[Dixielandjazz] Dixieland--Who's Our Audience?

Dan Augustine ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Wed Apr 9 09:22:01 PDT 2003

    Now that i'm occasionally playing in a dixieland band (pizza parlors, coffee houses, street fairs, restaurants, etc.), and also that i've recently been to a couple of dixieland festivals, i'm starting to wonder again, "Who's our audience?"  I mean, what kind of group of people am i playing for?
    I can't cop out and say, "Anybody who likes us."  That begs the question.
    The reason i want to know is that knowing the kind of folks i'm playing for will (i hope) enable me to play more of what they like, and to target more of the same kind of people and increase the attendance at our gigs.  Good stuff to know.
    Looking around the audience when i'm playing, i see no single identifiable group of people (so far).  But at festivals, i see mainly older folks (ahem, like me and older).  (Of course, i'm not talking about the Big Time locales like they have back East, but yokels in the hinterlands of Texas who don't know anything.)
    At the coffee houses and pizza places, the audience is mainly people aged from their 20's through (say) 30's.  In the restaurants, the age span is a little older (say, 20's through 50's)(generally speaking).  They usually don't know any of the tunes we play (At the Jazz Band Ball, Ja-Da, Ballin' the Jack, even Muskrat Ramble), but they seem to enjoy them (i mean, how can you tell they enjoy them, just from the applause?).  They don't usually clap after each solo, or seem to have any reactions during the solos.
    At the festivals, the audience is aged (usually) from their 40's through their 70's.  They seem to know (and say they know) most of the pieces the bands play, sometimes even the obscure ones.  They clap after each solo (most of the time), tap their feet or hands (ON the beat), and sometimes even utter hortatory expressions (like "Yeah!", but not "Go man, go!") during the solos.
    Neither type of audience seems to exhibit the kind of reactions that other dixieland musicians do when listening to bands: tapping their feet or hands OFF the beat, nodding their heads up and down or side to side, watching the soloists intently, shaking their heads when a soloist does something technically difficult or stylistically interesting (quoting another song, or playing a particularly nice phrase).  (A lot of musicians don't bother clapping after each solo, and i'm wondering how many of us care whether they do or not.)
    So.  What i'm wondering about (inter alia) is this: a) selection of songs, b) number and excellence of solos.  For coffee houses and restaurants, should we even expect people to know the songs we play, or to care about the solos we take?  Most of them don't seem to know when someone plays a nice solo, and maybe they can't even hear them, what with so much ambient noise and talking going on.  At concerts and festivals, people seem to be a lot more knowledgeable, but even then not many of them seem to be impressed when a soloist plays something incredible that would leave a musician shaking his head in awe.
    So who are we really playing for anyway?  Ourselves?  If we played more songs the audiences know, would that increase the sizes of the audience and/or their pleasure at hearing us?  I know a lot depends on the nature and experience of the audience, how much of this style of music they're heard before (and liked), plus advertising, venues, etc.  I can't do anything about a lot of that, but i could perhaps play more tunes they know (if i could figure out what they know, yes), and make them shorter or longer or more danceable.
    What do y'all think?

** Dan Augustine - ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu             **
** Office of Admissions, University of Texas; Austin, Texas **

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