Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 10, 2009


Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal - The bad news came from the National Endowment for the Arts' latest Survey of ­Public Participation in the Arts, the fourth to be conducted by the NEA (in participation with the U.S. Census Bureau) since 1982. These are the findings that made jazz musicians sit up and take notice:

- In 2002, the year of the last survey, 10.8% of adult Americans attended at least one jazz performance. In 2008, that figure fell to 7.8%.

- Not only is the audience for jazz shrinking, but it's growing older-fast. The median age of adults in America who attended a live jazz performance in 2008 was 46. In 1982 it was 29.

- Older people are also much less likely to attend jazz performances today than they were a few years ago. The percentage of Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 who attended a live jazz performance in 2008 was 9.8%. In 2002, it was 13.9%. That's a 30% drop in attendance.

- Even among ­college-educated adults, the audience for live jazz has shrunk significantly, to 14.9% in 2008 from 19.4% in 1982.

These numbers indicate that the audience for jazz in America is both aging and shrinking at an alarming rate. What I find no less revealing, though, is that the median age of the jazz audience is now comparable to the ages for attendees of live performances of classical music (49 in 2008 vs. 40 in 1982), opera (48 in 2008 vs. 43 in 1982), nonmusical plays (47 in 2008 vs. 39 in 1982) and ballet (46 in 2008 vs. 37 in 1982). In 1982, by contrast, jazz fans were much younger than their high-culture counterparts.

I suspect it means, among other things, that the average American now sees jazz as a form of high art. Nor should this come as a surprise to anyone, since most of the jazz musicians that I know feel pretty much the same way. They regard themselves as artists, not entertainers, masters of a musical language that is comparable in seriousness to classical music. . .

Jazz has changed greatly since the '30s, when Louis Armstrong, one of the ­supreme musical geniuses of the 20th century, was also a pop star, a gravel-voiced crooner who made movies with Bing Crosby and Mae West and whose records sold by the truckload to fans who knew nothing about jazz except that Satchmo played and sang it. As late as the early '50s, jazz was still for the most part a genuinely popular music, a utilitarian, song-based idiom to which ordinary people could dance if they felt like it. But by the '60s, it had evolved into a challenging concert music whose complexities repelled many of the same youngsters who were falling hard for rock and soul. . .


Anonymous Philip Shropshire said...

I really think that jazz stations, led by the jazz fascist duo of Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch, play a really boring playlist that won't bring in younger listeners. I really think your playlist would have to include acid jazz, jazz rock and high class pop writers like Traffic and Steely Dan.

This is more than just a theory to me. You can use tech out of Hungary to create your own online television channel. I've created one called the Acid Jazz Channel. It's at the top of my website:


What's more, you can buy a 34 dollar adapter and watch what's on your monitor and place it on your 27 inch television. Right now I'm watching Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian and a very youthful Charlie Haden play. Wayyyy better than MTV. And after that song ends Gil Scott Heron, Pj Harvey and Lush...This is why I gave up my cable channels...

Philip Shropshire

PS: Once you turn on the channel there's an embed code on the lower right hand corner of the screen. Feel free to embed it here for a post. I'm curious as to what your readers might think...

August 10, 2009 4:00 AM  
Anonymous jazz said...

I love jazz music and i'm only 18. i don't think it's ever gonna get old or be forgotten, it's a very important part of american culture.

August 20, 2009 4:44 PM  

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