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Where’s the Black Audience?

Illustration by McDavid Henderson
Illustration: McDavid Henderson

Everyone who’s followed jazz for more than 10 years has witnessed this scenario firsthand. A great musician (Sonny Rollins or McCoy Tyner, for example) comes to town with an equally excellent band for a one-night engagement in a major city’s biggest jazz club. A faithful audience gathers, and what eventually occurs is a great concert given by a mostly African-American band before a largely white audience. It’s a situation that has become so customary it seldom gets questioned, even if the concerts are being given during Black History Month. While critics continue to argue whether white or black artists get preferential treatment in the jazz media, a better question might be, Where’s the black audience for jazz?

Now before the polemicists fire up their word processors, let’s stipulate to a few things, as they say in court. This is not an implicit bid to exclude whites, Latinos, Asians or anyone else who treasures jazz from participating in either playing or appreciating it.

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