[JPL] Savannah speaks out on Jazz/ Fun local debate

jassav at comcast.net jassav at comcast.net
Fri Oct 5 12:05:41 EDT 2007

SEPTEMBER 26, 2007 
Charleston City Paper's new arts editor debuts  

Goodbye to All That Jazz: The Savannah Jazz Festival is this week, but this new arts editor has had enough


The Yellowjackets are the smoothest aspect of the Savannah Jazz Fest  www.savannahjazzfestival.org 

The first time I interviewed one of the organizers of the Savannah Jazz Festival, I was told to shut up and listen — you write what I tell you to write, son. 
I was looking into why the city's most respected jazz musician, bassist Ben Tucker, had not been invited to perform at the festival with a group called the Hall of Fame All-Stars, a band assembled in honor by the Coastal Jazz Association, which organizes the free annual event. 
Tucker is one of those studio legends who once played with everybody, people like Benny Goodman, Shirley Horn, and Johnny Mathis. With James Moody (the saxman sideman for Dizzy Gillespie) and Ben Riley (Thelonious Monk's brilliant longtime drummer), Tucker is Savannah's most famous jazz export. His "Comin' Home, Baby" was re-recorded recently by popular jazz singer Michael Buble. 
Back to being told to shut up: I don't like being told to shut up. It irritates me. But this was merely among the first hard news stories I would write as the arts reporter for the Savannah Morning News. I was only beginning to experience the profound levels of irritation that were to characterize my tenure in Savannah. It was with this in mind that I decided to accept an offer to become the new arts editor of the Charleston City Paper. Charleston has always been Savannah's big sister. And it takes art seriously. 
But I digress: Since 2002, the arts have been my beat in Savannah. During that time, I witnessed all manner of marketing hype, organizational disorder, provincial thinking, bombastic arrogance, and thin-skinned insanity. 
Conversely, I witnessed the rise of the city's three major arts institutions to national recognition: the Savannah Music Festival, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and the Telfair Museum of Art, all of which raised the local arts bar while raising Savannah's profile as a city that loves the arts. 
What's hidden beneath the city's 18th-century Anglophilic facade, however, is a maddening hash of cosmopolitan aesthetes, philanthropic potentates, grass-roots rubes, amateur thespians, and eccentric dilettantes, as well as serious professionals and brilliant innovators whose work is often mired in an abundance of mediocrity. 
You could say Savannah's arts scene divides into two camps. 
One contains the new people who have identified a business or artistic opportunity and who have brought with them a entire rubric of sensibility, taste, and knowledge from the cold wasteland to the north. Namely, Yankees. 
The other includes people who've been doing art the same way for 30 goddamn years. They expect garlands and accolades. They don't like new folks coming in who do what they do better. Some of them accept change, some step aside. Others don't and they are (sad as it is to say) green with envy. 
Remember the guy who told me to shut up? Guess which camp he's in? 
It turns out Ben Tucker was ostracized because this guy, who books all the festival acts, took Tucker's success and professional bearing personally. He is an All-Star, but nowhere near as accomplished. After a petty dispute between them, Tucker found himself ousted from a group led by a semi-talented amateur. 
All of this was made public on the front page of the Morning News. No one questioned my reporting, but some months later I received a copy of the newsletter written by the then-president of the Coastal Jazz Association. It contained Profound Irritation No. 2 of this epic saga — my front-page report, the author railed, was chock full of errors, falsehoods, omissions, and outright lies. 
Adding to my irritation was an attitude among organizers that the City of Savannah was obligated to pay for the jazz festival despire mediocre quality (to be fair, the Yellowjackets are headlining the 2007 festival, a positive sign). The Savannah Jazz Festival, the thinking went, was the Sacred Cow. As such, it was not accustomed to being scrutinized, a fact visible in the paperwork festival organizers have to submit annually to the city in order to get public money. 
Just before last year's festival, I painstakingly pored over these public documents to discover what must be the most glaring overstatement I've seen as an arts reporter: estimates for the number of people attending the free outdoor festival included the number of hits on the organization's website. 
This is not just incompetence, though it surely is that. There is also a financial incentive for inflating crowd numbers: the more people who go to an event, the cheaper it is per person for the city to fund; and the cheaper it is, the more likely you are to get a big fat check courtesy of Savannah taxpayers. 
Remember, the jazz fest is Savannah's Sacred Cow: it never gets scrutinized. Well, this time it did, and this time no one called me a liar. But if that's what it takes to get a quality jazz festival, I don't need it. I'd rather head for Charleston, where art is taken seriously and (maybe) I won't be told to shut up. 
John Stoehr is a cultural critic and, effective Oct. 17, the new arts editor for the Charleston City Paper. 

Post a Comment 33 comments posted for this article 
Fibes, Savannah  9/26/2007 - 11:28am 

   When I heard that John was leaving The Savannah Morning News for The City Paper my response was: Awesome! It was an atypical reaction from me and those who know me know full well I do not excite easily. The realization that we will no longer have to read (or ignore) his whiney, starstruck, vapid missives almost put me into a state of shock. There's no need to go into detail, you will all know soon enough and rest assured he will leave your fair city just as he left ours; bitter, mis-informed and with a trail of local artists ignored during his tenure because John needed to speak to a marginal national artist to pad his resume. 
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jazzjames, James Island  9/26/2007 - 12:34pm 

   Maybe the author should have reflected on how grinding an axe in his very first column in a public paper would make him look to his new constituancy of readers. I think "Whiney" is appropriate term. This is Charleston...Maybe you should have left your "investigative journalism" about being offended in Savannah as your last column at your old job. Or maybe your audience there didn't care any more than I do? To me you just sound bitter...Why don't you have a positive outlook about your new job and try to win people over with positive things to say about Charleston instead of wasting our time with negative news about Savannah that I could not care less about anyway. 
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jazzjames, James Island  9/26/2007 - 12:39pm 

   I can't resist!!!: SO SHUT UP. 
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Jim J, Savannah  9/26/2007 - 1:20pm 

   As a former employer of Mr. Stoehr in Savannah and a member of the city's Cultural Affairs Commission, believe me when I say that I speak for the entire local arts community in heartily wishing Mr. Stoehr a very, very long and productive career in Charleston. 
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artdealer, Savannah  9/26/2007 - 3:23pm 

   Good! As a member of the Savannah arts community for 15 years (and, yes, a Yankee), I have spoken with and followed the career of Mr. Stoehr since he arrived on our shores. All I can say is that I was appalled that our local paper (no great prize itself) had hired an art editor who is so incredibly ignorant about the arts. Perhaps he knows something about jazz. If so, it is all he knows. Good riddance, John. 
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GeorgiaPeach, savannab  9/26/2007 - 4:04pm 

   As a Savannahian involved in the performing arts, I truly feel sorry for the good people of Charleston. John fashions himself to be a "Woodward/Bernstein" journalist, who always finds the fincial aspects of any arts organization more compelling than the art itself. He know so little about art, he couldn't find the Mona Lisa in the Lourvre. We are happy to see him leave Savannah. 
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yeahright, Johns Island  9/26/2007 - 6:59pm 

   Bashing your former city seems to have really worked out well for you this week. Maybe next week you could at least MENTION Charleston? 
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stef717 (editor at charlestoncitypaper.com), James Island  9/26/2007 - 9:09pm 

   I think it's a good sign that John raised some hackles in Savannah by not pandering to mediocrity and accepting the status quo. I look forward to him doing the same in Charleston, where he's going to find a vibrant community that values quality arts reporting done with honesty and integrity. 
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B_D, Savannah  9/26/2007 - 11:39pm 

   Really, what a pathetic comment. You've hired -- God knows why -- a guy who was truly reviled by visual artists, musicians, drama amateurs and professionals, fellow journalists, and innumerable fulltime arts administrators all over Savannah. No one in Savannah who is serious about the arts accepts the status quo, but there's a difference between productive scrutiny and mean-spirtitedness. To suggest that your new arts editor has honesty and integrity is simply laughable. This half-insane hatchet job of Savannah (written while he is still employed at the Savannah Morning News, as I understand it )should be proof enough. If you don't understand that now, don't worry, you will. Have fun ;-) 
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Fibes, Savannah  9/26/2007 - 11:45pm 

   Raising hackles is for the informed, what we have here is not a snarky worldly critic but instead a speculative journalist who writes in a Lester Bangs fashion without the sense of humor. I look forward to your learning this for yourself without having to delve into the details which would not be illusrative of sour grapes, just plain poodle play.
   I can't wait to see how it all shakes down when he posts bootlegs of your fine arts festival (that starts with an S) made from his cell phone of major recording artists on his blog. 
   To "not bow down" to mediocrity is one thing but to never witness it and speculate on it in print, without any knowledge of it, is another ride Charleston should expect. 
   So, in the short term it may seem a smart move to badmouth a city constantly posited as a "competitior" of yours in all manner of things (including half rubber) but as we all know time reveals all truth. 
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jazzjames, James Island  9/27/2007 - 1:15am 

   I don't know this guy...But it sure seems to me that the people who do really dislike him. I didn't care for his column today at all. Between hiring this guy and bringing on Dave "the Southern Avenger" Hunter, all I can say is that I am glad your paper is free. 
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Skip Jennings, Savannah, GA  9/27/2007 - 8:40am 

   Well, there you have it, Charleston. Now you can see why numerous bottles of champagne were uncorked upon hearing the news that John Stoehr was leaving Savannah. I speak as one who is not only one of the organizers of Savannah’s Jazz Festival, but also the co-chairman of our blues festival, a member of the board of directors of the organization that presents a full season of professional chamber music concerts each year and a volunteer with the Savannah Music Festival. 
   John is almost universally despised within Savannah’s arts community for the less-than-fair articles he wrote. Be very wary of this man when he comes to you for comments. In my experience, John brings a negative, hyper-critical agenda to each article he writes. He may offer you platitudes, such as “I’m just following the facts,” but the reality is something quite different. For example, there are two legitimate sides to the Ben Tucker story he relates above. But neither side is presented in John’s story. Instead we have a version that appears to be twisted in such a way as to portray people with whom he has had disagreements in a very negative light. To top it off, the release of such articles always seems to be timed to do maximum damage to the subject arts organization. So it comes as no surprise to us that this article is published in the middle of the Savannah Jazz Festival.
   I have spent hours with John in futile attempts to give him the full facts of various situations. But no matter how good the news is that you are presenting, it seems that John always finds a way to turn it into a negative story. Maybe you will have better luck with him. But be forewarned. 
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Jim J, Savannah  9/27/2007 - 10:08am 

   You guys need to pipe down or Stef will change her mind and take back the job offer. Remember Stoehr's still employed at the Morning News as of this writing. Let's not screw this up. 
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Talcum-X, Dutch Island, Savannah  9/27/2007 - 2:18pm 

   As a long time member and current board member of the Savannah Folk Music Society I can only say: John who? 
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malone, Savannah  9/27/2007 - 4:15pm 

   When you fish in a toxic river you catch ill fish. 
   Hire a reporter from SMN? Well you get what you deserve! 
   Hell, I won't even let my dog defecate on that rag. 
Report this comment
Real Jazz 1, savannah  9/27/2007 - 4:33pm 

   They really hate John here in Savannah don't they? 
   But with good reason. 
   He won't do as he's been told, nor kiss their butts, nor ignore the fact that Savannah is still a one horse town, stuck in the past, run by the wannabe elite, and destined to be abandonded by anyone that wants to present any opposing or progressive viewpoint.
   As a member of the arts and jazz community, I can personally attest to the insipid, immature attitude of those in savannah whom have deemed themselves the authority on how and what the music community can and cannot do.
   Personally being told that "you can do it our way and we will support you, or do it your way and become left out of the jazz and music events" made me realize that this town is nowhere near ready for anything that they can't control, manupilate or design. 
   As a few comments posted implied, if you won't see the situtation from their point of view, then your dead wrong in your opinion and it has no merit whatsoever.
   Case in point, a new venue in savannah has attempeted to revive the jazz scene by upgrading jazz music with a brand new, elegant venue. Were they embraced for their personal investment in the community or their support of jazz? Nope. Instead, they were victims of racial name calling, blackmail and petty disputes over "real" vs. "traditional" jazz performances.
   Why on earth would someone be so myopic in their views? Good Lord, this is 2007 isn't it? There should be enough room and tolerance for all of us don't you think?
   Bottom line, savannah is just what John has said it is, and the majority of it's people like it just fine that way. 
   I can also see why John waited until his departure to finally bring the truth to light. If your not one of them, then your butt is grass, and they are gonna get you, one way or the other. 
   Have fun in Charleston John, I wish I were going there with you. But someone needs to stay here and fight the good fight, and not let the powers that be, continue on unabated. 
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nobelle, Goose Creek  9/27/2007 - 9:53pm 

   Congratulations on your new job!
   You're right about Savannah! It is a place that treasures the truly marginal and it is inhabited by the biggest bunch of provincial crybabies that you could ever dream of coming across. 
   Charleston is better in every possible way!
   Have fun and good luck! 
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Phyllis Stine  9/28/2007 - 9:30am 

   The arts community of Savannah rejoices at the departure of Mr. Stoehr. The man wasn't qualified to cover an Onion Festival. It wasn't easy, but we finally chased him off. Good luck Charleston! 
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Phyllis Stine  9/28/2007 - 9:48am 

   I remember his review of last year's Shakespeare Festival. He was most fascinated with the giant video screens. Just like Britney Spears has! Oo! Ah! Art! 
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dosdimples, Savannah  9/28/2007 - 11:07am 

   I guess I never really paid much attention to the arts editor here in Savannah, mainly because he worked for SMN, which is somewhat laughable. In the six years I have been in Savannah I have managed to be entertained, involved and informed of the (very diverse) arts scene without his help. 
   As far as the childish comparisons and one-upping between Savannah and Charleston - come on. We are two different places - both with significant histories, beautiful scenery and full arts calendars. I appreciate what both has to offer and you should too. 
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mld  9/28/2007 - 11:32am 

   Welcome John, we're happy to have you here in Charleston. 
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Jim J, Savannah  9/28/2007 - 12:24pm 

   Well, sounds like everyone agrees this is a win/win. 
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Fibes, Savannah  9/28/2007 - 4:35pm 

   One day, in the very near future, some of you will understand. Until then, goodnight. 
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Uncle Zoloft, Mt. Pleasant  9/29/2007 - 8:04am 

   ummm... maybe the Charleston "arts" scene needs a kick in the butt. Visual arts have grown here but just look at a majority of theatre offerings. 
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m, mid west  9/29/2007 - 3:33pm 

   The article is on point and it needed to be written. Perhaps in a Savannah publication, but we all know that would never happen. Those who have voice in Savannah at every level are astoundingly small minded creeps. Left after 4 years. 
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Veronica, Savannah  10/ 1/2007 - 9:42am 

   I for one am sorry to see John Stoehr leave SMN. He may have been the only arts writer for that paper who put himself out there and actively made a point to find out what was happening in the arts community in Savannah. Whether it is a musical, theatre, art or dance organization, the idea is to put yourself out there and see what people think of it. John Stoehr let you know what he thought while being well informed about his subjects. He's a reporter and that's his job.
   Many of these organizations did not want a review, they wanted an advertisement. 
   I am sad to see you go, and worry what is going to happen to the growing arts movement in Savannah without someone honestly reporting on it. 
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Jeremy Mullins, Savannah, GA  10/ 1/2007 - 11:23am 

   What's up with the potty-mouth "g.d." stuff? Make your agrument how you see fit, but there's no need to be vulgar. 
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thbbbbt  10/ 1/2007 - 9:52pm 

   This is great. Hey, whatever happened to the last arts editor Patrick Sharbaugh? You should have the new arts editor do an article on where the old arts editor went and why he left? Give us some real honest, hard news or whatever. The down and dirty. Some of Sharbaugh's bigger fans are worried!!! We want to know where he went!!! Come on, tell us all!!! 
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iago, Savannah  10/ 1/2007 - 10:11pm 

   People, you need to chill out! Wow, such vitriol thrown out at a mere reporter for our "esteemed" Savannah Morning News. Do you think he is the all powerful OZ, deciding who gets coverage and who doesn't? My guess is he tried to write about this insular arts community, but wasn't asked to have an opinion about it. As a writer I think one wants to express themselves in some small way and affect people, but, alas this paper doesn't like simple, straight-forward reporting. What's wrong with reporters, reviewers, columnists challenging the status quo? The point of any art form is to make us think. I don't believe John could do that in Savannah, unfortuately, or the powers "that be" wouldn't allow it. There is a vibrant arts scene in Savannah, but too often it is left unchecked and presumed worthy. Does the Savannah Morning News have a role to play in our arts community, besides it's weekly calendar? One would hope so, but when a newspaper would like nothing more than honor rolls and
 police reports what are you gonna get? Newspapers should be more than advertising agents. We'll see...I hope Charleston can stand someone who has an opinion. 
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Sharpay  10/ 2/2007 - 10:41am 

   Interesting to note that Miss Stoehr did not name the person who allegedly told him to "shut up." Why? Because the story is an outright lie. And as usual, this article is more about Miss Stoehr than about the topic at hand. Expect more of that, Charleston! 
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stef717 (editor at charlestoncitypaper.com), James Island  10/ 3/2007 - 9:47am 

   Sharbaugh went to Japan to decompress and pursue a new path. We wish him well, and mentioned his departure in the paper back in August. 
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dm7b5, Savannah  10/ 4/2007 - 2:16am 

   As a northern transplant who has no connection to any arts organization, I attended the recent Jazz Festival for the second year. Both weekend nights featured excellent if not flawless programming. The vibes were incredible, and the crowds very,very large and very happy. There was certainly no need to exaggerate any numbers. Somewhere, somebody was doing something very right. There's a story there somewhere.... 
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dogasse, 7 years in savannah  10/ 4/2007 - 11:42am 


   Read Reed and weep Charleston. You hired one low life loser who will not grow your culture, only attempt to pad his resume. Savannah is waxing ecstatic over his departure! 
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