My Jazz Times Confession

Since every other jazz blog is abuzz with the recent news of the Jazz Times return from the dead, I figure now is a good time for me to make a confession:

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.

Why does that matter?  Because, as the video in my last post explains: the Times, they are a-changin’ …

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.

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
This entry was posted in Jazz Journalism, Resisting Definition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to My Jazz Times Confession

  1. Chris Rich says:

    Well Alex, your own blog is orders of magnitude better in whatever topics you cover. I learn stuff from you.

    These poor schlubs are baby boomers and persist in thinking softwood masticated pulp with masticated columns somehow conveys gravitas.

    They really believe they have a significant readership.

    Now here’s a fun project. I just checked the new JT publisher’s landing page source code to see if they use analytics…no.

    I challenge all these things to do a full analytics install on every web page and periodically share the reports.

    If they really do use these methods to determine following, they may not be happy with the results.

    • arodjazz says:

      Thanks again for reading and responding, Chris.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to question the intelligence of the Jazz Times management or its writers, as I think they are serving an important audience that may not be as web-savvy as you are. I’ve got nothing but love for the collectors, especially the ones who donate their stuff to the IJS! I’ve learned so much from hanging out there during the day working for jazz.com.

      I hope, though, that once Jazz Times is up and running again that there can be a conversation about jazz that is bigger than the limited scope of that magazine’s perspective. I believe that everyone deserves a seat at the table and I hope that their renewed success does not monopolize an obsolete perspective on a rapidly-changing music.

      There IS a trend happening in jazz today: it’s not getting new fans. This is a problem. Whether or not Jazz Times survives as a magazine for collectors and old-school jazz readers has little to do with the solution (it is not, however, a part of the problem.) So what is going to happen to get more people my age to check this stuff out? I guess we’re about to find out …

  2. Nate Chinen says:

    Your point about differentiated media is well taken — there’s obviously a real split between the core JT reader base and those like yourself who have never picked up an issue. Yes, it’s true that JT has a readership older and less “connected” than the bloggerati. Which is a big part of the reason why I’m happy to see it back in business.

    My recent column about Guitar Hero, for instance, was written with the intention of exposing a slightly less clued-in demographic to some ascendant trends. (Had I written that column for the blog, its tone would have been a bit more knowing.)

    What I’ve found is that older, more brick-and-mortar jazz fans still appreciate the magazine, and do glean things from its print format. Given what we all know about jazz’s bunker mentality, I say it’s a good thing to reach those folks. Why limit the options one way or another? The “big-tent” model may not work so well in new media, but I do believe there’s still a use for it.

  3. 22baylor says:

    I love JazzTimes.

    Bill Milkowski is one of the best jazz writers I have ever read.

    Chip Stern is great too – he used to write for JT, not sure if he does any more.

    I like fusion and out-jazz. These get covered in JT – they aren’t covered in Downbeat.

    I used to have a subscription before they went under. I wonder if I will get a new issue.

    I just came over from Blazer Sedge and I am happy to be here. Good luck arodjazz. I will be back. – S.

    • arodjazz says:

      Welcome! Glad to have some BEdgers joining me over here. Things will be back up and running soon. In the meantime, check the post from last month about jazz and basketball and tell me what you think.

  4. Pingback: Wasted on the Young I | Ottawa Citizen Blogs

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