Jazz needs more... fun.

Michael Kaeshammer knows his audienceMichael Kaeshammer is an artist that has a lot of fun during his shows. The audience has fun too. His approach is a win/win for both him and the audience and that earns him an induction into The Fun Jazz Society. It’s the very first induction ever. Congratulations sir! Medals are being made. Wheeeee!

So what’s Michael Kaeshammer’s secret? How does he have so much fun with his audiences while many other jazzers bore their audiences to death?

My wife and I went to a Michael Kaeshammer concert this week. Even though I work in jazz and try to expose her to different music she wasn’t familiar with Michael Kaeshammer. So I had her listen to a few tracks before the concert and assured her that she would be impressed and thoroughly entertained.

At the end of the night (and several times throughout the night) my wife told me how impressed she was. She had fun.


Nancy Duarte is the author of a new book called Resonate. It’s a book about presenting visual stories that transform audiences.

In her book, Duarte introduces the idea of a “sparkline”. It’s a visual interpretation of the journey an audience will go on when they are part of a transforming presentation like a music show.

Michael Kaeshammer’s performance was more than just a music performance. It was a shining example of Fun Jazz. Fun Jazz entertains, educates, informs, includes and inspires audiences. It’s an experience that you want to have over and over again. Fun Jazz is both technically brilliant and a spectacle to watch and listen to. It’s like taking a Ferrari for a drive through winding mountain highways and then going for a gourmet meal. It excites all of your senses.

Most importantly, Fun Jazz is equally rewarding for both the band AND the audience.

“The audience is part of the band”, Kaeshammer said at his show. He explained that the energy coming to the stage was just as important as the energy coming off of the stage. “But if you’re clapping along with the band, please clap in time”, Michael joked.


The Kaeshammer / audience journey is one of contrasts. The show isn’t just about Michael. It’s a show about many different approaches surrounding a central issue. The issue is boogie woogie piano and who doesn’t love boogie woogie piano?

Here’s how the night rolled out chronologically (the effect on the audience is noted in parenthesis):

  1. GREETING. Michael warmly greets the audience (Hey, Michael is a regular guy. He’s nice. I like that)
  2. DELIVER WHAT THEY WANT FIRST. Michael starts the show with a dynamic boogie woogie number. (Now THAT’S what I came for. He so good! How does he do that? I’m excited)
  3. AUTHENTIC. Michael addresses the audience and tells us that we are part of the band. (It’s clear that Michael appreciates me. He wants me to be a part of the show. He’s genuine about it too.)
  4. GENEROSITY. Michael introduces each member of the band on stage and invites the horn section to the front of the stage to jam. They don’t know what song it will be but they know they’ll figure it out. That’s what jazzers do. (Well this is interesting. I wonder how everyone will do. WOW! Everyone on stage is incredible! They are really giving us a show. I appreciate that.)
  5. REALNESS. Michael talks about growing up and the effect his dad had on his piano playing. (Yes, I grew up too and had my own experiences with my parents. Michael is just like me. Look how far he has come. I’m inspired.)
  6. TEACHING OPPORTUNITY / EXAMPLE. Michael teaches the audience about what a “cutting session” is. It’s where musicians try to out play each other in an improvised performance. He introduces drummer Mark McLean and they engage in a real cutting session. (Oh, that’s fun. Both of them are really good! I don’t know who is better. They are really shining. This is a really cool thing to experience. I’m having fun.)
  7. GLIDE. Michael and the band are taking us in for a landing with a few more great songs. (I’m savoring this)
  8. FINALE (JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT). The show comes to an end with the finale. Michael and the whole band encourage the audience to clap along for this song. It’s a big finish. (The show is over already? I was having so much fun. I’m going to give the band a standing ovation.)
  9. STANDING OVATION. The show is over. (I want just one more. I’m going to keep clapping for an encore.)
  10. ENCORE. Michael returns to the stage with touring partner Jill Barber. They perform a sweet version of Moon River. (That was the cherry on top of the sundae. I’m so satisfied. What a great night.)

As you can see, Fun Jazz isn’t an exercise in “me, me, me.” The audience didn’t simply see a performance that night. They were part of the story. The night wasn’t a typical “I play / you listen” scenario like we so often see in jazz. It was a night of “we play together”... like you would see in a friendship.

Jazz has an identity crisis.

In Resonate, Nancy Duarte says that “The enemy of persuasion is obscurity.” It’s not the audiences job to tune to the musicians. It’s the musicians job to tune to the audience. The biggest problem is that all jazz has been lumped into one single category. “Jazz” can mean anything and it’s become a monolithic catch all phrase to it’s own detriment.

Jazz is not a self-centered art but it has a reputation for being one. Somewhere along the line (around 1939) jazz went from being the peoples music to being the musicians music. It’s slowly been strangling itself ever since in a delusional practice where the musician is often perceived to be more important than the audience. Interestingly, the biggest perpetrators of this mindset are often the musicians themselves. Yet they wonder why jazz is struggling.

I challenge jazz musicians to change their approach. Entertain, educate, inform, include and inspire your audiences. That is the turn around. As Nancy Duarte says, “You are not the hero who will save the audience; the audience is your hero.”

Fun Jazz: A New Category

More than anything, Fun Jazz is a new way to help the audience understand that if they want a fun jazz experience, then they should just look for a Fun Jazz event.

Go ahead and use Fun Jazz as a phrase. Set up a Fun Jazz event. Sell tickets under the following premise:

“Dress up, grab your funnest friends and come out for a night of FUN JAZZ. Bring a cab. Dress code is ‘snazzy drunk’. Talk, laugh, drink and eat. Have a great time wrapped in jazz that lifts you to laughter. Sing, snap or clap along if you’re so inspired. Brought to you by The Fun Jazz Society.”

Like Michael Kaeshammer, your audience will walk out of your event feeling like they are changed. They like jazz; especially Fun Jazz where they are included.

Tim Tamashiro