Jazz (and really all music) should be an interactive experience. The exchange of emotions between the audience and ensemble is crucial to any performance. Some performers will engage their audiences verbally with jokes or bits of comedy as a way of drawing them in. In my 11 years with Clark Terry there was always an element of theatre. Funny stories about our repertoire, little comic routines and gags (I was usually the straight man). Dizzy and James Moody also connected with the audience with a comic element to a degree. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Tommy Flanagan would talk to the audience very quietly about his music; the origin, reason behind, and purpose of the song. So there are quiet, more serious ways to connect verbally with your audience as a means of drawing them in and helping them to connect to your music.
People need to feel something. Ideally in my mind they should feel. Joy, exuberance, exhilaration though certainly it could be other emotions as well. Sad, beautiful, intense, shocking. The connection can be direct, as in a rapt audience singularly focused and roaring in approval at its conclusion or more indirect where the audience is bubbling with energy and the band is contributing sub-consciously. However it happens its essential. As an audience member I remember hearing Etta Jones with Houston Person. The music was so exhilarating my face was sore from smiling and I was charged up for a week afterward. I wasn’t the only one. That’s why they stayed working. I remember hearing Sphere with Ben Riley, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, and Gary Bartz. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts. The music was larger than just the soloist or even the band. It’s collective energy encompassed the entire audience. A moving, almost meditative experience. As a performer I have had this experience from the musician’s side as well and it is what I am searching for every time I perform. When you make others feel good then you feel good. You don’t change your music to appease them; you make it honest and real and experience it with them.
So whether you are listening to a jazz performance or performing in one this is what you are looking for. Its not easy and as drummer Leroy Williams once enlightened me “You can’t make it happen, you have to let it happen.” It took me a minute to fully realize what he meant but never have truer words been spoken.