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Using Amazon Echo to Access Jazz on the Internet

Jazz Steps

Jazz Steps Project – Using Amazon Echo to Access Jazz on the Internet

What are your options for exploring jazz via the internet if you are blind?  To what extent do voice-controlled ‘smart speaker’ devices, such as the Amazon Echo, provide a useful aid to blind jazz fans?

These, and related interests, were examined in a recent EMJAZZ-funded Jazz Steps project. Liz Silver, a regular at Jazz Steps gigs who is registered blind, kindly agreed to use an Echo device over several months, noting her experiences along the way.  Recently, we interviewed Liz to capture them in an audio recording – which we aim to share (edited and via transcription) with a wider audience in due course.  Her findings beg further questions which we aim to follow-up.

Liz had no prior experience of using voice-controlled devices like Echo.  It was a journey of discovery, aided in part by a blind friend who uses Echo devices and support from Tim Bullock, Jazz Steps’ ace ‘sound man’ at Bonington gigs.  Katie Butcher, a member of the Jazz Steps committee, ‘shadowed’ Liz by using an Amazon Echo Dot, again as a first-time user.  See photo with (from left to right) Katie – holding the Echo Dot, Liz and Tim:

As a music enthusiast and jazz fan, Liz has CDs and tapes that she has catalogued using ‘Dymo-type’ braille labels she created – albeit that, over time, the adhesive gives out and they annoyingly drop off! 

Liz tried using two music streaming services via the Echo: Amazon Music Unlimited (“unlock 50 million songs”) and Spotify – as well as seeking out jazz via voice queries that led to sources such as You Tube and Wikipedia.  For example, she might ask, “Alexa, play me Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue Album” where ‘Alexa’ is the name that activates the voice assistant.  For comparison, Microsoft has ‘Cortana’ and Apple has ‘Siri’ as their voice assistant names.

Sometimes, Liz found that Alexa would not play a well-known album or track and insisted it did not exist. Whilst it could tell her that The Greeting by McCoy Tyner was produced in 1978, it was adamant that it could not find the track to play!  Another frustration was the seeming difficulty (or inability) to get useful details about CDs such as track listings or names of artists.

Liz was impressed with the quality of the audio on the Echo.  She explored others uses beyond jazz queries, such as asking Alexa for the weather forecast, the time of dusk (useful for knowing when to draw the curtains), today’s news and jokes (defaults to Christmas cracker level apparently!). 

We look forward to bringing you more detailed findings from this informal study and to exploring further questions.  In the meantime, a ‘big thanks’ to Liz and all involved. 

NB: Whilst Jazz Steps made use of Amazon Echo products in this study, in combination with Amazon Music Unlimited and Spotify, there are alternative smart speaker devices and audio streaming services available - and our use in no way endorses any of these. 

To learn more about Smart Speakers try: Techradar review and What HIFI? review


  Application closing date: 30th September 2019

  Carl Billson



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