After many years touring in the US, playing traditional jazz festivals, cruises and what have you, there’s an unavoidable truth that we’ll have to address sooner or later. One that may affect the future of our community: our audiences are old. This in itself is not a bad thing of course, but with no systemic changes in place, it’s a possibility that in a number of years we trad musicians will have no audience to play for. And so the question that often gets passed around at these festivals:
Our audience is ageing. How do we get young people to come to our event?
As a public service to the jazz community; I’ve done a lot of thinking about this one, and I think I’ve come up with some solutions to help get that elusive millennial generation to your next jazz festival.
Traditional jazz isn’t particularly the music of young people. Why? It’s simple. Jazz music is great, and young people are idiots. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was an idiot when I was young. The hours of my life I wasted writhing around on some nightclub dance floor when I could have been hanging out with you fine folks and hearing some great jazz… but alas, in the words of another great old bugger GB Shaw: youth is wasted on the young.
Now, we could wait till these youngsters mature and be drawn to music with a little more depth (one can argue that jazz and classical music are better suited to mature ears), but I say let’s hook ’em in now!
So here’s the bottom line—young people just don’t want to come and hang out with a bunch of old people (don’t take it personally… did you, when you were that age?)
And here’s my solution: we trick them. We make you, our older audience, younger. I’m suggesting that festivals offer, with every jazz ticket sold, a free change of clothes in the latest fashion, and a free facelift. Let’s get rid of those wrinkles, so when a young person sees photos on social media they don’t see a lot of old people—they see some fellow young hipsters.
Now I know some festivals may be on a budget, so instead of actual facelift surgery; a couple of clothespins pegging back that saggy skin behind the ears will stretch the face back, and achieve the same results at a fraction of the price. Okay, sure, you might look like Joan Rivers on a rollercoaster, but with the right Instagram filter you’ll look like a Hollywood celebrity, and if it gets young bums on seats, it’s worth it.
Next, you’ll need to do a TikTok video. (If you think tik tok is something a clock does, ask your grandkids for help with this one.) Like I said, young people are idiots. And as such, they have the attention span of a goldfish. Good news is, TikTok videos only need to be 5-10 seconds long to go viral. (If you think being viral is a bad thing, once again ask those grandkids for help.)
So set up that phone camera, put on a jazz tune, and dance like a moron for five seconds. (If you can find a way to point your ass at the camera while you’re looking into the lens—bonus points.) Put the video online, and watch it go viral. Your next festival is sure to be packed full of our hip youth!
So with a few of these simple steps, and with a little luck, your next jazz festival will be packed full of young millennials, all taking selfies and posting their Instagram stories; and you will look out into the audience at a sea of cellphones all blinking away, and a sea of young heads all looking down into their laps, lost in their phones as they edit their selfies, ignoring the music and all that’s happening around them…
… actually, on second thought, maybe things are fine just the way they are.
Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.