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Monday, December 18, 2017

Is Jazz Dying or Just Jazz Media?

I recently came across DownBeat magazine's 2017 Reader's Poll winners.

I've been a jazz fan for many years. When I was younger, I subscribed to DownBeat (and Guitar Player and Modern Drummer and ...). However, I haven't kept up with the jazz world lately so I was surprised at how many of the artists I recognized. Many of these guys (yes, it's mostly guys) were heroes of my youth - and I'm not that young anymore.

I decided to collect data on their ages.

There are 28 unique artists on the list. For groups, I used the group's leader. For duets, I used both people. The average age is 60*. The first quartile is 47, and the third is 75.

There are only three people under 40 and eight under 50. There are 13 over 60 (not counting the lone 60-year-old) and three over 80. These winners definitely trend older.

I'm a big fan of Pat Metheney and it's great that he's still producing at age 63 but he was making waves in the jazz world by the time he was 20 years old.

I agree that Wayne Shorter is an incredible saxophonist but he first appeared in a DownBeat poll at age 29 way back in 1962!

This data raises a couple of possibilities:

  • Is jazz dying? Do these results reflect the demographics of professional jazz musicians? Are talented 20-something musicians attracted to different genres?
  • Or... Do these results reflect the demographics of DownBeat readers? Maybe the voters are the same people who subscribed "back in the day" and they've been voting for the same artists for decades. 
Think about the additional data you would need to figure out which of those is true (of course, they could both be true). 

In the meantime, I'm using Spotify to listen to the 2017 "Jazz Group" winner Snarky Puppy (led by 33-year-old Michael League, the second youngest winner). I'd never heard of them before. They're pretty good. Maybe they'll still be on this list in 40 years.

*You should have asked "which average?". The mean is 60.5 and the median is 59.5. Do you think it was reasonable for me to report "average age is 60"?