[Dixielandjazz] Audience etiquette

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Sun Dec 19 11:39:57 PST 2004

Hey, DJMLers--

The audience etiquette piece below came from a jazz fan. It’s related 
to our strand on talking to the audience, but it goes farther in 
proscribing proper ways that audiences should react, specifically, at 
jazz performances.

What’s interesting to me is that most of 10 “rules” apply generally, 
but three (12,3,4) apply especially to virtually modern jazz in clubs 
and concert settings. By the 1950s modern jazz had generated a culture 
of deep listening, with feedback limited to certain kinds of 
behavior—e.g., applause after solos. Miles of course was known to take 
this to the extreme of ignoring the audience.

But traditional jazz and Dixieland bands have historically been part of 
social settings like dances, bars, picnics, and street events where 
items like 1, 3, and 4 didn’t apply. At most dances I’ve played over 
the years with jazz-based combos, audience chatter was a given. A quiet 
room meant that nobody was there, or they weren’t digging the band. The 
party mood enhanced the evening for everyone, especially the musicians.

Yet many OKOM concerts today are treated as solemnly as classical or 
modern jazz events.  I’m thinking that this isn’t necessarily bad,  I 
‘ve enjoyed both noisy and quiet settings as a player and a listener. 
Probably it all depends on the context. As an individual you can listen 
deeply to good jazz of any style in any environment, even if the crowd 
is noisy. But some in some settings it's okay to laugh and talk, while 
others are intended as capital-C Concerts, and it would be unwise to 
start a second line or shout, “Hey, where’s the can?” –Charlie Suhor

Here’s the piece on Jazz Audience Etiquette--

After attending several local jazz shows, I’ve noticed a disturbing 
trend at several of the venues – the audience doesn’t know how to 
participate. The beauty and magic of a jazz concert, whether it be a 
formal event or a bar gig, is the delicate balance of interplay between 
the audience and the musicians. Like a call-and-response march, the 
music being played needs, even demands, feedback from the audience. 
There is no other artistic genre on the planet that forces musicians to 
continually generate new ideas and invites the audience to participate 
with acceptance. I’ve become increasingly aware that the etiquette and 
rapport needed from the audience has been severely lacking. I attribute 
this behavior not to rudeness or disrespect, but to a conditioning of 
countless shows at late night bar bands and big arena rock concerts. 
Not to worry, I’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts when watching a 
jazz band.

1. Do not talk to the musicians while they are performing. Unlike a 
rock song, jazz music consists of a multitude of elements including 
complex chord changes, form, tempo, and feel. On top of all of those 
things, a musician is continually called upon to create new and unique 
ideas and motives based on the particular parameters of the music. 
Let’s save the introductions and greetings for the break.

2. Do not beat on an instrument as you are walking by. This one is for 
percussionists. As appealing as it may be, please refrain from tapping, 
beating, or otherwise pounding on the drums, cymbals or congas as you 
walk by. You may be friends with the band. Good for you. So are most of 
the people in the room. It is not cool to your friends, it doesn’t 
attract girls, and it does not endear you to the audience. Your friends 
will still like you regardless of whether you hit the drums or not.

3. Do not stand directly in front of the band. Yes, I’m talking to you 
with the baseball cap, prepubescent beard, and can of PBR. Move out of 
the way. This is not a Phish concert on a high-rise stage. If you need 
to stand in front of the band, may I suggest Soul Kitchen, Monsoons, or 
the frat house.

4. Be aware of your level of conversation while the band is playing. 
This one is venue specific. In some venues, light conversation is 
perfectly normal. If you are in a restaurant with a jazz band playing 
atmosphere music, I certainly don’t expect you to keep your trap shut 
the entire night. On the other hand, if the restaurant is showcasing an 
artist or group – talk at your own peril. You might be ostracized by 
the crowd, or, in some cases, accosted by the musicians.

5. Clapping is allowed and encouraged. Everyone knows they can clap at 
the end of a song. Throughout a jazz tune, the players will take 
individual turns improvising over the chord changes. It is perfectly 
acceptable to give kudos by clapping after a solo.

6. It is okay to sit with people you don’t know. This is a corollary to 
Item 3. Since you can’t occupy the space in front of the band, it 
should quickly become apparent that seats will become limited. With the 
exception of a few past girlfriends, people aren’t going to bite you. 
In fact, you might actually meet someone interesting.

7. Learn something about jazz. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. 
Compared to pop music, which is produced for the masses that don’t 
really enjoy music, jazz is extremely complex. Learning a little bit 
about form and improvisation will only improve your listening 
experience. For those of you interested in risqué narratives, there are 
enough stories of jazz artists concerning sex, drugs, drinking, and 
death to make Johnny Cash (God rest his soul) blush.

8. It is okay to ask someone what song is playing. I consider myself 
well versed in jazz and I know several dilettantes, connoisseurs, and 
aficionados who have a very strong knowledge of jazz music. Yet, I 
continually encounter a tune that I don’t know or I can’t recall the 
title. You will not be perceived as ignorant - it is okay to ask about 
a tune. Who knows, you may segue into a story about drugs and murder 
(Item #7). Of course, this is all in the context of the venue (Item 

9. Talk to the musicians and tell them what you liked. Positive 
re-enforcement is always good.

10. Support the local music scene. You can’t complain about there not 
being anything to do if you don’t support the current acts. Come to 
shows. Who knows, you might actually meet some new people or hear a 
tune you’ve never heard before. That is, as long as you don’t beat on 
the drums as you are walking by.

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