I have never read Jazz Times.
Yes, I’ve managed to become a decent jazz trombonist and a devoted and somewhat knowledgeable jazz fan willing to borrow tens of thousands of dollars to learn how to study its history, all without picking up the lauded magazine that is the paragon of jazz journalism. This wasn’t on purpose — I just never had the occasion to check it out with the wealth of information available to me through the internet, my friends and fellow musicians.
Obviously, Jazz Times doesn’t care too much about me, or those like me who have managed to miss the boat on glossy jazz newspapers. Too bad for them, I moved past that phase around the time that I outgrew Sports Illustrated for Kids in the early ’90s. Still, I do care about what happens with Jazz Times. Judging by the outcry when Jazz Times temporarily went under, there are a lot of people out there who care very much about the magazine. It even won the “best periodical” award from the Jazz Journalists’ Association for the 11th consecutive year — despite the fact that it was being jokingly referred to as a “posthumous award.” Many declared that the loss of Jazz Times was the death knell for jazz as we know it. Those same people are celebrating its return with renewed optimism for the jazz publishing industry.
Who exactly are these jazz aficionados who are following the Jazz Times saga so closely? One group is the jazz journalists, many of whom were hired by Jazz Times and were owed up to three months’ worth of back pay for artlicles that the magazine had already published. I’d say that’s a perfectly good incentive right there! But the other group of people who seem to be rooting especially hard for Jazz Times are the older fans and researchers, many of whom grew up with Jazz Times and other magazines like it as their main portal into the jazz world. As the recent NEA report showed, this generation of fans is representing a larger and larger portion of the paying jazz audience.
I find it very fitting that Madavor Media, the group that purchased Jazz Times, is a niche media company that specializes in sports and collectibles. Their core titles include International Figure Skating, Volleyball, Garden State Golf, Doll Reader and Teddy Bear and Friends. That’s right: dolls, teddy bears, figure skating, volleyball, golf and jazz. Perfect fit, right?
In a certain way, it actually is. Refer back to the formula that we learned from the last post: CwF + RtB = $$$$. Music is an excellent “loss leader.” I can totally see where Matavor Media is going with this. They are hoping to coopt the considerable momentum that exists in one part of the jazz world: the collectors, people like Joe Showler who devote their time, their money and their life to collecting pieces of a fetishized musical past. Expect ads for rare 78s, resources for geeky band directors and lots of coverage of the 20th century status quo.
Don’t get me wrong: collectors are an important part of the jazz community. I am grateful for people like Marshall Stearns, whose collection founded the Institute of Jazz Studies. But my interests lie in a different part of the jazz world: the part that is alive today and mingling with those musical ancestors whose photos and 78s are meticulously pored over by the older collectors. And that world, populated by younger musicians and fans like me, is going to become increasingly less interested in what Jazz Times has to say.
I tip my hat to Jazz Times and congratulate everyone who will finally get paid for their work (UPDATE: maybe not.) However, it is evident to me that magazine’s dramatic near-death experience is a bit of a red herring as far as the overall health of the jazz ecosystem goes. I suggest that we move on to a more holistic discussion of the emerging trends in our community and not get hung up on one magazine. I can guarantee you that it will have very little to do with a much more alarming jazz trend: the dramatic decline in young listeners.
So for those of you who can’t wait to dive into Nate Chinen’s next “The Gig” column in the newly-revived magazine, I say go right ahead and dig it. But don’t expect me to buy a subscription any time soon. I’ll be checking it out online.