Where Were The Young People At Your Last Concert?

My rant about Terry Teachout's article is over. You should read it. But you should do this too:

So all day long yesterday, I had this "young jazz audience" thing on my mind. (The Teachout commentary also came on the heels of this Peter Hum thought about the same subject, which ran on Friday.) The NEA Stats in question, for your reference.

It's clear to me that after a day of hanging out with WBGO's Josh Jackson, I don't (or can't) get out on the scene enough to see vital shows night after night (and that the combination of listening to records and monitoring the blogosphere isn't an effective substitute for doing so). So I'm asking for more anecdotal evidence: is the situation really that damning? Where were the young people in the crowd at your last concert? Do write in.

For my part, I saw a lot more young people than I thought I would in the crowd at Newport on Saturday. The ticket prices for George Wein's CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 are $69 per day, or $125 for the weekend. It's more if you want a seat, and not just a plot of land to squat on, at the main stage. (To be fair I'm told there's some sort of steep last-minute discount in town, but that doesn't do much for people making long-term vacation plans.) Few young people I know would pay that much for a jazz festival — even my jazz friends. But some were there. This is where they were:

—In the North Carolina Central University Big Band and Combo. Ironically, jazz higher education isn't going anywhere, even as general-purpose music education disappears from schools.

—At the Vijay Iyer Trio show, digging on rich, imaginative, dense renditions of West Side Story's "Somewhere," Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." and Ronnie Foster's "Mystic Brew" (the sample from A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation"). No "Galang" unfortunately.

—At the Christian McBride show, appreciating deep, soulful swing.

—Working. Ok, this doesn't really count, but a lot teens or young folks who I presume are local or summertime residents were staff in various capacities that put them in proximity to hearing music.

—At the Esperanza Spalding show, being amazed at an artist with a sunny disposition and serious crossover promotion but actual talent to back it up. The woman is herself part of that young crowd — she's 24 — and at least for me, I root especially hard for her because she's of my generation.

—Watching Brian Blade's precision bullwhip of a drum attack as he sat in with Joshua Redman's double trio. The young people were also suckered into rooting for Redman's kinda greasy stage presence, but the jaded youth overlooked that for the two-drum action.

—Watching the Vandermark 5. My goodness: I didn't think I'd ever see Chicago free jazz at Newport. (More on that act in a later post.) But this band, one of Ken Vandermark's most approachable, brought distorted, punk-ish backbeats as an anchor. Some younger folks didn't appreciate it, but there were a lot of heads nodding. Including an old lady standing next to me.

—Cheering on saxophone heroes like Branford Marsalis and Miguel Zenon.

—At the utterly packed Hiromi show, rocking out to her virtuosic, high energy synthesizer runs; her reverb-drenched electric band; her extended prog-rock arrangements; her admittedly endearing smile. One man's cheesiness is another's haute cuisine; to-may-to, to-mah-to. The audience ate it up, and it was fairly young.

—Which is strange because they all should theoretically have been at the Mos Def show. I have word from Josh Jackson that this band had clearly rehearsed since its last show, which was kind of a disaster. In any event, Mos was mostly rapping to a live band, which included a six-piece, African American, all-female string section and was arranged by pianist Robert Glasper. The overall age of the Newport crowd may have tampered with audience reception a bit — it might have been a little more active had more people been familiar with/into his hip-hop act, or his surprisingly pleasing new record — but young people were into it. At times, I certainly was.

I realize I haven't said much about how many of the young people there were, and I certainly I don't have exact figures or ages; I saw teenagers, collegiate types and twenty-somethings making up between roughly 5 to 20% of the crowd at each of the shows I attended. They were a minority audience, to be sure. But the fact that they were there at all, and often the ones cheering loudest, gave me some hope. I mean, this is my first big jazz festival, and I actually like this stuff for a living now.

On a Sunday which promises Berklee students, Brian Blade's own band, Steven Bernstein and The Bad Plus, there will be more youth out in the crowd. Stay tuned.

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