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The Tools of Engagement: Attracting New Audiences

Band director and educator Dan Bilawsky on how school jazz ensembles can attract new fans and keep them interested

The Edmonds-Woodway High School band (photo by Harper Thomas) at Essentially Ellington competition
The Edmonds-Woodway High School band (photo by Harper Thomas)

If you poll a cross-section of jazz-band directors about what they’re working on at any given moment, you’re almost certain to receive some similar responses. Many will likely cite specific charts, composers and arrangers, noting the levels and styles of music that their ensembles are exploring in preparation for a concert or competition. Others might reference harmonic progressions or scalar concepts—blues-based exercises, “Rhythm” changes, modes, ii-V-I turnarounds—pointing toward grist for the improvisational mill. And another subset may expound on foundational nitty-gritty, discussing technique, tone quality, articulation, rhythmic language and various other matters of prime importance.

Few, however, are likely to note that they’re focusing on jazz outreach, cultivating an audience for the future of the music and building a fan base in the present moment. Don’t misunderstand; these forms of jazz advocacy are taking place out there. But the art of engagement remains an underserved area in need of greater discussion and focus.

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