Why do we insist on underestimating our audiences?

The idea for the post you are reading was in part instigated by this post by Andrew Durkin about this post by Anthony Dean-Harris, and the procrastination inertia was broken by these two tweets by Lucas Gillan.

To summarize quickly, in case you didn’t read all the stuff I just linked above: Anthony is afraid to play Nels Cline on his radio show, because he thinks it will drive away listeners, and Lucas linked to a video of Christian Scott on Jimmy Kimmel Live and then asked, “I really wonder what the studio audience and viewers at home, most of whom probably don’t even know who Thelonious Monk is, thought of it.”

There are so many places to go with this, but I’ll start with, why do we insist on underestimating our audiences? People like honest music, even if they don’t know it already, or know or understand the history behind it. As one piece of evidence, I offer up this man. It is not at all uncommon for me to talk to people at the Open Ears Series that will tell me that they don’t really know jazz, and just wandered in to the club, but enjoyed what they heard. (NB- Open ears usually programs fairly left of center, and sometimes just downright weird stuff) Audiences sense honesty and react to that. One doesn’t have to know Monk or his music to get into a young man making a passionate musical statement. BTW Scott’s tune on Kimmel wasn’t all that out. It was just a guy wailing over a simple harmonic vamp, while the drummer went nuts. If he played guitar instead of trumpet, we would have called it classic rock.

It is our job as musicians, radio programmers, bloggers, and friends to spread the word about good music. It is not our job as musicians to guess what people want to hear, it is our job to make the music that we hear, and do it honestly. It is not the job of radio hosts to pander to some perceived infantilism in the audience, it is the job of radio hosts to play good music. We don’t need to pander to audiences, or even nurture audiences. Good music will do the nurturing, all we have to do is let people know that they are welcome to come and listen and make of the music what they will. We just have to invite them in. They’re grown ups, they can listen for themselves.

That for which we should all strive

Meet The Jazz Audience: Michael Jones : A Blog Supreme : NPR:

“I’ve never heard anything like it. This is what jazz should be about. No programs—just all heart. I’m so happy that I can’t describe it.”

NPR’s jazz blog has been doing these cool “Meet the Jazz Audience” pieces, and I love this one. The audience member we meet is named Michael Jones, and he is being interviewed during the Powerhouse Sound set at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival. His reaction should be the goal of every performer.