The New Jazz Age: Etiquette for Jazz Performances

Emily Thompson

Even for those who frequent concerts, going to a jazz show for the first time can feel like a completely different experience. "There's a lot of spontaneity in the genre in general," says Kimberlee Goodman, orchestra and production manager for Jazz Arts Group. "It's a little bit more of a laid-back atmosphere. There's audience participation." We chatted with musicians Goodman and Lou Fischer, jazz studies area coordinator at Capital University, to get tips on how to be an active audience member.

Take note of the setting. "If it's a formal concert in a theater and in seats, people are dressed up, I think things are a little bit more subject to etiquette control," Fischer says. "But if you're in a nightclub setting, and everyone's standing around and having a drink, it'll be more laid-back." That goes for tips, too. "When people make requests [at a night club], it's very appropriate to tip," he says.

Clap when you like what you hear. "With jazz, when a person takes an improvisational solo, you acknowledge that person by clapping and sometimes by shouting," Goodman says. "At the end of the entire piece, that's the time to applaud for the tune itself," Fischer adds.

Read the room. "I really think you get a lot of cues from other audience members," Goodman says. "The only time [audience participation] could be inappropriate is during a slow or soft mood, like if you're shouting in the middle of a slow ballad." Fischer says the musician will let the audience know how much participation he or she wants. "Some will love it," he says. "Some will hoot and holler back at you. And some will be totally distracted by it. So you kind of have to feel it out."

Just have fun. "You can participate as little as tapping your toes or nodding your head, or you can be one of the crazy fools who gets up and dances around," Goodman says. "You should feel comfortable." Says Fischer, "If you approach whatever concert you go to with an open mind, you can generally be entertained."