While it was brought to life by the creativity of African-Americans, today’s jazz audience has fewer blacks than ever before.

According to a new study from the Jazz Audience Initiative, no more than 20% of jazz audiences are people of color. The study found that the people buying tickets to jazz shows are more homogenous now than in years past. Here are just a few of the study’s findings:

  • Demographically, jazz ticket buyers across the 19 communities are middle-aged, predominantly male, and very well educated. On average, only 17% are under age 45, and 80% are white.
  • The research reveals three underlying dimensions of musical preference: 1) Fusion – a combination of youth‐leaning cross‐genre artists like John Zorn and Jamiroquai; 2) Standards and Masters – artists that in many ways represent the “canon” of jazz masters (e.g., Charlie Parker, Stan Getz); and 3) Pop Crossover – artists that have, over time, grown to appeal to a broad mainstream and pop‐based audience (e.g., B.B. King).
  • Respondents revealed strong associations with values around new artists and cultural diversity ‐ ‘discovering new artists and new works of art;’ and ‘learning about a broad range of cultures around the world.’ This was especially true for younger buyers.

In one interesting note, JAI pointed out that the audience usually is a reflection of the act on stage:

Preferences for specific jazz artists vary significantly by age and ethnicity. However, preferences for specific artists are clearly influenced by the programming choices made by the study partners. Overall, results point to the pivotal role that jazz curators (i.e., programming directors) play in evolving preferences and tastes. The more knowledgeable jazz buyers become, the more live jazz they want to hear. Ultimately, the audience is a reflection of what’s on stage, which is not to diminish the influence of price, venue and other factors on the audience.

The study really got me thinking about recent experiences I have had visiting jazz clubs around New York City and going to concert events with Jazz headliners. Seeing Esperanza Spalding with an old graying professor, it was striking to see how much of the audience looked like him as opposed to me- even though young black listeners were embracing the Best New Artist Grammy winner enthusiastically. Still listeners are different from ticket buyers and depending on the venue and market, audiences can vary dramatically as pointed out by Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR:

The core of the study is a random survey of jazz ticket buyers distributed through six large jazz presenters and 13 university-based jazz presenters, accounting for 19 cities throughout the U.S. This is significant: It means audiences surveyed were largely attending concerts put on by big arts institutions (Jazz at Lincoln Center, SFJazz, Monterey Jazz Festival, etc.) rather than small-to-medium-sized venues, or other relatively off-the-grid jazz shows. That also means there was only data from the most conspicuous of New York venues, and no representation from the large jazz community in Southern California.

What do you think about the JAI’s findings- are you surprised or not at all? Are you an avid jazz listener? A frequent ticket buyer? How do you discover new acts? How do you decide which shows to see? Weigh in Clutchettes and gents!

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