Reflections on Jazz Journalism, 2009-2011

Change: not always what you expect

On Monday, I submitted my last column to the Star-Ledger, and with my professional writing career on hold for now, I’m in a bit of a reflective mood. Looking back at my earlier posts, I am reminded of the fun conversations and insightful dialogues that I have been blessed to join over the past two-plus years, and am proud of what I have been able to contribute to the discussion.

When I started this blog in May 2009, I was delighted and surprised by the vibrancy and warmth of the nascent community that seemed to be emerging on the internet to share its love for jazz. NPR’s A Blog Supreme had just started (long before I became an occasional contributor), musician-bloggers like Ethan Iverson, Andrew Durkin and Darcy James Argue were in full force, longtime jazz journalists were bringing their work online, jazz.com supported rich, daily contributions, Nextbop was in its infancy, The Checkout was the new thing in jazz radio, and the exchanges and arguments brimmed with possibility.

But as many frustrated liberal politicos can tell you, change rarely plays out in ways that optimists expect. Still, if there are any lessons that jazz can teach a distraught idealist, it’s that there is beauty in the unexpected, and the pleasures of spontaneity reward the adventuresome.

As I leave the New York jazz scene behind for now, I must admit some disappointment at the Jazz Internet’s slow development. Granted, some excessively cool things have happened in the past two years — Live at the Village Vanguard is still doing its thing (featuring Jenny Scheinman this week!), Peter Hum, Nate Chinen and Ethan Iverson are still going strong, NPR is discerning and thoughtful in its jazz coverage, the Jazz Journalism Association has expanded into the short-form web video world, some great new voices like Jon Wertheim and Matt Kassel have entered the fold, and my mentor Josh Jackson has an awesome new project going — but reading those old entries, I’m still left with a sense of what might have been.

Some of my favorite voices from that time have changed their tune — Andrew Durkin is deep in the throes of a book project, Jason Parker is preparing himself for fatherhood, Dean Christesen is in management school, Chris Rich has cooled his hilarious jazz rants to work behind the scenes at AllAboutJazz.com, Darcy James Argue is writing less to work on (admittedly awesome-sounding) musical projects, jazz.com no longer exists, and I have no idea what Search and Restore is doing with that $75,000 in Kickstarter money.

Back in 2009, I had hoped that the promising positive energy of the “Jazz Internet”, epitomized by A Blog Supreme’s Jazz Now project, would have found a forceful solution to Terry Teachout’s pessimistic 2009 polemic “Can Jazz Be Saved?” Unfortunately, the jazz world is still trying to figure it out. A recent study by the Jazz Audiences Initiative, summarized by Patrick at A Blog Supreme, points in some interesting directions, but since the unfortunate demise of the philanthropist-backed jazz.com, nobody has been able to cultivate a thriving space online for rich, daily conversations and engaging curated content. The arrival of new technologies such as Spotify in the United States offers even more tools for this project, but still no compelling solutions have emerged.

My disappointment with some of the new directions of this loose and self-organizing network of fellow enthusiasts, however, shouldn’t be taken for disillusionment. I have no idea what institutional systems will finally step forward to support this untapped wellspring of creative interest, but I’m pretty confident that whatever happens, jazz and its listeners will be just fine. I know that many intelligent, passionate people are working hard to improve the online jazz platform, and that those efforts will pay off soon.

I’m also looking forward to learning more about other ways of engaging with the music through ethnomusicology and some West Coast perspective, continuing to correspond with my friends and fellow jazz travelers online, and sharing what I can here at the blog. In the meantime, jazz musicians will continue to make amazing music — John Hollenbeck at Newport is a prime example — and people will continue to write interesting things about it. (For good measure, I have updated the blogroll, to your left.)

Thanks again to everyone who has been along for the ride these past two years — and of course, stay tuned for more.

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
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4 Responses to Reflections on Jazz Journalism, 2009-2011

  1. Andrew says:

    This post makes me miss blogging…

    Congrats on your accomplishments over the last two years, Alex. I look forward to seeing where your career goes from here!

  2. Pingback: This Week’s Jazz Internet Wrap-Up | Lament For A Straight Line

  3. Pingback: Writing Jazz, Playing Jazz: Origins of “The Critic” « Lubricity

  4. Pingback: Lubricity Is Back … In Santiago, Chile | Alex W. Rodriguez

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