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Median Ages for "High Art" ConcertgoersTerry Teachout Column in Wall Street Journal


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 09:39 AM

In today's Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout discusses the decline in popularity of jazz. As part of his discussion, he includes the following stats regarding the median ages for "high art" concertgoers:

Ballet (46 in 2008/37 in 1982) (Note: I don't know if this includes modern dance.)
Classical music (49 in 2008/40 in 1982)
Jazz (46 in 2008/29 in 1982)
Nonmusical plays (47 in 2008/39 in 1982)
Opera (48 in 2008/43 in 1982)

(Information courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts' Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.)

Make of it what you will . . .

#2 dirac

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 12:59 PM

Here's a link to the article.

http://online.wsj.co...3103850572.html

These numbers indicate that the audience for jazz in America is both aging and shrinking at an alarming rate. What I find no less revealing, though, is that the median age of the jazz audience is now comparable to the ages for attendees of live performances of classical music (49 in 2008 vs. 40 in 1982), opera (48 in 2008 vs. 43 in 1982), nonmusical plays (47 in 2008 vs. 39 in 1982) and ballet (46 in 2008 vs. 37 in 1982). In 1982, by contrast, jazz fans were much younger than their high-culture counterparts.

What does this tell us? I suspect it means, among other things, that the average American now sees jazz as a form of high art. Nor should this come as a surprise to anyone, since most of the jazz musicians that I know feel pretty much the same way. They regard themselves as artists, not entertainers, masters of a musical language that is comparable in seriousness to classical music—and just as off-putting to pop-loving listeners who have no more use for Wynton Marsalis than they do for Felix Mendelssohn.


I don't know that the 'average American' sees or hears jazz as much of anything nowadays. He probably hears more classical music than jazz, I'd bet. I'm not sure what these stats alone tell us, if anything.

I like jazz well enough although I'm no great fan, but my impression is that the music began fading in mass popularity beginning with the rise of bebop. The Jazz at Lincoln Center series symbolizes the pretensions described by Teachout, and I leave it to more committed fans to ask if they benefit the music much.

#3 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 02:14 PM

In today's Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout discusses the decline in popularity of jazz. As part of his discussion, he includes the following stats regarding the median ages for "high art" concertgoers:

Ballet (46 in 2008/37 in 1982) (Note: I don't know if this includes modern dance.)
Classical music (49 in 2008/40 in 1982)
Jazz (46 in 2008/29 in 1982)
Nonmusical plays (47 in 2008/39 in 1982)
Opera (48 in 2008/43 in 1982)

(Information courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts' Survey of Public Participation in the Arts.)

Make of it what you will . . .


I wonder if the median age for all Americans is the same or different now than it was in 1982. It could be that median age of the concert-going audience is increasing simply because the baby boom generation -- a proportionately larger age cohort than, say, GenX-- is aging.

#4 miliosr

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 04:11 PM

I like jazz well enough although I'm no great fan, but my impression is that the music began fading in mass popularity beginning with the rise of bebop.


Agreed. With bebop, jazz decoupled itself from dance/party music and went off to live in its own esoteric art world. And rock 'n' roll was waiting in the wings to fill the gap.

#5 kfw

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 05:15 PM

I like jazz well enough although I'm no great fan, but my impression is that the music began fading in mass popularity beginning with the rise of bebop.


Agreed. With bebop, jazz decoupled itself from dance/party music and went off to live in its own esoteric art world. And rock 'n' roll was waiting in the wings to fill the gap.

I'm not sure beauty and excitement are so esoteric. :) I thought a lot of rock 'n roll fans eventually expanded their tastes to encompass jazz, eventually coming to prefer it. I know I did. Don't know why that's not happening so much anymore.

#6 volcanohunter

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 05:33 PM

I thought a lot of rock 'n roll fans eventually expanded their tastes to encompass jazz, eventually coming to prefer it. I know I did. Don't know why that's not happening so much anymore.

I wonder whether jazz and rock 'n roll have enough in common to make that expansion a natural progression. Mind you, I do know of cases where love for Jimi Hendrix expanded into a love for loud Baroque organ music, which eventually expanded into a love for Baroque music in general. This strikes me as a logical enough progression (not unlike the metal heads I remember shopping for Paganini CDs a couple of decades back). I certainly don't mean to suggest that most rock fans will eventually come to prefer classical music! I suspect you're the marvellous exception, kfw.

#7 kfw

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 06:13 PM

Er, thanks for the kind words, volcanohunter. To me it's natural to move from great blue rock improvisation like that practiced by Hendrix, Clapton, and Allman into jazz, so much of which is founded on the blues, and is also improvisatory.

Mind you, I do know of cases where love for Jimi Hendrix expanded into a love for loud Baroque organ music, which eventually expanded into a love for Baroque music in general.


I love it. The anecdote, that is. Baroque organ is for me one of the last frontiers. :)

#8 sidwich

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 07:19 PM

I wonder if the median age for all Americans is the same or different now than it was in 1982. It could be that median age of the concert-going audience is increasing simply because the baby boom generation -- a proportionately larger age cohort than, say, GenX-- is aging.


I think this is a large part of it. Although this chart only goes up to 1994, you can see the impact the boomers make on the U.S. median age over time as they age:

U.S. Median Age statistics

In addition to living longer, though, the senior population is also staying in good health longer and many of them are also in better financial condition than previous generations. They are better able to continue the activities they enjoy (such as concert-going) than their parents, and that definitely drags the median age of audiences up.

#9 volcanohunter

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 09:16 PM

It may be helpful to look at the report itself.

highlights: http://arts.endow.go...PA-brochure.pdf
participation tables: http://www.arts.gov/...SPPA/trends.pdf

I haven't read the whole thing carefully, but the following quote stands out.

From 2002 to 2008, however, 45-54-year-olds--historically a large component of arts audiences--showed the steepest declines in attendance for most arts events.

The decline of college-educated adults attending ballet is also pretty striking, apparently down 43% since 1982.

But try this on for size.

Number of adults attending ballet or other dance in 2008: 15.8 million
Number of adults attending opera in 2008: 4.8 million

Percentage of U.S. adults viewing (or listening) to dance broadcasts (or recordings) in 2008: 8.0%
Percentage of U.S. adults viewing or listening to opera broadcasts or recordings in 2008: 4.9%

Don't get me wrong now; I'm an opera nut. Furthermore, I realize that these stats are probably skewed by Nutcrackers and "So You Think You Can Dance." But given these statistics, why is opera being fed into cinemas live while ballet isn't? Why do PBS opera broadcasts outnumber PBS ballet broadcasts by a significant margin?

#10 Quiggin

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Posted 08 August 2009 - 10:02 PM

I like jazz well enough although I'm no great fan, but my impression is that the music began fading in mass popularity beginning with the rise of bebop


But beboop was when jazz became great, with Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker (with Miles Davis), and early Thelonius Monk. "Ruby My Dear", "Caroina Moon," "April in Paris" are wonderfully danceable.

For me it's after John Coltrane ("My Favorite Things"), when jazz no longer was based on popular songs, Rogers & Hart and Cole Porter, etc--playing every note except the one you were supposed to play--that it became less interesting. Eric Dolphy is probably the end of that road, though Cecil Taylor still plays...

Jazz no longer comments on the world from the standpoint of an astute outsider, which was its old role--it's now part of Lincoln Center and Whole Foods.

#11 kfw

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Posted 09 August 2009 - 04:39 AM

I like jazz well enough although I'm no great fan, but my impression is that the music began fading in mass popularity beginning with the rise of bebop


But beboop was when jazz became great, with Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker (with Miles Davis), and early Thelonius Monk. "Ruby My Dear", "Caroina Moon," "April in Paris" are wonderfully danceable.

For me it's after John Coltrane ("My Favorite Things"), when jazz no longer was based on popular songs, Rogers & Hart and Cole Porter, etc--playing every note except the one you were supposed to play--that it became less interesting. Eric Dolphy is probably the end of that road, though Cecil Taylor still plays...

Jazz has gone in many directions, of course, but overall it's not lacking in melody and doesn't neglect popular song (ot at least the standards of its heyday).

Jazz no longer comments on the world from the standpoint of an astute outsider, which was its old role--it's now part of Lincoln Center and Whole Foods.

Whole Foods, Starbucks, college radio . . . and it hardly lacks for exciting younger players. All the more ironic, then, that its audience is greying.

#12 Old Fashioned

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 09:17 AM

For me it's after John Coltrane ("My Favorite Things"), when jazz no longer was based on popular songs, Rogers & Hart and Cole Porter, etc--playing every note except the one you were supposed to play--that it became less interesting...Jazz no longer comments on the world from the standpoint of an astute outsider, which was its old role--it's now part of Lincoln Center and Whole Foods.


Isn't that a bit contradictory? The jazz you find at Lincoln Center and Whole Foods is usually insipid renditions of standards and that's what most jazz novices are drawn to. Will people be more willing to listen to jazz as social commentary? It certainly can be more interesting, but not necessary what's going to drive the masses to listen. I could try to explain the significance of a recording like Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite, but people in my age group, if they choose to even listen to "jazz," will still rather listen to Diana Krall or Michael Buble (he is to jazz what Josh Groban is to opera). By the way, I find the music of today's jazz musicians very danceable, including but not limited to Roy Hargrove, Joe Locke, Christian McBride, etc...much more so than the lounge-y stuff you get from Krall and Buble. If people choose to perceive attending a jazz club as an esoteric experience, then it will be. Otherwise, if the music moves you, please get up and dance the next time you find yourself in one...

#13 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 09:48 AM

I wonder if the median age for all Americans is the same or different now than it was in 1982. It could be that median age of the concert-going audience is increasing simply because the baby boom generation -- a proportionately larger age cohort than, say, GenX-- is aging.


I think this is a large part of it. Although this chart only goes up to 1994, you can see the impact the boomers make on the U.S. median age over time as they age:

U.S. Median Age statistics

In addition to living longer, though, the senior population is also staying in good health longer and many of them are also in better financial condition than previous generations. They are better able to continue the activities they enjoy (such as concert-going) than their parents, and that definitely drags the median age of audiences up.


I did a little digging, and here's what I found:

US Median age 1982: 30.5
US Median age 2007: 36.7

If it seems as if there are more older folks around, it's because there are more older folks around -- and, as Sidwich points out, they're generally richer and healthier than they were earlier in the 20th century, too.

Re jazz: its metamorphosis into art music seems nearly complete to me -- many of its practitioners now have music degrees from conservatories or four year colleges.

(Comparative median age stats don't seem to be as readily available for the full 1982-2008 period as they should be, by the way. I don't mind my tax dollars funding the Census Bureau, but I wish they'd buy a more easily searchable data base.)

#14 volcanohunter

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 10:26 AM

I did a little digging, and here's what I found:

US Median age 1982: 30.5
US Median age 2007: 36.7

If it seems as if there are more older folks around, it's because there are more older folks around -- and, as Sidwich points out, they're generally richer and healthier than they were earlier in the 20th century, too.

The NEA survey uses median adult age as its reference point since the survey measures adult participation in the arts. In 1982 the median adult age was 39; in 2008 it was 45.

As miliosr already pointed out, in 1982 the average jazz concert-goer (aged 29) was 10 years younger than the average adult (39), 8 years younger than the average ballet-goer (37), 11 years younger than the average classical music attendee (40) and 14 years younger than the average opera-goer (43).

In 2008 the average jazz concert-goer (46) was one year older than the average adult (45), the same age as the average ballet-goer (46), 3 years younger than the average classical concert attendee (49) and 2 years younger than the average opera-goer (48).

So while the population is getting older in general, jazz fans are "aging" at a disproportionate rate.

(Page 5 of the highlights: http://arts.endow.go...PA-brochure.pdf)

The statistics show that jazz has experienced the greatest shrinkage in audiences aged 18 to 24 between 1982 and 2008, with a decrease of 58.3%, as opposed to 37.3% for classical music, 40% for opera, 12.7% for musicals, 23.4% for dramatic theater, and 35.9% for ballet.

But jazz does seem to have kept its core audience from 1982, because its audiences older than age 45 have increased significantly, whereas in classical music and opera they've shrunk across the board. It's worth noting that ballet audiences from the dance boom days seem to have stuck around also, because while they've shrunk in every other age category, ballet-goers between the ages of 65 and 74 have increased by 43.3% over a 26-year period. (For some reason, the NEA deems this rise to be "statistically insignificant.")

http://www.arts.gov/...SPPA/trends.pdf

I don't doubt that older adults are richer and healthier than they were a century ago, but between 2002 and 2008 the survey found drops in participation among the recently retired in most areas, which the NEA puts down partly to rising fuel costs.

#15 Quiggin

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Posted 10 August 2009 - 02:45 PM

Thanks, Old Fashioned, I’ve listened to Roy Hargrove, Joe Locke, Christian McBride, online--and I'll try to listen more of them--and I went to hear Josh Redman in San Francisco at Herbst Hall in a “Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Revisited” concert a year or two ago. This music is different than generic Lincoln Center/Columbus Circle jazz. But it seems like a whole different sort of music than the pre-1959 stuff--it’s more technically brilliant and shimmering, with complicated feathering out and long mail-coats of intricate notes, at least that’s how I visualize it. What I miss from the earlier stuff is the stance and the sarcasm and wit; a whole different way of musically being in the world.

When John Coltrane comes in the room on his first phrase, it’s as if nothing existed before, his footing in so assured, it’s in the perfect “wrong” place, somewhat the manner of--if I don’t romanticize too much--Suzanne Farrell or Allegra Kent.

The old school jazz was made in a time when artists were still outsiders--and art was outside and a bit threatening to the normal--which is impossible today. There is no "wrong place" available anymore.


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