Nobody Buys Jazz Records Any More

The Jazz Line reports that “Jazz is officially the least-popular genre in the U.S.” According to Nielsen’s 2014 Year-End Report, jazz album sales have plummeted to only 5.2 million for the full year. This is all jazz recordings, by all artists.

Jazz is also pretty moribund on streaming services, with only 0.3% of music streamed coming from that genre.

The Jazz Line says:

“This is indicative of an aging listenership that is slow to adapt to new technologies. As more and more traditional record stores go out of business, it’s becoming harder for these veteran stalwarts of the genre to access new releases, while the few digital natives that actively listen to jazz are finding it difficult to carry the numbers.”

Yet some would suggest the decline is simply because jazz is boring.

I’m a sort-of jazz fan. I like several artists – Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Theolonious Monk, John Coltrane – but I don’t have the knowledge of the genre to know the names of the B-list musicians, as I do with classical music. I’ve got so much great music to listen to from those artists, that I really don’t have time to explore much more. If I did have a streaming subscription, I might delve into contemporary jazz, but I see so little progress in the genre that it’s good enough for me to stick with the greats.

30 thoughts on “Nobody Buys Jazz Records Any More

  1. That’s pretty sad. You cannot beat good jazz in a small club, but, I gotta have a collection of the greats at my fingertips when I want to listen. Looking forward to seeing Dr. John at the dentonjazzfest.com next month!

    • I agree. But it’s a sign of the times. The small jazz clubs are only in biggish cities. Jazz has gotten stagnant, so there’s not that much today that’s better or more interesting than the classics.

  2. That’s pretty sad. You cannot beat good jazz in a small club, but, I gotta have a collection of the greats at my fingertips when I want to listen. Looking forward to seeing Dr. John at the dentonjazzfest.com next month!

    • I agree. But it’s a sign of the times. The small jazz clubs are only in biggish cities. Jazz has gotten stagnant, so there’s not that much today that’s better or more interesting than the classics.

  3. While jazz is small as a percentage of music streaming, it’s possible, even likely, that more people are listening to more jazz now than ten years ago. Records were always a very low-density medium for distributing music. Even if you doubled the 5.2 million jazz records sold last year, you are probably not looking at more than a few plays per record, listened to by (mostly) a single person at a time. I wouldn’t be surprised if jazz streaming has more person-listening hours every day than comes from discs in a year. The same could be true for any music genre, but it is especially important for sustaining the niche markets.

  4. While jazz is small as a percentage of music streaming, it’s possible, even likely, that more people are listening to more jazz now than ten years ago. Records were always a very low-density medium for distributing music. Even if you doubled the 5.2 million jazz records sold last year, you are probably not looking at more than a few plays per record, listened to by (mostly) a single person at a time. I wouldn’t be surprised if jazz streaming has more person-listening hours every day than comes from discs in a year. The same could be true for any music genre, but it is especially important for sustaining the niche markets.

  5. Allaboutjazz.com is a valuable resource. My friend John Kelman’s reviews are a great resource.
    And if you have not worked your way through Manfred Eicher’s ECM back catalogue, you have missed out on one of the world’s great treasures.

  6. Allaboutjazz.com is a valuable resource. My friend John Kelman’s reviews are a great resource.
    And if you have not worked your way through Manfred Eicher’s ECM back catalogue, you have missed out on one of the world’s great treasures.

  7. I agree with Laurence, the ECM back catalogue is the real jewel of jazz, Manfred Eicher started it because of the lousy quality of jazz recordings in the 60’s and 70’s. Eberhard Weber, Egberto Gismonti, Mark Isham, Reiner Brunighaus, Steve Tibbets, Cordona, Azimuth, Art Lande, besides the heavyweights like Jarrett and Metheny have given me a lifetime of lasting pleasure. I still buy new ECM as I trust him totally. The new album by Marcin Wasileswki trio was amazing – Young jazz musicians beautifully recorded. There is a fascinating film about Eicher http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sounds-Silence-Travels-Manfred-Eicher/dp/B005CA4SFG

      • You simply cannot consider yourself knowledgable about music if you are not deeply familiar with the music on the ECM label. The sheer level of quality and music of importance on this label staggers the mind.

  8. I agree with Laurence, the ECM back catalogue is the real jewel of jazz, Manfred Eicher started it because of the lousy quality of jazz recordings in the 60’s and 70’s. Eberhard Weber, Egberto Gismonti, Mark Isham, Reiner Brunighaus, Steve Tibbets, Cordona, Azimuth, Art Lande, besides the heavyweights like Jarrett and Metheny have given me a lifetime of lasting pleasure. I still buy new ECM as I trust him totally. The new album by Marcin Wasileswki trio was amazing – Young jazz musicians beautifully recorded. There is a fascinating film about Eicher http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sounds-Silence-Travels-Manfred-Eicher/dp/B005CA4SFG

      • You simply cannot consider yourself knowledgable about music if you are not deeply familiar with the music on the ECM label. The sheer level of quality and music of importance on this label staggers the mind.

  9. Tough piece to read. I’m 58, and I’m kind of a mirror image of you, in that I’m mostly jazz and some classical. But like a lot of modern classical music, jazz can be a tough listen, and unlike a lot of modern classical, there’s not even the semblance of a structure to support it.

    One thing that drives me crazy: not being able to buy what I want, when I want, in CD quality (flac or alac, 44.1/16) downloads. I can get some of it, but not all – and I could do without any more shiny discs. That’s one thing classical music has gotten better at, I think; I’m surprised at the number of small labels offering downloads.

    (Let me acknowledge as well I can’t hear the difference between an iTunes track and a flac download. Wanting “CD quality” is a little like wanting a security blanket, and a little for the practical value of being able to transcode without losing anything.)

    s.

  10. Tough piece to read. I’m 58, and I’m kind of a mirror image of you, in that I’m mostly jazz and some classical. But like a lot of modern classical music, jazz can be a tough listen, and unlike a lot of modern classical, there’s not even the semblance of a structure to support it.

    One thing that drives me crazy: not being able to buy what I want, when I want, in CD quality (flac or alac, 44.1/16) downloads. I can get some of it, but not all – and I could do without any more shiny discs. That’s one thing classical music has gotten better at, I think; I’m surprised at the number of small labels offering downloads.

    (Let me acknowledge as well I can’t hear the difference between an iTunes track and a flac download. Wanting “CD quality” is a little like wanting a security blanket, and a little for the practical value of being able to transcode without losing anything.)

    s.

    • Shaun Hutchinson, try Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber’s band ‘Colours’ or, recently, I’ve been liking Mathias Eick a lot.

    • Shaun Hutchinson, try Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber’s band ‘Colours’ or, recently, I’ve been liking Mathias Eick a lot.

  11. Before i picked up the ipad an hour ago, i flipped on the sat tv radio station for classic jazz. When i get in the car tomorrow, i’ll put on the ’40s sat radio station for big bands. Maybe later i’ll play some of the great jazz vinyl i pick up for next to nothing in the used record store. All that is off the radar, but jazz is alive and well in my life.

    Anyone seeking high end jazz downloads should check out acousic sounds, an amazing online store.

    I think what was to be done in jazz was done by 1975 or so, but that is a half century of back catalog. Same with blues, exceptions proving the rule.

    • That seems such a shame. Any jazz I’m most interested in is post 1975. I like where it’s going these days.

  12. Before i picked up the ipad an hour ago, i flipped on the sat tv radio station for classic jazz. When i get in the car tomorrow, i’ll put on the ’40s sat radio station for big bands. Maybe later i’ll play some of the great jazz vinyl i pick up for next to nothing in the used record store. All that is off the radar, but jazz is alive and well in my life.

    Anyone seeking high end jazz downloads should check out acousic sounds, an amazing online store.

    I think what was to be done in jazz was done by 1975 or so, but that is a half century of back catalog. Same with blues, exceptions proving the rule.

    • That seems such a shame. Any jazz I’m most interested in is post 1975. I like where it’s going these days.

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