Thinky, Drinky and Slinky: the 3 kinds of jazz.

There has been a very interesting study released recently that indicates precisely what kind of people make up the Jazz audience. It's called the “Jazz Audience Initiative” and it's a study that has collected information from 19 different Jazz organizations throughout the US. These national research partners included Jazz St. Louis, Jazz At Lincoln Center., San Francisco Jazz, Chicago Department of cultural affairs and a consortium of 13 University jazz presenters with ticket buyers.

Looking through the key findings of the Jazz Audience Initiative study it becomes very apparent that what we might have thought a jazz audience was comprised of is not actually the case. Most surprisingly only 14% of a jazz audience is comprised of jazz musicians. Only 14%!? That was shocking!

Another group of the jazz audience is a group identified as “jazz omnivores”. These are essentially jazz fans who are not necessarily musicians but primarily listen to and support jazz music. The combined total of jazz's audience in terms of musicians and jazz omnivores only equals 31% of the total audience. That means 69% of jazz's audience is comprised of who?

It turns out that the remaining 69% might best be described as dabblers. This 69% of the jazz audience may have a mainstream music such as Michael Buble, Diana Krall or Rod Stewart in their music collection but have virtually no understanding of iconic jazz artists or new and up-and-coming jazz artists such as Miles Davis or Emilie Claire-Barlow. So it appears that the 69% dabblers are consuming jazz for different reasons than the jazz musicians and jazz omnivores. Jazz musicians/omnivores may be consuming jazz as part of their intellectual, professional or educational pursuits while the dabblers are probably utilizing jazz as an experience.

Thinking about this fact has brought me to come up with a simple check system that can help the 69% understand jazz better.

There are 3 kinds of jazz:

1. Thinky jazz

This jazz may be challenging to listen to. It may be incredibly clever and difficult to play as well. It has all the hallmarks of ingenuity, dexterity, complexity and virtuosity but may not appeal to an audience outside of jazz musicians or jazz omnivores. In a concert setting, Thinky jazz will required the audience to listen and limit  conversation so that the musicians on stage or on the recording can showcase their extraordinary abilities.

2. Drinky jazz

Drinky jazz is fun/toetapping jazz. It has a celebratory tone to it. Drinky jazz is music that you might associate to nightclubs, martinis, laughter and conversation. It's fun to have this kind of music as part of a party or a night out on the town. This kind of jazz may be the type of experience most dabblers would look for when seeking out a jazz experience.

3. Slinky jazz

Slinky jazz is subdued/quiet jazz. This is the kind of jazzy you may listen to as a part of a quiet dinner party, romantic evening or with candlelight and champagne. Slinky jazz is music that might be associated with background music.

This handy checklist may help the audience understand what kind of jazz they might expect in any live jazz situation.

 The goal of this checklist is to help different audiences understand more about jazz. Jazz musicians and jazz omnivores may be primarily interested in Thinky jazz while the remaining 69% of the jazz audience might be more inclined to take in Drinky jazz and/or Slinky jazz. This is only a theory but I'm certainly willing to bet that the jazz audience is going to better understand what their in store for if this checklist is put into practice.  Go ahead and make up some checklists of your own with these 3 categories and post them at your next gig. The audience will act accordingly.

Above all, the jazz audience needs to grow. Jazz musicians and supporters of jazz need to understand that audience development is the number one priority for the survival of jazz. Without growing the jazz audience it will become increasingly difficult to celebrate or resuscitate this incredible music. There is a lot of joy in the jazz. We just have to embrace the fact that we have to help the rest of the world love it as much as we do.

It should be noted however that jazz artists and jazz omnivores should be wary about criticizing the 69% dabblers. Being critical of a large percentage of the jazz audience may be deterring growth in the jazz audience.  Jazz has the answer to its own predicament... in other words, jazz can solve its own problems.  But how?

Simple. Have it both ways.

Maybe Duke Ellington said it best when he said, “Jazz is music, swing is business.”  The great thing about jazz musicians is that they can do it all. They can play extraordinary and challenging jazz that they enjoy immensely yet they are also extremely well-equipped to perform on a regular basis for the 69% dabblers… if there egos could just get out of their way.

Now... let's see if this checklist idea works. Check out the video below after the checklist:


Tim Tamashiro