The immediate and abrupt halt to a thriving jazz scene filled with audiences in jazz clubs and jazz festivals has been pronounced. For countless jazz artists, jazz clubs, performing arts centers, and jazz festivals the COVID-19 pandemic has meant significant losses both in monetary and artistic value.
People who make up jazz audiences are all wondering if and when can jazz concerts come back. With many asking – when is it safe?
The noticeable shift in the thinking of late has been from containment to that of reopening. That is unless we, unfortunately, may experience a second peak or a second wave if social distancing is relaxed too much.
What we wanted to find out was how people felt about flocking back to live jazz concerts. To find out, we put together a survey to help us get a snapshot of how people currently think about the next 18-24 months. The survey asked people to answer based on what they knew now.
The process used was multiple-choice questions with commenting allowed. Particularly, we wanted to see if thinking changed based on the size of the audience. We also wanted to get a sense of when people believed they may be ready to attend live jazz concerts.
We received 452 responses as a sample size. The respondents were almost evenly split between males (52%) and females (48%). Nearly 60% of responses came from Western New York with the remaining coming from New York City, Toronto metropolitan, Ohio, Michigan, South Atlantic states, and the West Coast areas. Ninety-three percent of the respondents indicated they attended jazz concerts in the past two years.
Let us take a look at what we have learned.
Large jazz concert gatherings of 500 or more.
Thirty-three percent (33%) indicated they were ready to attend jazz concerts of 500 or more people by fall or the end of 2020. Of the 67% indicating 2021 or 2022, the majority (30% of all respondents) indicated April to September 2021 as when they would feel comfortable. Fifteen percent (15%) of all respondents said 2022 and beyond.
Mid-sized jazz concerts from 101-499 people.
Here, we begin to see the effect of reducing the number of people attending. Forty-two percent (42%) indicated they would be ready by the end of 2020. With 27% of all respondents indicating April to September 2021. Twelve percent (12%) of all respondent checked 2022 and beyond.
Small jazz concerts from 51-100 people.
The majority threshold of preference by 2020 or 2021 or beyond happens at this audience size range. Fifty-four percent (54%) of all respondents indicated they would be ready to attend jazz concerts again by the end of 2020. Another 15% indicated in the January-March 2021 timeframe.
Very small jazz concerts from 1-49 people.
Sixty-two percent (62%) of all respondents indicated they would be comfortable attending jazz concerts by the end of 2020 consisting of under 50 people. An additional 12% in the January-March 2021 timeframe.
What we can gather is that the larger the potential audience size, the less comfortable people will be about attending. Something we can naturally surmise. However, when we attempt to peel back layers, we can see that under 100 and especially under 50 appear to be the audience sizes people will be the most comfortable with in terms of attending jazz concerts again.
Next, we wanted to see if audience comfort level is associated with the discovery of a vaccine or the advent of a therapeutic drug. In addition, to gauge audience thinking on mask-wearing and social distancing as related to concert attendance. Respondents were asked to pick the top 2 of these four choices.
The top two were the discovery of a vaccine (62%) and social distancing guidelines (55%). Both represent clear evidence that safety and prevention will matter to their comfort level.
We also wanted to take a quick read on the prevalence of live stream that is growing. Sixty-four percent (64%) indicated they had watched live streaming with 74% indicating they were satisfied or very satisfied with the live streaming they have watched. An apparent tolerance level to obvious poor quality in live streaming. Perhaps an indicator that people are wanting to see and hear jazz even under less than ideal settings.
During the survey, we collected comments. Comments were many as over 300 respondents commented at the end of the survey. A review of the comments revealed three primary groupings:
Many commented on the enjoyment of being with friends, interacting with the musicians, making new friends, talking with others, and a variety of expressions related to socializing.
“Socializing with the musicians and other attendees”
“Being able to meet and greet with my favorite artist right after a session.”
“The live musicians, the crowd vibe, being with friends, meeting up with some by surprise”
“Socializing, atmosphere…the very things under threat now.”
“Dressing up in evening attire, ordering drinks & people watching!”
Live Music Experience:
Respondents are clearly missing the live music experience. And, missing the improvisational nature of jazz. With many lamenting that listening to jazz from a CD, Spotify playlist, or watching a livestream cannot recreate the live experience.
“The live music experience and the musicianship.”
“I miss live music- it’s just not the same listening from home.”
“I have missed the energy of live performance!”
“Sound of live music can’t be duplicated in a virtual setting.”
“The excitement of live jazz improvisation.”
Some of the more interesting comments had to do with a sense of belonging. People identifying with the culture of jazz, which fosters community. A form of tribalism where one belongs to something larger than just the music itself.
“The passion and spirit of the event while experiencing the love of Jazz with kindred souls!”
“Live (in person) music with like-minded people all in the same space sharing the same experience. Camaraderie. Joy. Love.”
“The entire experience, which usually includes lunch or dinner beforehand. My wife and I support live jazz robustly and joyously. For me, it’s an important ‘quality of life’ entity. No other music genre exhibits the level of sophisticated, spontaneous creativity that jazz does.”
“Communing with like minded people.”
“Being with other lovers of jazz. Feeling the groove together live!”
The survey and the comments revealed deeper insights into something that may not get the attention it deserves. While the loss and pain being felt by jazz artists, festivals, and clubs are visibly evident, we cannot overlook the pain felt by the audience.
It is clear in this survey that audiences are feeling a sense of profound loss. Not only missing the excitement of live jazz but also the social and communal aspects of jazz. By the absence of, we are seeing more clearly now that jazz is more than just listening to music. It is is a way of life.
In the end, can we answer the question – when will audiences attend live jazz concerts again?
One thing we know is answering this question today is trying to answer the unknowable. What we can do, however, is make reasonable conclusions:
- The discovery of a vaccine will go a long way towards making people comfortable to attend large gatherings such as live jazz concerts consisting of over 100 and 500 people
- While federal, state, and local governments can edict “reopening” that includes jazz concerts, it will ultimately be decided by people’s comfort level, confidence, and trust
- You can make an extrapolated guess that people are forming a mindset that attending live jazz concerts of over 100 people is not something they are not comfortable to do until at least mid-2021
- While live streaming is deemed satisfactory, the long-term viability for live streaming to fulfill what audiences are truly missing – social interaction and community – appears woefully falling short
- As it has many times before and at different crossroads of history, jazz will be forced to reimagine and renew to meet this moment unlike faced anytime before
What is next? It is unclear and uncharted. We hope this survey offers glimmers of perspectives for all those pondering this question.
What do you think is ahead for the future of live jazz concerts?