Saturday, September 15, 2007

Audience Participation Necessary?

There was a talker again last night. Oh, nothing irritates me more!!!

I was at Dizzy's with Sara checking out Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, part of the Diet Coke Women in Jazz Festival. We both have friends in the group and felt compelled to support our "sisters in jazz." And I have actually never heard the band before and was curious.

I was quite pleased with the set. The band swung hard and I enjoyed hearing Carmen Bradford sing her heart out. Janelle Reichman is a saxophonist you need to get to know. She was covering Anat Cohen's tenor chair and played her ass off on a Benny Goodman clarinet tune (wish I could remember the name). I also cheered loudly for Nadje Noordhuis's beautiful flugelhorn feature, Deborah Weisz's plunger enhanced trombone solo, Erica vonKleist's short but sassy alto solo, as well as Sharel Cassidy's alto feature.

I was very happy this band did not suck, as it seems to be one of the primary representations of female jazzers right now. But aside from genuinely enjoying the music, I was once again struck by the audience.

My first observation was that it seemed the band was more at ease than the audience. It was a full house, but a very polite house. The band started their first tune hooting and hollering for each other. The girls laughed, smiled, cheered during each other's solos. They behaved as you would expect any rowdy swinging big band to act.

The audience clapped and cheered at the expected moments, but that was it. Overall, they seemed a bit unsure. At one point Sherrie actually instructed the audience that it was okay to cheer whenever they heard something they liked. At another point, the man sitting next to me turned to me and said, "You sure are supportive." Why? Because I was cheering?


I don't think people know how to listen to jazz. And when I say people, I mean civilians. Non-jazzers. Non-musicians, really. I always wonder who the people are at these shows and why they are there. Are they mothers and fathers and friends of the musicians? Are they people that actually enjoy jazz and don't mind dropping $30 for the cover and another $10 for food/beverage? Or are they the dreaded self proclaimed "intellects" who still equate jazz with sophistication and are hoping to appear hip when at the water cooler Monday morning they relay their weekend hanging at Dizzy's?

Surely the men at the opposite end of the bar where the latter. They were the men that would not shut up. Really, how rude can you be?

I know this is not a new issue, the appreciation an audience gives jazz. I'm glad it's not just other jazz musicians in the audience. But I wish they would loosen up and try actually listening to what they are hearing. Not that I expect a "yeah, man" after every interesting statement a soloist makes. This was after all a big band and the audience most likely related to the overall sound of the band rather than the intricacies of the soloing.

But it did make me consider the different ways people listen and show appreciation for what they are hearing. I know I myself am not gonna be that listener that shouts out in the middle of solos when I hear something I like. But I am definitely a head-bobber. And a smiler. If there's a good groove my body is moving and if I like what I hear I am smiling like an idiot. Then there are people like my friend John, who sit there frozen and stone faced, but enjoying themselves nonetheless, usually ready with a complex analysis of the solo. There are also people like my other friend Doug, who back in college used to get so excited he would bust out into girlish giggles and hide his face in a pillow in attempts to contain his excitement over a Cannonball Adderley blues lick.

I believe music is a communication and that involves audience participation of a sort. Maybe Sherrie has the right idea in educating the audience in when to cheer. I know I spend a good part of every class I teach making my kids participate in "Active Listening" which includes appropriate concert behavior and a very basic analysis of what they hear. How else do we expect these audiences, specifically those new to the music, to know how to listen and that its okay, even better, to be an openly appreciative audience?


stereophonicjt said...

You kind of expect crappy audiences in G-ville, NC and Greeley,CO, but you wouldn't think that you should need to do audience outreach in NYC.-----

Stonefaced? Really?

D0nnaTr0y said...

Yes, John.

You are a bit of a stonefacer. But not because you are not listening!

It's okay, I do enough head-bobbing for the both of us ;)

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from a tourist trap like Dizzy's? Come on, you are going to have wake up a little. The location at Columbus Circle is going to guarantee that you are in the middle of the "corporate zone" no matter what you may think. Jazz at Lincoln Center is still Music done corporate style. Wynton is or was CBS classic's marketing wonder. Getting someone who could play classical to get take the classical music lovers over to jazz. that is where it started from. To Wynton's credit, he knows the game and is playing it to the advantage of jazz; but, Dizzy's is just a corporate style joint and NO they don't know how to listen. I know the gig pays better than most (i hope; but, this is the reality of playing a room like that. I used to play in a big band and did you think people sat there and totally focused on the music? Heck no, they were there to dance and socialize. To these people you are an appetizer on the plate of life.

Live with it. What I used to like to do is listen to the noises in the room and add a response to them in my solo. that let's them know that you are tuning them in.

make it a dialogue that way.

Bird lives...

Anonymous said...

another note, telling an audience that they are not good, doing something that demeans the audience is a good way to never get hired by that establishment again. Clubs can get really steamed about that. Be careful how you pull that stunt.

Bird lives....