Getting the Younger Generation Involved in Jazz

Russ and Rich Bennett

I’m posting this as a follow up to John Petters’ item on my Facebook Jazzers Group regarding his “spat with Ken Palmer” about jazz drumming over the decades. John’s item was first featured in his article “Please Read Carefully” in the June issue of Just Jazz Magazine.

I commented “I wish we could concentrate on the future of jazz rather than on spats about the past.”

In his ensuing comments John wrote:

1) “With music like jazz, Peter, if you are serious about it, is that you need the past on which to build your roots.”
2) “I’ve not heard any recording from New Orleans in recent years to stop me dead in my tracks.”

Brilliant young pianist, Ian Wynne

“Playing to Young People”

Its not that I disagree with John. It’s just that I want to place the emphasis not on a study of the past but on the here and now and the years ahead and on increasingly winning over a younger generation of jazz fans. Let me quote what a young jazz star recently wrote to me:

“There is a massive scene for young people listening to jazz, it’s only the jazz clubs that they don’t go to. I can’t listen much more to how we can make jazz popular when my band and many I play with are playing to young people all the time. 90% of the gigs we do are to people between 18 and 30. There is no problem with the British jazz scene.”

Dorine de Witt

To this I add that whilst a good many younger musicians have a broad based knowledge of the past masters and the roots of jazz, young people today are not at all interested in “the good old days”.

“No YOUNG People”

Next, I’ll refer to Jim McIntosh’s excellent article in the same June issue of Just Jazz entitled “No YOUNG People”. Referring to attendances at Jazz Clubs Jim laments that fans “have all got older together, by about 50-60 years in a lot of cases, and the question of our mortality and securing a future for our music and clubs inevitably crops up.”

He goes on to say: “There is not shortage of young bands and musician, that’s for sure. Most of these youngsters are very good, and I personally have learnt a lot from some of them. But – here we go again – just how do we get young people into the clubs and keep them there? …  It’s a sad fact of life, but most youngsters who try out a jazz club don’t return.”

Amy Roberts (Jazz&Jazz Portrait)

Then Jim focuses on TJ Johnson’s Bourbon Kick playing at The Crypt, Trafalgar Square as an example of a successful jazz scene – also just featured in Jazz&Jazz. If you can get your hands on a copy of the June issue of Just Jazz, Jim’s article is  also well worth reading.

As is Dave Hewett’s article on The Adrian Cox Quartet.

“All Is Well” in New Orleans

Also in the same issue, Editor Pete Lay writes about his recent trip to New Orleans and declares “all is well”. “There are new venues, exciting young bands, and a flourishing youthful audience.”

Jazz&Jazz recently featured “Skinny Tuba”, just one of those young. We plan to feature others as time and space permits.

Adrian Cox

Julyan Aldridge (“Baby Jools”)

Erika Lewis (Tuba Skinny)

Shaye Cohn (Tuba Skinny)

 

 

My Conclusions

My conclusions? The history and roots of jazz are of very limited interest to the younger generation today so let’s not bore them with such issues. Rather let’s explore the success of our young and emerging bands and even work with them to get young people into our clubs and even attending jazz festivals.

Then jazz may yet begin to thrive throughout the country rather than in just a few city centres.

Peter M Butler
Editor and Owner of Jazz&Jazz 

Note: Jazz&Jazz has run a series of debates on this and associated issues. Simply go to “Interviews” and scroll down.

Photos © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz with the exception of the Tuba Skinny musicians.

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Comments

  1. Jeff Matthews says:

    May I comment about a subject that I am no expert on but have done a little research. Just scratching the surface. I understand very well Johns passion about the music and in particular the details of the instrument he plays, drums, to which he has dedicated much practise and diligent research. Frankly, I am not personally as interested in researching flute players as I am clarinet players. But I am totally absorbed by learning more about the clarinet in jazz, particularly in pre 50’s music. I am knocked out time and time again by the talent, creativity and sheer brilliance of many of the older, and long gone players. I am interested to know what instruments, mouthpieces, influences shaped their sound. I am also impressed by the talents of the young up and coming players. I find that those playing on the traditional jazz circuit today amply show that they have done their due diligence to the history and details of the instrument and the music. Sometimes I hear passages in a players music which I can detect as being from an early player. That is as it should be. That is how the tradition is passed on. From that basis, more creativity can be built and new voices are explored and come to the scene, based on a well trodden pathway. But, as in painting, if you use crayons to produce a piece of art, it cannot be called an oil painting. A Picasso cannot be called baroque art. There is order in all of this. So it is with traditional jazz. It has elements that describe it as what it is. When do we start calling Charlie Parkers work ‘trad Jazz’? How do you define whether it is or not? The answer is in the detail. Why should that workman like study turn off young people? I don’t think it does. Audiences: young people want to be with young people in places young people feel comfortable in. So find those places and put jazz on there. Make it fun, loud, exciting, special – and include dancing and even dressing up in 20’s clothes. Play the old tunes, play them with style and energy and don’t apologise for them. It’s great music.

    • Peter Butler says:

      Thanks for speaking your mind, Jeff. And for doing so on Jazz&Jazz rather than on Jazzers. I fully concur with your points and agree with both you and John Petters about, as you put it, “due diligence to the history and details of the instrument and the music” and “the talents of the young up and coming players”. Be that as it may, but if, as Jim McIntosh put it, “We have all (musos and fans) got older together, by about 50-60 years in a lot of cases, and the question of our mortality and securing a future for our music and clubs inevitably crops up.”

      Jim goes on: “There is no shortage of young bands and musicians – that’s for sure. Most of these youngsters are very good, and I personally have learnt a lot from some of them. But – here we go again – just how do we get young people into the clubs, and keep them there?”

      This is the new front line! Because without the fans, jazz really does risk fading into oblivion and along with it all the nuances and skills of yesteryears’ giants. Then what will “the talent, creativity and sheer brilliance of many of the older, and long gone players” matter? They will count for nothing!

      As Jim says, “Most youngsters who try out a jazz club don’t return. Some do, but, in truth, only a few. For the majority, waving umbrellas, sitting quietly and being stared at is, frankly, not their idea of a good night out.” I can back Jim from personal experience. I’ve worked with the son of the promoter of our local jazz club to get his chums involved. A handful put in an appearance for a while and then faded away.

      Conjure up the Armstrongs, Bechets, Boldens, Beiderbeckes, Johnsons, Jelly Rolls, King Olivers and George Lewis’s of the past and you still wouldn’t be able lure back a new generation of younger fans.

      So it’s worth reiterating the quote I included in the post: “There is a massive scene for young people listening to jazz, it’s only the jazz clubs that they don’t go to. I can’t listen much more to how we can make jazz popular when my band and many I play with are playing to young people all the time. 90% of the gigs we do are to people between 18 and 30. There is no problem with the British jazz scene.”

      This is the future of jazz. These are the musicians we will need to work with. And dare I say it, on their terms!

      Have I opened yet wider the hole in the hornet’s nest?

      • Pete Lay says:

        YES, a bloody big hornet’s nest at that!!!! If we could conjure up those legends again, the young musicians and fans would be over them like a rash. What do you think these young musicians are playing – THEIR MUSIC.
        End of Lecture!!!

        • Peter Butler says:

          Yes, Pete, there are those perhaps that only play “their” music. But there are others who love NO jazz, who play it brilliantly and who are prepared to tour the clubs (but can the clubs afford them?). Take Dave Hewett’s article about The Adrian Cox Quartet in June Just Jazz. Admittedly they mix it a bit for younger fans at their own gigs. Then again, TJ played pure NO at The Crypt last Wednesday and there was a full house with just as many younger as older fans. As you say, if only we could conjure up the legends of the past. George Lewis was phenomenal with Acker in the programme which followed on from “Trad Jazz Britannia”.

  2. Gerry Travers says:

    Tuba Skinny band members are the hope for the future of N.O. music. Roll on when they visit the U.K.

    • Peter Butler says:

      Seconded whole heartedly, Gerry. Watch out for their tour – I reckon tickets will be in hot demand and I want to be there and meet them!

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