The Big Debate: (No Way) Is Jazz Facing “Doom & Gloom”?


Chicago Swing Katz, 2013: L/R Derek Harrison, Keyboard; Jeff Matthews, Clarinet; Bill Buck, Drums; Pete Ainge, Trumpet; Dave Margaroni, Double Bass; Andrew Mackenzie, Trombone; Barry Edwards, Guitar.

As recently as 15th May, Jeff Matthews, The Chicago Swing Katz, yet again broached the issue of the younger generation’s attitude towards jazz. Writing in Fred Burnett’s “Jazz North West” he commented:

“I recently went to a stage show starring the chef Gino Di Campo. It was a birthday gift. I looked around the theatre audience and the vast majority were certainly older people with very few under the age of 50. Most were quite a bit older. Me included. I also attended at the beginning of this year a regular jazz concert in a large town close to me. Free entrance and very high quality jazz. Eighty people in the audience, but I can’t remember seeing someone under the age of 50. It’s not just old jazz that is suffering. We should congratulate older audience members for getting up and out of the door to support live music. They keep it going. When people say ‘we should encourage younger people’ to come to our jazz sessions, what age does ‘younger’ mean. 15? 20? In my mind audiences today who might be interested in older jazz are likely to be in the 40’s+ age group. The Kids don’t need a baby sitter as they will be at least teenagers. Mum and dad can get out of the house for a night out together. There are very few people in their 20’s interested in jazz of any sort, let alone New Orleans, however good it is. Perhaps once we really understand who our audience is in today’s world, we can more effectively market to them.”

Pete Lay

Pete Lay responded:
“I’m a bit disturbed about Jeff Matthews remarks – maybe Jeff needs to check out the young jazz scenes in Manchester, Leeds and especially the London area, where there is a large jazz following among the Swing Dance crews and the Jivers, with loads of young musicians and bands – one only has to check out Facebook on a daily basis to read about them – that’s their PR centre – Social Media. And in New Orleans and at the Festivals in the USA the average age of musicians and dancers has halved. Check out the Bix Fest, San Diego Fest on You Tube or the French Market Dance Stage at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans – or where their young bands are filling concert halls playing to young jazz fans and dancers. It’s quite exhilarating!! And gives me great hope for the future – for instance: Bombay Club on Conti Street one Saturday in April this year. A young band – average age mid to late 20s/early 30s – playing tunes from the repertoires of the Halfway House Orchestra, The New Orleans Owls, Armand J Piron, Kid Ory … Nope, our music ain’t dying, just being re-invented for a new age group. We have to find them, don’t expect them to look for us ‘old farts’.”

Fred Burnett

At this point Fred’s Jazz North West Series “Doom & Gloom in The Jazz World” is well worth reading.

Exchanging Views
Jeff, Pete and I have exchanged views about this “dilemma” several times in recent years, including extensive discussions here on Jazz&Jazz and on my Facebook Jazzers Group. However, more recently I have steered clear of the debate, preferring instead to feature and publicise as many younger bands and musicians as possible, not just from the UK but from the USA and Europe.

But I consider that in his capacity as moderator of Jazz North West the views expressed by Fred Burnett in “Doom & Gloom in The Jazz World” are very pertinent:

“My thoughts for what they are worth are that if you are hoping to see young people pouring into jazz clubs where my generation sit quietly and listen and give the odd dirty look when someone dares to talk, it ain’t going to happen. When I first went to a jazz club as a teenager, they were all my age, they were all standing, some drinking, some dancing, and some talking. The last thing I wanted to do was join my grandparents at a club listening to a David Whitfield or Mario Lanza sound-alike. I agree with Pete on this one, young people are finding our music, even if it comes under the latest ‘vintage’ craze, or via a Swing/Lindy dancing class. Young people will find the music if they want it, the old saying about leading horses to water comes to mind.” (Fred Burnett, Jazz North West, 18 May, 2017)

Ken Sims

And Yet! Was It Not Ever Thus?
As recently as 22nd May I posted here on Jazz&Jazz:Telling It As It Was: Sharing The Memories of Ken Sims

If you haven’t already done so, read the whole feature, its a revelation! Life as a jazz musician, or indeed jazz fan, isn’t so very much different today. Here are just a few of Ken’s gems:

Cy Laurie Band

• “Cy’s club was in a cellar beneath the Panama Night Club in Great Windmill Street, London. Like The Cavern, there was one stairway for in and out, poor toilet facilities and no ventilation system. The Cavern had a vaulted brick ceiling. If I aimed my horn into it I could make some use of the acoustics. The ceiling was relatively low, as was the stage. When the club was full, it was like playing into a mattress.”

• “To pick up gigs you had to be seen and if possible, heard.
Telephones were thin on the ground back then, so I was a regular at the clubs in and around Soho. Adjacent to, or within an area bounded by, Oxford Street, Regent Street. Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road, there was the Humphrey Lyttelton Club, the Cy Laurie Club, the Ken Colyer ClubThe MarqueeThe Skiffle Cellar and various drinking (rhythm) clubs such as the A&A and the Nucleus Club, where you could get a drink and/or a blow. If I wasn’t there, I had just left or was on the way.

Ken Colyer

Ken Colyer heard of my predicament, probably from Johnny Bastable, and in that soft voice and strange accent of his said, “Weel moan, you’d better come and stagy with me.” … Oh joy, I’d got a rise! My new flat still cost £5 per week so I now had more than £1 per day to spend. We were paid on Thursday. I was broke on Monday.”

• “By 1962, the idealism and sincerity that had fuelled the revival had been diluted by commercialism. Humph escaped into Mainstream, Cy had abandoned his followers and gone to India to commune with his god. Of the big three revivalists who played the clubs, the Guv’nor stood alone.”

“The bulk of our work was still the jazz clubs, but it was becoming harder to fill them and guest stars would be booked to bolster the bill.”

• “The gradual decline in attendance was due, I think, to the natural tendency of our audiences to settle down, marry and raise children – expensive hobbies. Those who left the scene were not replaced in sufficient numbers by the younger generation, most of whom wanted their own heroes and who, in the main, preferred the music of the young R&B singers, such as Stewart, Beck, Jagger and Lennon, etc.”

• “The best paid gigs in these years were the northern working men’s clubs. They were huge, often converted theatres or picture houses. They were packed and open seven nights a week, twice on Sundays.”

“In late 1966 times were hard, and yet I was playing regularly with two good bands. The money wasn’t much, but the jazz was a bit good, at times wonderful.”

Blue Magnolia

• “Later that year I joined the remnants of the Wallasey College of Art Jazz Band, who called themselves the Blue Magnolia Jass Orchestra. I got 7s 6d, the equivalent of 37p, for the first gig …sometimes we got paid more than we drank.”

… and bands, musicians, promoters, clubs, festivals and fans think it’s tough going today?!

Way Behind Sweden!
Norman Gibson wrote in Jazz North West: “Getting back to Pete Lay, I have to say I am very pleased to see his much improved confidence in the young. In the UK we’re at least eight years behind Sweden in particular, Europe and USA…

All is far from lost!
Norman continued: “…but the young here are catching up fast and it’s the dancing which is key. As Editor of Just Jazz and as a jazz promoter, Pete Lay is no doubt keeping a keen eye on our fast developing younger bands.”

Jazz&Jazz Features
search the pages of Jazz&Jazz and you will find many posts featuring younger bands from the UK, USA and Europe. Also, I have been fortunate to film many of them for Jazz&Jazz YouTubes so, beside here on Jazz&Jazz, why not spend a little time delving into my Jazz&Jazz YouTubes Channel.

In fact, lets conclude with a Jazz&Jazz post featuring Jazz&Jazz YouTubes of a youthful American Band with links not only to New Orleans but also to our all time favourite, Louise Armstrong, filmed in the UK last year:
The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys.

Plus just one of the five Jazz&Jazz YouTubes, St James Infirmary

Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz

(Photos & YouTubes © Peter M Butler, Jazz&Jazz)

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  1. tad newton says:

    Younger audiences in the big cities..of course…bound to be. What is needed..a vainglorious hope probably.. is for great UK bands of all genres and ages…jazz is ageless and not ageist surely ,.. to be featured more often and regularly on mainstream radio and TV !!

  2. Peter Butler says:

    … if only! And even then TV and radio are becoming somewhat archaic these days compared with so many online options.

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