Jazzers’ Debate No 7: Ageing Fans and Cherry Pickers


Jazzers Debate No 7

Ageing Fans & Cherry Pickers


Trefor Williams

It’s an on-going problem, nationwide, keeping our jazz clubs and venues thriving. Wherever I go, I try to encourage punters to support the club, not just the band. This “cherry-picking” attitude can be a very negative and destructive way of thinking. We shouldn’t just support the tried and tested. Obviously, if someone doesn’t like the music of a certain band, they cannot be expected to attend, but if it’s a new band they haven’t heard before, they should have a bash at a new experience and make the scene a movement, not a monument.

I feel musicians themselves could help more than they do. So often you only see local musicians at the venues when they are booked to play. It would be good to see the guys showing up regularly and creating a social meeting place where punters can talk to musos and the chaps can talk music and gigs, while giving the performing band a kick. I’m sure this would create a vital atmosphere and boost trade, especially over the bar.

Come along, chaps. Get out there and dig in to the jazz scene. There are plenty of good sounds to inspire and encourage us to keep creating joyful noises.

Peter Mark Butler:

Back in June, 2012, Lois Lloyd wrote to me at Jazz&Jazz: ““Hi Peter, I see you are noting our [jazz’s] history, a useful deed as we are losing so many wonderful musicians and at 64 David and I are often the youngest punters at the gig!” Lois is a member of the Plymouth Jazz Club.

Then, just the other day, I had this message from Ivan Halloran, an Australia broadcaster, in response to my Jazz&Jazz feature on Rich Bennett’s band at Hemsby. Ivan wanted to know more about Rich’s band and wrote: “My only interest is the promotion of Trad to a younger and younger audience in the hope that we can grow stronger, as we older jazzoes die off.”

Jazz Clubs across the UK are facing similar issues. Ageing fans and musicians and falling audience numbers to the extent that some clubs are closing their doors. And this despite clubs such as Leeds discovering ways of attracting younger fans.

Then just the other day Jeff Matthew’s emailed me: “Just arrived back from the Oswestry gig. Again New Faces! Around 45 payers. If all turned up at the same time we would be doing well. But hip replacements plus other issues and responsibilities mean that we have an increasing but revolving club audience. We tried an alternative band one month and it failed.”

I can identify a key issue from my own experience in helping Smiffy promote the Peartree Jazz Club in Welwyn Garden City. We recently featured Tad Newton’s Jazz Friends – one of the elite bands. Yet numbers were down. You would think fans would turn out in force to see a such a prestigious band at the club for the first time. So why do they cherry pick? Could it be that they’ve become stayed and just want to see familiar faces? I can name several other regular bands at the club which always attract a full house. This might prove that point.

So we need to see what we can do to counter this trend. If we don’t have different bands the club will become stale. And after a time the fans might well stay away because they become fed up with seeing the same bands over and over again! We mustn’t let this become a “no win”!

Yet younger fans would have enjoyed the Jazz Friends’ repertoire. So it gets right back to attracting younger bands, younger musician and younger fans to jazz.

But perhaps it’s not just that. Maybe it’s also about rebuilding club fan bases and memberships by seeking out fans lost to jazz because they don’t think there’s anywhere left to see live jazz in their areas.

The comments on Cherry Picking and Jazz Clubs streamed in:

Maggie Peplow We tried doing a Jazz Jive class for half an hour before the Waterworks started with the aim of encouraging a younger audience. This worked for a few weeks, but sadly most of them drifted off after a while. I think it’s something to do with the mindset of the young now, they want and get everything immediately and therefore they don’t really value what they have. Its the same with their music. I am sure most of us jazzers treasure our records, even our CDs, but the young keep their music in their phones – what will their memories consist of when they reach our age?

Bob Ironside Hunt As I said in the other post… its a lost cause, and a pointless exercise as far as provincial traditional jazz clubs are concerned. All very well Trefor, but its not that simple. For instance, after a 6.5 week tour, I’m sure Alison is not going to be best chuffed if I go out to a jazz club. Also, when I still lived in St Albans my nearest jazz club was the Pump House at Watford… last train back to St Albans at 9:30pm…. not much use really. Even if you do bother to go, you have to stand up at the bar or something for fear of taking one of the “regulars'” seats, and getting frowned at for being a “modern” player anyway!

Jeff Lewis I think we’ve all seen instances where the extreme conservatism prevalent on the trad scene particularly, has scared off new faces permanently.

Louis Lince like the Lindy Hoppers being scared off by the old guard.

Bob Ironside Hunt And as for attracting the youngsters? Don’t make me laugh. It’s never going to happen – not so long as these “clubs” are situated in crumbling British Legion clubs, mouldy village halls without a bar, or conversely in some characterless civic centre, more reminiscent of a school hall than anything else… The key to it is the media. The problem is jazz, especially vintage jazz, is not accessible to the younger folk… its not on the TV and hardly ever on the radio – and even if it was they wouldn’t tune in because of the perceived “old fogyness” about it. Sorry folks…. but the days are numbered….

Jeff Lewis I agree Bob. The days of “that” scene are numbered, and getting shorter for all the reasons discussed so far. I doubt the music will die per se, but it will go through a period of being included in other genres, before it stands fully in its own right again, as is happening with Electro Swing filtering though to Lindy Hopping etc. Much of the swing stuff is now entering pop culture, and we have to exploit this niche.

Al Swainger Fair points both. There’s definitely a lot of local musicians griping about not getting more work who don’t make the effort to support each other and ‘show face’ to help foster a local scene. At the same time – if you have been working a lot it’s not necessarily what you want to do on your day off – but it’s fair to suggest that we all make the effort where possible.

There’s maybe a difference between music presented at dedicated jazz clubs & free venues like pubs. Clubs can be intimidating because you have to pay to get in and then find yourself in an alien environment where there are perhaps unwritten rules of etiquette that can make you feel unwelcome. Pubs and the like are a blank canvas socially and, in my experience, in those environments punters of all ages tend to enjoy what’s put in front of them – so long as it’s delivered in an entertaining and sincere way. But – those gigs need to survive long enough for it to become a social norm – if no one turns up it’s not surprising that the landlord or whoever is promoting doesn’t persist for long if they aren’t ardent jazz fans. If even the musos don’t support each other how can we expect anyone else to? – the world doesn’t owe us a living.

Bob Ironside Hunt Exactly Al – and as time goes on, the number of potential landlords who may only have a passing interest in jazz will get less and less, and as the current “youngsters” take over the role of landlord such opportunities will cease…. Ian is right… somewhere like Baker Street in Swindon works! But I’m afraid these spots are very few and far between.

And as for the “jazz club” – forget it. Al got it right when he said: “Clubs can be intimidating because you have to pay to get in and then find yourself in an alien environment where there are perhaps unwritten rules of etiquette that can make you feel unwelcome”

Ian Bateman My word, Swindon is an exception to the rule! We have a trendy pub called Baker Street which is heaving with youngsters on Fridays and Saturdays. On Tuesdays they have jazz nights and albeit FOC they are quite well supported by people of all ages. The Bateman Bros have been in there as well as some very ‘modern’ (I hate that word) bands. The money isn’t great but much better than the London pubs and most of the musicians play there because they are appreciated. I’m with Bob, take these clubs to somewhere that is more conducive to attracting younger people, it works in Swindon (once the centre if jazz apathy) so it’s bound to work elsewhere!

Graham Smith Do I take it that you won’t be returning to a thriving and well supported Pershore Jazz Club then Bob?

Jeff Matthews I agree, musicians should support other bands and venues where possible. However, a few years ago I was booked as a dep and turned up at the gig only to see the far more experienced musician I was depping for enter the club and pick a table right next to me. It was very uncomfortable for many reasons. So, supportive and sensitive visits only please. May I take Bob’s point and acknowledge his greater understanding of the scene observed over a lot of years. But as the older fans and muso’s disappear off the end of the conveyor belt, a fresh generation of oldies will appear on the horizon who will have discovered this music from the vast amounts now on the Internet. The world is round and cycles repeat as in the revivalist times in the 50’s, etc.

Ian Bateman Bob, they were saying this in the 80’s. I’m with Jeff on this point, a new generation of oldies does indeed come around. I and the musicians in my band always make time to chat with the punters, they are all important to us because they are our customers effectively. I often wonder how it is that these new ‘oldies’ weren’t around when I got started in the early 80’s (and they were in their thirties), yet here they are – regular jazz club punters in the Autumn of their years. It will always be this way until the young generation come back – we’ve been waiting nearly 50 years…

Jeff Matthews Things have changed. Music has changed. The music which is heavily promoted has changed. Promotion by radio, tv and record companies is that which is unsophisticated and therefore can be sold and sold again for big money – for the pockets of the few. No jazz will ever be as popular as the top ten ‘fudge’. We now have 2 generations of young people brought up on it and living lives full of distractions. This is not post war Britain. Society has evolved and revolved and changed around us. BUT the music has survived because it carries in my mind a ‘code’ created by good composers who were ‘in line’ with the good honest people of their time. The music lifts people. Even the Blues are not depressing unlike pop culture ‘blues’ which tend to be miserable songs about failure. The music we play is special. Some people will recognise this and seek it out, on into the future. We just need to learn how to promote it well to those people who recognise its merits for what it is. Classic, trad, New Orleans, old jazz, are all labels to define style just like fillet, rump, porterhouse, steak. Different flavours. Some want peppercorn sauce and others want a ‘banjo sauce’. I think we agonise too much over all of this. It’s great music and a great ‘product’. We just need to adapt its marketing to a new 40+ generation. I think we keep looking at the hole and not the doughnut. I also have strong ideas about where the new musicians playing this music should come from and it is different to where most people think. Just my opinion at this time.

Bob Ironside Hunt  Jeff – I agree entirely. Whereas there is an element of truth in the idea that there will always be a “new” older generation, the fact remains that we are not getting YOUNG people in… And what may have appeared as a put down to the jazz clubs on my part was really meant to be a criticism of the way in which jazz (of any kind) is presented to and perceived by the younger folk… and certain types of jazz club (not just “trad” or “new orleans” biased ones) do absolutely nothing to help this.

Jeff Matthews Yes, in total agreement. Young people have to be helped to see jazz of all styles as current and fun. I feel that to appreciate some forms of more modern jazz needs a more educated ear by the listener. Same with many forms of classical music. But Radio 3 and Classic FM can provide an ‘education’ if people are interested enough to tune them in. There is also a social acceptability to classical music. But now jazz has nothing similar and established in the uk culture. I myself sometimes get confused by being offered jazz on radio which sometimes would be better catalogued under another music style, however good it might be. Therefore the links in practical terms are venues and clubs as Bob said. But exactly how should they reach out to this younger audience

Ian Bateman I like it, we spend too much time looking at the hole and not the doughnut. That thought will stay with me forever.

Jeff Lewis It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…….. and who you do it to.

Bob Ironside Hunt Anyway – its academic…. in 10 or 15 years there won’t be any traditional jazz clubs anyway. All the punters will be dead, and the organisers… and the committee members…. AND most of the musicians.

Jeff Lewis I think that might be true of “Trad”, but it mustn’t be forgotten that “Trad” is an artificial music, easy listening and innocuous, which evolved to fill a hole in the British pop music scene between the end of Big Bands and the start of Rock & Roll. While it contains elements of New Orleans Jazz, Blues and 1920’s dance music, it is much more superficial than its component influences and by definition, must therefore occupy transient ground. There are well known historical parallels to this, most obviously, the need for the first mass interest “jazz” records to be cut of a fairly anodyne white band (ODJB), and more latterly the transmutation of rough and raw Punk into New Wave. There are loads of other examples, but these are the two most obvious. I think the future for Jazz is a lot more rosy than people give it credit for. Maybe I’m deluded, but time will tell.

Bob Ironside Hunt I agree… But I was thinking of the “traditional jazz club”, as you know, of course. The younger people involved in the “trad” scene today, such as Amy Roberts, Jamie Brownfield and so on will just continue to play, but it won’t be “trad” as such… (to be honest, they don’t do that now anyway) and it won’t be in pokey dives run by old farts…

Jeff Lewis In fact Bob. There’s half an argument to suggest that the colloquial tendency to call everything non-bebop “Trad” is having a suppressing effect on those of us trying to march into the future. I’ve always disliked the word for that reason, it’s just that “Traditonal Jazz” is just such a descriptive convenience……..

Bob Ironside Hunt Yes – and not to mention the other “tags” adopted by the various club-goers…. New Orleans… (bollocks – have they been there?) Chicago… Dixieland…. And that’s all just within the so-called “trad” bracket. Plus, when I said “traditional jazz club” perhaps I should have said “the tradional “jazz club” ” …. yeah?

Jeff Lewis Ellington played “Black folk music” of course.

Bob Ironside Hunt That’s bollocks too…!!!

Jeff Lewis Quite probably, but his words, not mine…..

Jeff Lewis True

Bob Ironside Hunt Somehow I don’t think the likes of “Blue Again” or “Memories of You” count as Black folk music…. he played loads of printed stock arrangements too you know…

Jeff Lewis I’m sure stock arrangements must have been his bread and butter work at his residencies. People enjoy the familiar, and he was paid to entertain and supply the band.

Bob Ironside Hunt Exactly…. so hardly Black folk music!

Jeff Lewis Meant that tongue in cheek. Maybe Ellington did too?

Bob Ironside Hunt Its easier – just get the printed arrangement, and doctor it a bit. Saved time. They all did it…. All the bands back then played stocks, but with their own twist on it…

Ian Bateman ‘Modern’. Another descriptive convenience. ‘I don’t like modern jazz’ is like saying ‘I don’t like America’ … which bit??

Bob Ironside Hunt Yes indeed…. they still call Parker and Dizzy “modern”… nonsense.

Andrew Fawcett you are right, Trefor. Punters go to see “names” at the expense of some young musicians who are often more interesting. And many local musicians only go to venues when they have gigs, and not to hear others. (why should others listen to them if they won’t….)

Bob Ironside Hunt Have you not read the above thread Andrew?

Ian Bateman Most jazz clubs cannot afford ‘names’, mind you, depends on who is regarded as a ‘name’. There are some great bands out there regarded as not worth the extra money to get them in and conversely some absolutely awful bands regarded as top names.

Andrew Fawcett Bob, I read Trefor’s first post, but not all the thread.

Bob Ironside Hunt Ok Andrew… We have rather qualified Trefor’s original posting since then!

Jeff Matthews Frankly guys, if I take some of the comments in this thread seriously I think we should all jump of a nearby bridge. But that will not solve the problems. It will open up a position for another musician though. Look, it’s not just trad or classic or whatever label you use. Lots of things are having a hard time. Even bingo!!! I am at the moment in a university town. Thousands of kids out clubbing. The clubs are promoting like mad to get the punters in. They are just about holding their own. But…they are trying to combat the down turn even in this trade. We or you need to do the same. Find new ideas. If you don’t like the jazz clubs, don’t accept bookings there. Plus, those “old farts” are at least loyal fans in the main who will pay the entrance money that pays the band. Remember, you will be an old fart very soon but will not want to be described as such and certainly won’t feel like one. Labels: all things have labels including tins of Beans to differentiate it from soup. Quite useful really. Who wants to go to a venue that just says “music” played by a band. £10 please. You want to know what style of music it is, I would think. People keep talking about attracting a younger audience. What age is that exactly? Get a bunch of 20 year olds in a club by giving free or cheap drinks plus you as the best jazz band in the land, and they won’t give a damn. It’s not their music! Promote to 40 year olds who want a night out to boogie on down or dress up in 20’s costume and they will pay a good price to hear you play. Just my spurious thoughts.

Jeff Lewis Complex picture.

Jeff Matthews Yes, a complex picture, but the UK is small enough to make changes that will make a difference. Plus we British are a resourceful bunch when pressured. We have great music, great bands and loads of experience and talent. So a person in an audience wants a banjo or doesn’t know what a sax is? So what! Smile, they are ignorant and you know it – but they did pay the entrance. Just play for the other 99% who love what we/you do. By the way, I like banjo’s and saxes. ‘The Joy of Sax’ – Mmmm…good book title?

Bob Ironside Hunt I AM an old fart already by the way.

Ivan Halloran I am an even older Old Fart! This music has had me enthralled for the past sixty years. My friends and myself work hard in many ways to encourage, not only young musos, but all young people to become involved in the promotion of the jazz genre. We have some good radio programs in this State, promoting 30s to 60s jazz in a predominately Country and Western Culture.

Peter Mark Butler

To date there have been well over 100 comments on Trefor’s post on supporting jazz clubs, the post on ageing fans and cherry pickers, Ian Bateman’s related post and the discussions re clarinet, sax and banjo – all related. I’m wondering how long to keep the forum open before I attempt a studied resume. My object is to encourage involvement in an analysis of what it’s going to take to ensure a future for jazz.

Jeff Matthews Peter, perhaps keep it open and summarise as we go along. There is a whole section of the ‘trade’ who might have a different viewpoint. Those are the classic jazz bands who never play pub and club gigs. They do corporate and private gigs. They might not think the situation is quite the same as their audience is different and not so age defined. It would be interesting to hear from them.

Peter Mark Butler So let’s get them onto Jazzers and involved in the debates. Members of the group are free to invite others to join Jazzers, including such “elite” musos and bands.

Jeff Matthews Actually there are also a number of young musicians in this music and it would be interesting to hear from them too.

Peter Mark Butler Several are already on Jazzers and could comment. Others can be invited to join by current members. The more we get on board the better the sounding board.



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