Audience Interaction

The audience's role in improvised music performance is very special because of how responsive improvisation is of its environment. When improvising musicians have a positive reaction, it is tempting for them to reproduce that music again later, which can lead to a deterioration of the music (Bailey 1980:60).


Jazz is a genre that is performed in a variety of venues. It can be performed anywhere from Carnegie Hall to smaller venues, like jazz clubs, and even on the streets of big cities like Chicago and New York. And in those varying venues are varying ways in which the audience interacts with the music. In larger, more formal venues audience interaction is fairly limited; in fact, the only way that audiences interact with interacts with the performers is my clapping at the end of the piece, and perhaps by clapping at the end of each solo. This tradition of clapping only after the piece is done comes directly from classical music, and was only applied to jazz once jazz began being performed in larger concert venues that also play host to classical music. One such example is this video of the Bill Evans trio playing Waltz for Debby. A counter example to this video, is this video of Corey Henry, a virtuoso jazz pianist and organist who is on the scene today. Notice how the audience is actively participating in the drama of what Henry is playing by being vocal in their approval of what he is playing and by getting up out of their seats and crowding around him.


Indian Classical music differs from much of non-Western musical traditions mostly in the light of audience interaction. Although the audience may clap during performances or vocalize their appreciation for the musicians on stage (somewhat similar to jazz), the essence of the performance of the raga is very personal and unique to each performer. This stems back to the training and practice that an musician goes through – each raga is a small statement of progress and expression that is unique to each performer. Therefore, in any environment or of any audience, the music will always be consistent.


Though Flamenco music already has many structural aspects in place, it allows room for improvisation based off of the audience. The audience for flamenco guitarists play a noticeable role in the musical choices made. “If the audience is composed of students or observers not familiar with flamenco, the musician may choose to demonstrate only the basic character of the song form. However, if the audience is more knowledgeable and shows a sophisticated appreciation, the musician may be willing to, through more extensive and elaborate falsetas, reveal the deeper aspects of the art” (Wheeler 54). Based off of the type of audience, the musician may determine what piece to play, what falsetas to use, how to arrange the falsetas, and how to respond to the feedback they give during the performance.


Like many kinds of improvised music, there is a “dynamic relationship” between the audience and the performer. When someone in the audience specifically likes a part of the music, “he might call out any of a number of cliched words or phrases with which to show his appreciation”. There are often wild cheers of approval that can encourage the soloist (Marcus 1992).

Free Improvisation

The audience plays an interesting role in the world of free improvisation, in that, for the most part, there isn't much of an audience. The general discordance of free improvisation alienates many, and merely being an attentive listener constitutes a sincere gesture of patronage. Gavin Bryars reflected on the audience of Derek Bailey and his first forays into free improvisation, regarding them with surprised appreciation and humility. “There was a social aspect to the activity and there was some sort of respect - a recognition of our seriousness. It was certainly quite different from most other jazz clubs in the area. I think one reason that the audience stuck with us was that the music did have a powerful dramatic quality. There was a sense of expectancy, things did change and resolve, and so it had a kind of drama” (Bailey 1980:107).

Further, in his essay Hidden Principles of Improvisation, Jacques Coursil asserts that the less cliched improvised music is, the more united the audience and musicians become: “in improvised music, the player hears and discovers the sounds he is playing at the same time as any listener (he is one of them and not in front of them). Unless he plays cliches, he does not have a head start on neither the forms nor the notes he plays; he is, as everybody around him, a listener. The synchronous point constitutes a primary feature of socialization, as it brings together all the participants in a single “intuition of the instant,” as Bachelard has written” (Zorn 2008: 61).“