Feb. 15, 2013
By Christoph Huber

Jazz & Audience

Jazz & Audience

            For the general understanding I want to give you some biographical facts about myself. I grew up in a village called Saalfelden, which is known far beyond the region because of its International Jazzfestival, which has been organized there since the late 1970s. I started to be interested in this kind of music when I was 16 and I soon joined the organizing society called “Jazzclub Saalfelden”. After many visits of festivals and concerts I became a member of the artistic committee at the beginning of the 1990s. Besides the Festival this society has also organized one or two concerts per month during the year, smaller clubfestivals and a couple of symposiums. After my graduation I went to Vienna, where together with Gabriela Mazic and the musicians Mathias Rüegg and Renald Deppe I co-founded the “Jazz & Musicclub Porgy & Bess” in the fall of 1993. The idea was to establish a modern, contemporary jazzclub with a pluralistic program with concerts in the center of this city every day. Since this time we have organized approximately 5000 concerts and approximately 900.000 people visited the concerts.


In those nearly 25 years that I've been engaged now in organizing and promoting jazz concerts, my work hasn't only involved musicians, politicians and cultural officials, but also a lot with this smaller or sometimes larger, mostly unknown and partly critical mass, called the audience. And the audience has changed in the last quarter century. Many of these changes are subjective observations, because there are not a lot of scientific works in this field, but most of them can be explained quite logically.


As a student of the University of Vienna I did an analysis of the audience at the Jazzfestival Saalfelden in the year 1991. The primary goal of this analysis was to answer the question, if this audience can be defined in significantly different groups in terms of personal preferences for special musical styles. A further aspect, which is quite similar to the group-developments, was the question about the audience's knowledge of Jazz in general and the mentioned musical categories in particular. The 8 categories were experimental music, free jazz, free improvisation, jazz rock, fusion, tradition, avantgarde and neo bebop. Besides other points the questionnaire also evaluated demographic facts, such as sex, age, profession, average income etc.


The empirical analysis has shown that you can differentiate between 5 groups of festival-goers:


1.) The Purists. This smallest group of less than 10% is interested in experimental music, free improvisation, avant-garde and free jazz. All traditional forms of jazz get negative ratings.

2.) The Allround Jazz Fan: Festival-goers of this group of about 15% come to the same positive judgements as the purists, but they also like styles such as jazzrock or fusion and have a strong preference for Neobebop

3.) The Traditionalists: The third group, accounting for 17% of the audience, doesn’t like experimental music, free jazz and free improvisation, but has a liking for tradition and jazz rock, and a neutral opinion of fusion, neobebop and avant-garde.

4.) The Neutrals: A plurality of more than 50% are neutral on all different styles. There are neither negative nor positive ratings of any style.

5.) The Negatives: This group is the strangest: A little more than 12% of the audience give any style a negative rating (except taking a neutral position on jazz rock). These persons are obviously accompanying other people to the festival, but they themselves are not interested in the music.


As you can imagine, these results were rather disappointing, because only 25% of the audience came to the Jazzfestival because of the program. 2/3 came for reasons like the eventcharacter of this festival. They enjoy the atmosphere, they want to see big names and so on. A couple of demographic parameters: 20% of the audience was female. The average age was a little bit under 30 years, the three largest occupational groups were employees, students and self-employed people. Approximately 22% of the audience came from foreign countries.


As I mentioned before, this statistic describes the audience of the year 1991. I also mentioned that I have shifted my attention and my interest away from a three-day festival that takes place once a year towards a club that has live music seven days a week . Consequently, my working-environment changed from provincial to urban structures. I know you might counter by saying that the audience of a festival in the countryside cannot be compared with the audience of a jazzclub in the city. This might be true, but I’m pretty sure that the basic structures such as education-level… are quite the same.


What has changed? To answer this question let's briefly review the history of jazz festivals in Austria.


The Austrian jazz festival scene emerged in the middle or at the end of the 70s and it is very interesting that all those initiatives appeared in the countryside. Friedrich Gulda put together his groundbreaking Festival in Ossiach in Carinthia, Hans Falb organized his Konfrontationen in Nickelsdorf at the border to Hungary, Alois Fischer established his Kaleidophon in Ulrichsberg near the Czech border and Franz Bogner, the veteran of the Austrian festival scene, still organizes Jazz festivals in a small village with 2500 inhabitants called Wiesen. The Jazzfestival Vienna was held the 1st time in 1991, the Jazzherbst in Salzburg started 5 years later.


The social sentiment in the 70s was predominantly one of skepticism with many resentments towards black people and towards new developments coming from America. The inhabitants of those villages saw in the audiences of jazzfestivals representatives of the Woodstock-Generation, work-shy and with drug problems . And the audience seemed to enjoy this opinion, because the protest movement of 1968 didn’t leave a lot of impressions in Austria. To be part of the jazz community was probably one of the last possibilities to protest against the establishment.


Three decades later the situation is quite different. The cultural and social relevance of jazz has increased continuously. In Austria, for example, we now have the 2nd president who declares that he is a jazz fan. The image of jazz has changed, and the audience as well. To enjoy Jazz has nothing to do with individual protest against the establishment, but much more with the expression of intellectual tolerance of advanced musical forms, with a kind of chic factor. With the label “jazz” you can nowadays sell cars, perfumes and even underwear, although jazz is still a minority phenomenon with positive attributes like creative, independent, intellectual – but it is still associated with a bit of wickedness as well.


The situation of Jazz outside of Austria was quite different. In France for instance Jazz musicians were immediately part of the intellectual circles, as can be seen by the example of Miles and Jean Paul Sartre. In Austria it was mainly the classical pianist Friedrich Gulda, who loved Jazz and who played jazz tunes in-between pieces by Mozart or Beethoven in different classical halls, which the audience didn’t like at all. But it was Gulda, who brought Jazz to classical places and who drew attention to this music. Many great jazz musicians left Austria in the 50s, like Hans Koller or Joe Zawinul, who succeeded in Germany and the States. For the musicians who stayed in Austria it was quite hard to survive. Perhaps the most popular was the clarinet player Fatty George, who run a legendary club called “Fattys Saloon” and who finally failed because of bureaucratic reasons.. Another important figure is the trombone player Erich Kleinschuster, who founded the Big Band of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF). But also this Big Band didn’t survive very long.

So Austria was not a good place for Jazz for quite a long time!


The situation now is much better. There are many festivals, which are at least partly supported by the public hand. In Vienna for example you have three relevant Jazz clubs in the center of the city. The audience today is very open-minded. The 5 groups I spoke about are not really existing any more and actually I have to say that there is no jazz-audience in a closer sense. Someone who is interested in Jazz is also interested in contemporary art or theater or dance. Someone who is interested in Jazz is not exclusively interested in this music. That brings me of course to the definition what Jazz is. Well I cannot define it clearly as many people before couldn't, too. For me personally Jazz is much more an attitude or a concept of living than a style. Jazz is not an exotic thing, or something special, nothing revolutionary – Jazz is part of the every day culture, and I think, that’s very good. And also the Jazz audience is not a revolutionary or a reactionary one – it is simply a very “normal” one. A short time ago a book was published with notices of the legendary Baroness de Koenigswater, who loved Jazz and Jazz musicians and who asked them to tell her the three wishes they wanted to come true. I didn't count, but I would say that after the wish to have a lot of money the most frequent answer was, that jazz should be accepted the same way as classical music. This is not fulfilled yet, but the direction is right. And that’s also why the Jazz audience is not so different from the classical audience any more.


The great American Impressario Norman Grantz, who was perhaps the most influentual none-musician in Jazz history, brought Jazz into philharmonic halls. It is to his credit that the Jazz club is part of the classical Concert business and that Jazz recruits its audience out of this reservoir. Quite a normal development, I think, which has something to do with better education and with the development of the society, which also reflects the development of Jazz music.


Before I finish I think it is important to state, that when I say “normal” audience, I mean that the establishment is nowadays also interested in Jazz, but that the Jazzaudience is somehow still a special one, because it is not possible to label them, except of one thing that the great german trombone player Albert Mangelsdorff meant when he said, that no Jazzmusician is politically right orientated. I’m pretty sure that this is also the case with the Jazzaudience.


Christoph Huber, Mai 2008