[JPL] LA Times jazz writer comments on jazz cutback

Arturo Gomez arturo at kuvo.org
Mon Oct 27 20:17:54 EDT 2008


Here, There and Everywhere: The Times
October 27, 2008 - irom
By Don Heckman

When I attended the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition events this past
weekend, I ran into many friends from the jazz community.  Since the
Competition is an international event, there were folks from L.A., as well
as many other parts of the coutnry and the world.

Every one asked me about the diminishing presence of jazz coverage in the
Los Angeles Times.  Knowing that I have been covering jazz, and other
musics, at the paper for more than twenty years - as the principal jazz
critic and jazz writer since Leonard Feather died in 1994 - they all
expressed concern about whether they would continue to read my commentaries
in the LAT.

Today I've received a flurry of emails, as well as copies of letters sent to
the Times expressing concern over the cutback in jazz coverage.  Some have
distorted or misunderstood the situation, as I discussed it with my friends
and colleagues at the Monk gathering.  So I thought it would be useful to
simply explain what I know about it.

The reduction in jazz coverage at the Times actually began 7 or 8 years ago
when jazz was moved into the Pop Music area.  Prior to that I frequently did
three or four reviews a week, as well as a Sunday record review column and a
Friday Jazz column.  Under Pop Music, the coverage was reduced to two
reviews a week, the Sundy jazz record review section to once a month, and
the Friday column was discontinued.

Several months ago, a new editor  took over the reins of the pop music
department from the acting editor.   I was told, almost immediately, by her
that jazz reviews would be reduced in number, and would essentially have to
be pitched to her for approval   That represented an immediate and
significant change, since - as one who is deeply aware of developments in
jazz, here and elsewhere - I had generally done my own scheduling of
reviews, with oversight from the acting editor.  In addition, the Sunday
jazz record review spotlight disappeared.

In scheduling my reviews - of both live concerts and recordings - I tried to
balance the major name programs with as much coverage as possible for the
Southland's huge array of world class jazz talent.  That approach became
virtually impossible when the reviews were cut back to one a week.  Within a
month or two, they were cut to one every ten days.  After that it became a
matter of submitting events I thought were important, and hoping that
coverage would be permitted.  It usually wasn't.

About two or more months ago, I was advised by that the free lance budget
for Pop had run out for the year, and that I should contact my editor in
late December to consider what could be covered when the new budget came
into effect in January.  Basically that meant that I could do no reviews for
the last 3 1/2 months of the year.

Let me add a little background here.  Despite my 22 years and over 5,000
bylined reviews, articles and stories in the LA Times, I am still nominally
a free-lancer, since I've always refused offers to go on staff.  What this
means, of course, is that - if there is no free-lance budget - a staff
writer could be assigned to cover jazz reviews, despite the fact that there
is no one on the staff who is qualified to do so.

Starting about a month ago, I began emailing my editor, pointing out that -
if there if only one jazz event  could be covered before the end of the
year, it should be the Monk Competition event at the Kodak this past
weekend.  My request was refused several times.  I informed the Monk folks
of the situation, and they began to contact my editor to urge coverage.
Eventually, she apparently agreed to do so, assigning a staff writer to do
the review.  It will appear in the paper tomorrow.

It may well be that the letters that are being sent to the LAT, expressing
concern about the reduction of jazz coverage, will be responded to with some
minimal coverage of jazz by staff writers with little knowledge of the
music.   And tomorrow's review of the Monk event will no doubt be cited as
evidence of the paper's continuing interest in jazz.  This, despite the fact
that it will be the first jazz review in the paper since August 1.

But I can only wonder why the Music department seems to have a budget to
employ a free-lance reviewer one or two times a week to write about European
classical music, while similar funds cannot be allocated to the Pop
department to allow me to continue the coverage - however modest in numbers
it may have to be - that jazz needs and deserves.

I have no inside source of information at the paper, although it's apparent
to everyone that the problems seem to be multiplying rather than
diminishing.  My real concern is for the knowledgable representation of the
music that is America's greatest cultural achievement.


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