This article seeks to understand how audience members at a live jazz event react to one another, to the listening venue, and to the performance. It considers the extent to which being an audience member is a social experience, as well as a personal and musical one, and investigates the distinctive qualities of listening to live jazz in a range of venues.
The research draws on evidence from nearly 800 jazz listeners, surveyed at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and in The Spin jazz club, Oxford. Questionnaires, diaries and interviews were used to understand the experiences of listening for a wide range of audience members, and were analysed using NVivo.
The findings illustrate how listening to live jazz has a strongly social element, whereby listeners derive pleasure from attending with others or meeting like‐minded enthusiasts in the audience, and welcome opportunities for conversation and relaxation within venues that help to facilitate this. Within this social context, live listening is for some audience members an intense, sometimes draining experience; while for others it offers a source of relaxation and absorption, through the opportunity to focus on good playing and preferred repertoire. Live listening is therefore both an individual and a social act, with unpredictable risks and pleasures attached to both elements, and varying between listeners, venues and occasions.
There is potential for this research to be replicated in a wider range of jazz venues, and for these findings to be compared with audiences of other music genres, particularly pop and classical, where differences in expectations and behaviour will be evident.
The authors demonstrate how existing audience members are a vast source of knowledge about how a live jazz gig works, and how the appeal of such events could be nurtured amongst potential new audiences. They show the value of qualitative investigations of audience experience, and of the process of research and reflection in itself can be a source of audience development and engagement.
This paper makes a contribution to the literature on audience engagement, both through the substantial sample size and through the consideration of individual and social experiences of listening. It will have value to researchers in music psychology, arts marketing and related disciplines, as well as being a useful source of information and strategy for arts promoters.
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