[JPL] A blogger's take on jazz magazines

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Oct 27 17:29:41 EDT 2008

    Why Our Jazz Magazines are Bad-- And Bad for Jazz

First, full disclosure: I subscribe to both Jazz Times (JT) and Down 
Beat (DB) (I liked it better when it was "downbeat") and have for quite 
a few years. I also have a subscription to Signal to Noise (STN), and 
until, recently, Cadence. But this has been the year of my discontent 
with both JT and DB, or, more precisely, this has been the year that my 
dissatisfaction with JT and DB has creached critical mass, for these two 
mainstays of the jazz scene are both bad-- and bad for jazz.

Let me give you a few of my reasons:

1) /JT and DB are feeding from the public relations trough/.

This is my most serious concern. Is there really valid reason for /both/ 
JT and DB to offer cover stories and puff pieces, as they have done this 
year, on Return to Forever's ("grab the cash and run") reunion tour, 
Freddie Hubbard's spurious "comeback," and David Sanborn "I'm really an 
artist" whine? Is there really enough musical merit for them to both be 
hyping Esperanza Spaulding, who seems to be the flavor of the day? I 
have no doubt these stories and many others are driven by the PR- flack- 
hype - machine, as is so much else these days. When you see identical or 
similar articles popping up in both magazines, you can be sure they are 
being fed from the same feed bag. Seeing two articles pop up arguing 
that David Sanborn is really such a fine and artistically meritorious 
jazz saxaphone player despite the evidence to the contrary of numerous 
schlock recording efforts over the years tells me that such puffery is 
pure PR hype.

2) /Mediocre Editing/

Jason Koransky is the editor of DB. I have no idea who he is, or how he 
came to be editor of DB. From everything I can see, he is a negligible 
factor on today's jazz scene, outside of course his role as editor of 
DB. When Koransky talks, does anbody listen? Lee Mergner at JT has much 
more of a track record, but he is too much of a corporate suit to be a 
catalyst for the art of jazz.

3) /Mediocre Writing/

See (2) above, as mediocre editing typically begats mediocre writers and 
writing. Both magazines demonstrate the Peter Principle at work. Look 
back to the DB of 40 or so years ago. Dan Morgenstern was the editor, 
and writers and revieweres such as Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Chris 
Albertson, Don DeMichael, Ralph Gleason, John Litweiler, Nat Hentoff, et 
al appeared in the pages of DB. Say what you will about any one of them 
(especially Feather), the writing was sharp, distinctive, literate, well 
and broadly informed, hip and passionate. It was a Golden Age, compared 
to today's Age of Lead, content with vacuous writing, PR cliches, and 
tame thinking.

4) /The Little Magazines/

The "little" jazz magazine offer more promise. STN might be worth 
checking out if your interests extend beyond jazz to electronica, indie 
rock, noise (both a category and a description) and avant-garde work in 
all areas of music. Much might not be to one's taste, but there is no 
doubting that magazine is intelligently edited, layed-out, and written, 
and tackles areas that JT and DB don't even contemplate covering. There 
is an energy anc curiosity here that is lacking in JT and DB.

Cadence prides itself (one could days preens itself) on being an 
independent voice, and I have to agree it is. The downside is that if 
often falls victim to obscurantism and the sort of insider mentality 
that has always afflicted jazz. Cadence recently went to a new and more 
expensive format ($15 an issue for a perfect-bound paperback), rather 
steep for most readers. They never could get my subscription right 
(especially annoying at that price level), so I cancelled my 
subscription out of pure frustration. Nevertheless, Cadence covers many 
worthy jazz musicians who could never get a column inch in JT or F+DB, 
and it's musician interviews are often terrific.

I said at the start of this column that JT and DB are bad for jazz. Jazz 
is an art form, as well as entertainment and business. Putting out 
hype-driven, uninspired, and tired magazines drags the scene down, 
prevent new energies and directions from emerging, and fails to provide 
a full context for the current scene. It's a waste of time and resources 
to spend precious column inches (and the cover!) arguing in favor of a 
hack like Sanborn. He had his choice: Mammon or Art. He chose Mammon and 
made his money. Please don't come whining back and try to dispel the 
evidence of our ears. It does a disservice to artists who have made the 
tough choices, have stayed true to their art, and have paid the price 
for that faithfulness (but have had the reward of their work living on, 
while Sanborn and his ilk are dumped in thrift shop bins). JT and DB 
have become rent-a-flack operations. These magazines should be about 
true artists and artistry; about Art, not Mammon. It's time for them to 
wake up, stop playing Frick and Frack, renew their commitment to Jazz, 
and strive to be worthy of the music they cover.


Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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