Much good chatter continues on the web about "the audience problem", or whatever you want to call it. See Darcy's recent post and the comments, prompted by Ben Ratliff's review of Zorn and Taylor at Lincoln Center.
One problem, it seems to me, is that there is an urge among many "jazz" musicians to be pulling in two directions at once. On one hand, we want the grants, institutions and funding that comes with "highbrow" culture, since on some level we know that our ambition for our music most often can or will not be supported by the marketplace. On the other hand, we play a music that, moreso than most "art" musics, has been tied intimately with pop culture from the get go, and indeed WAS the pop music for periods of its history. So we want Taylor Ho Bynum and Charlie Kohlhase and Jane Ira Bloom getting grants, but we want to be at the pop clubs opening for Tortoise and Arcade Fire too.
I'm not sure it's really a problem, and I certainly don't think that the two goals are mutually exclusive, but I hear both conversations tied together, and I think untangling them is useful.
When Roscoe Mitchell came to Boston he talked some about how the AACM started in Chicago. Two things struck me: 1. he made it sound fairly organic. Muhal Richard Abrams had a rehearsal large ensmemble, and groups started to grow out of that larger group. They shared common interests and common needs, and eventually started to put on concerts, etc. It was very much a bottom up enterprise, which of course later did win grants, make records, etc.
2. It started very specific to Chicago, as did the BAG (St. Louis) and other groups of that type. Thirty years later the Jazz Composers' Collective, coming from a very different esthetic, did the same thing in New York, with some real success. But again, there was a specificity of time and place.
This point is so obvious that often we miss it. You can't approach the audience in a suburban/ex-urban landscape of, say, Jacksonville or Rochester the same way you approach a hipster hot spot like Brooklyn or Berkeley. The venue in Albequerque that Doug Ramsey sites recently in his blog is a lot easier to get off the ground someplace where real estate prices are reasonable. In Boston, owning a space, even a fifty or seventy seat space, is a seven-figure investment just to secure space.
My point, if there is one, is that I don't see a "movement" coming the way many of us pine for one. Rather, if success is going to come, it's going to come one small organization, one concert series at a time. Hopefully, the web can serve as a center of communication, a display case for best practices, and a library for old and new musical ideas, but by itself it can't fuel the movement.
This conversation is more than theoretical for all of us, obviously. I look at the particular problems of the Boston scene. There is a local jazz blog, Brilliant Corners blog, that spills many words, not always coherent, about problems and bright spots of the Boston scene. I don't share his antipathy for the schools, but they do eat an overwhelming amount of the attention (Berklee) and artistic activity (NEC) that other artists want to (and deserve to) see.
I'm at a point where I'm thinking of ways to contribute beyond simply playing- I don't intend to move back to New York, and simply teaching isn't enough. My enduring feeling is that we badly need more venues, and more accessible venues. I love the Lily Pad, but Inman Square is a pain to get to, and I don't want to deal with pay for play forever. And I agree completely with Darcy that the best way to get a young audience is to show them that the music is very much alive, not a museum piece. I'm starting to kick around ideas, business plans, etc- advice and encouragement is appreciated. More soon.