Fine Wine and the Future of Jazz
Jazz fans are different from mainstream music fans. We all know this. But while watching the movie Sideways, it struck me that jazz fans and wine lovers have something in common: they're both connoisseurs. Many wine lovers don't care for Merlot because it has no terribly distinct or exciting flavorsthe same way that many jazz fans feel about pop music, Kenny G, or what is currently being referred to as "smooth jazz.
Some common ground
As connoisseurs, both wine lovers and jazz fans have similarities. For example, both appreciate workmanship and artistry. They understand that many of the qualities they value can't be mass produced. It takes some individual attention, time, knowledge, and creativity in order to produce a fine wine or jazz piece.
Furthermore, these connoisseurs tend to have sensitive palates that are alert to subtleties. In fact, if you look at the terms used to describe either fine wine or jazz, you'll notice a few similarities. Words such as "texture, "body, "warmth, "flat/sharp, "color, and "harsh have been used to describe both jazz and wine. This is because connoisseurs are sensitive to differences that the average person may overlook. There are a number of styles within jazz, just as there are different varieties of noble grapes used for wine making. Each of these has its own distinct characteristics that help to define it. A true jazz fan knows the difference between Coleman and Coltrane the way that a wine lover can tell a Cabernet from a Pinot Noir without looking at any labels. Those with the most wine expertise may even be able to tell you the vineyard or region simply by tasting the wine. However, to the average individual the music would simply sound like a saxophone or the wine would simply look red. A connoisseur has intimate knowledge of what makes each variety unique.
A note for musicians
For those of you reading this who hope to make it in the jazz industry someday there is a lesson here: jazz fans are some of the most sophisticated of music fans. I won't lie to you: jazz venues can have some of the most difficult audiences. But these events can also have the greatest of audienceswhen you give them what they're looking to hear. Jazz fans appreciate and prefer complexity. These music connoisseurs also enjoy creativity, originality, expression, and feeling. Yes, your audience wants to know how you interpret the music and how you feel because emotion is a big part of what gives jazz flavor. Playing simplified rhythms and repetitive phrases is likely to leave your audience unfulfilledso put a little more into your music or look for a pop venue. Jazz fans want substance, not ear candy.
A lesson for all of us
Looking at the jazz industry by comparing it to a business outside of music has a few advantages. While not all the elements are equivalent, the fact that these are both niche markets has some insights for all of us. A lot of discussion has taken place surrounding whether or not pop music has squeezed jazz out of the market and into possible oblivion. If you look at the wine industry you can see that fine wine production still exists, even though table wine continues to outsell these more sophisticated wines. People will always be thirsty, but some of these people are connoisseurs. While boxed wines or Kenny G may generate incredible revenue, there will always be those consumers who want more. These are the people for whom jazz artists continue to make music: the connoisseurs.