The bad news is, I doubt that it will. The art of melodic improvisation flourished when it was part of the popular music of the ’20’s through the big band era. Kids who were buying records could relate to it physically through dancing. In order to awaken the public’s atrophied ears to our beloved art form, that connection would have to be reestablished. A golden opportunity was missed during the GAP commercial inspired mini swing craze of the mid to late ’90’s. It got young people swing dancing. The craze ended because, not suprisingly, people became bored with the music even though the players wore funny hats and twirled their instruments and made every effort to be visually entertaining. Why?
    Maybe we should be a little scientific about this. Not rocket science, mind you, because we are talking about entertainment here. Back in the ’70’s, when dance clubs still hired bands (before DJs took over completely) I had an epiphany of sorts while taking a guitar solo with my “funk” band. The dance floor was full but I realized that my solo could be good, bad, or mediocre and it really would not make much of a difference to the dancers. That was because they were dancing to the symmetrical back beats on 2 and 4 of the measure. As Dick Clark’s studio audiences on American Band Stand repeatedly informed us – it is a good beat and it is easy to dance to (sic).
    I once saw a film of the Benny Goodman band where the camera was looking down on a crowded dance floor from a balcony. As Goodman built his clarinet solo to a climax, you could see the dancers jumping higher into the air. They were driven by Gene Krupa’s quarter notes on the bass drum and loud, propulsive, asymmetrical hits on the snare, but people were essentially dancing to the improvised melody. The drumming of Joe Jones with the Basie band is another example of asymmetrical back beats. Unfortunately, none of the swing acts that achieved notoriety during the ’90’s (Big, Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer et al…) picked up on this. The shuffle got old real fast. Strong back beats propel the dancers but a steady 2 and 4 disengages them from the melody.
    Forget jazz and history and zoot suits for a minute and break it down to the sonic essentials of what makes people dance and there may be a glimmer of hope for a fusion with melodic improvisation. Whether people are dancing to Rihanna or Basie, we know that they like it around 120 beats per minute. What they are dancing to is the quarter note pulse. You can easily take any contemporary dance track, strip away everything but the bass drum, and superimpose Satin Doll. The only difference is that the rhythm of the modern (unimprovised) melodic content is usually defined with straight eighths and sixteenth notes instead of swing eighths.
    At this point, you may ask – “who cares?” Well, we do, obviously and the marketing and promotional geniuses have not been able to prevent America’s only original art form from going down the tubes. Could it be that the music itself needs to be dealt with? It didn’t mean a thing without that swing because that was the feeling that connected the dancer and the melodic improvisor. New music can be created with that feeling that connects with today’s dancers but it won’t swing for long unless the crutch of the symmetrical back beat is avoided.
    – Lucian Williams

    Comment by Lucian Williams — December 15, 2009 @ 7:27 am

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