Jazz Times: They Are A Changin’

Jazz Times magazine, considered, in many quarters, to be the jazz magazine “of record” for over 30 years, has temporarily suspended publication, according to a notice posted on its web site, JazzTimes.com.

The owners are reportedly speaking to a potential buyer interested in taking over publishing reigns.

Rumors have been rampant about this for some months, with some unnamed staffers and contributors saying they haven’t been paid since March.

Jazz Times began its life in Washington, D.C. in 1970 under publisher Ira Sabin, an ex-drummer and former owner of a popular, D.C. record store. Originally called “Radio Free Jazz,” it was initially a free publication printed on newsprint. It’s first paid advertisers, according to Sabin? None other than pianist Kenny Drew and the one and only Dizzy Gillespie.

“Radio Free Jazz” morphed into the slick known as Jazz Times in 1980, and through the years, attracted the most renowned writers, critics, historians and musicologists jazz has ever known, including Martin Williams, Leonard Feather, Stanley Dance, Ira Gitler, Doug Ramsey, Nat Hentoff, Gary Giddins, Howard Mandel and Nate Chinen.

While there are two other jazz-oriented publications out there–the venerable, 75-year old Down Beat and the smooth jazz-geared Jazziz, now age 25–none has the credibility or the quality of writing that Jazz Times had. For too long, Down Beat has attempted to be “all things to all readers,” with a below-the-title catchline that reads “Jazz, Blues and Beyond.”

Jazziz, a slicker-than-slick product that may have set the record for cover stories devoted to Steely Dan, may be facing some print problems as well. Jazziz has recently announced that it’s switching from monthly to quarterly publication–with each magazine containing two CDs–and that the print “slack” will be taken up by the web site, which promises daily updates, a monthly online version of the mag, and all kinds of downloads, including music, video and ability to read back issues. For, presumably, a price.

Curiously, although advertising revenues were down, Jazz Times outdistanced the competition in terms of subscribers, boasting a 100,000-plus readership.

Both Jazz Times and Down Beat have had web sites for some time, but none as sophisticated or as inclusive as what Jazziz promises. There is no word on whether or not the Jazz Times site and its newly introduced “community pages” will continue to be updated.

The past few years have seen the demise of other, traditionally oriented operations devoted to jazz, including the International Association of Jazz Educators, Coda Magazine (the jazz magazine of Canada) , and that bible of traditional jazz, the Mississippi Rag.

Still, online sites about jazz, its players and its genres, are growing in number each day. Indeed, the U.K.-based “Jazz Greats Online” offers a monthly magazine and downloadable CD each and every month, delivered to subscribers online.

And, with the end of Tower Records, there may be few real “record stores” out there anymore, but, aficionados can purchase anything imaginable on CD, DVD or otherwise, via web sites like EJazzLines.com, JazzLegends.com and dozens of others.

Then there is the singular case of the eight-year-old print upstart, Jazz Improv, put together by publisher/vibist/entrepreneur Eric Neymeyer. This quarterly magazine, which also includes a CD, seems to grow heftier with each issue, and their New York city-based “Jazz Improv Convention” is now looked upon as the replacement for the annual confab put on by the defunct International Association of Jazz Educators.

JI publishes a good mix of reviews, interviews, solo transcriptions, stylistic analysis and motivational pieces. Though things seem to be improving in terms of editorial professionalism–and it’s very, very pleasing to note that the deservedly famed writer, Ira Gitler, is contributing–there are still problems with their reviews. By and large, they are amateurish and clearly the work of the publisher and/or a staffer writing under pseudonyms like “Curtis Davenport.”

Their editorial policy, as set forth on the JazzImprov.com site, unfortunately does not allow room for unsolicited manuscripts. Nemeyer, understandably, runs a tight ship in that area.

It is also clear that, in terms of ad revenues, the magazine operates on a rather strange barter and vanity system, i.e., “take an ad and Jazz Improv will write about you, your CD, your book or your whatever.” The positive side of this is that JI’s ad-to-editorial ratio is lower–at around 15 percent–than the others.

Not that there’s anything wrong with all of this, but given what appears to be their method of operating, it is just not possible to take everything within their pages seriously.

Nemeyer isn’t selling credibility. He’s selling exposure, and to his credit, Jazz Improv has given international publicity to hundreds of artists–self-produced and otherwise–who likely wouldn’t get ink anywhere else.

The downside to this is that the serious journalists devoted to improvisational music and its history–i.e. the many writers, past and present, who contributed to Jazz Times–have seemingly been edged out by the “Curtis Davenports” who, too often, highly rate anything arriving on the desk.

This is not to suggest that anyone be negative. The jazz community is too small for that–and constructive criticism need not be destructive–but when too many self-produced CDs by anonymous singers are given rave reviews by a writer who may or may not exist, then it becomes difficult to take anything on any other page as the truth.

But again, that’s not what Jazz Improv is selling, and the suspicion is that serious, credible writing and constructive criticism–be it about jazz or otherwise–will mainly exist on blogs and web sites, rather than in print

There is not a publication, about anything, that has not, in one way or another, been touched by the economy and the increased competition of the web, where surfers can now get what they used to have to pay for, for free.

Hopefully, Jazz Times will continue to exist in some way, shape or form, free or otherwise, as for more than 30 years, that publication–like Zildjian Cymbals in the world of percussion–has been “the only serious choice.”

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2 Responses to “Jazz Times: They Are A Changin’”

  1. Curtis Davenport Says:

    Good Day Dr. Klauber,

    First I want to say that I’ve enjoyed much of your writing and commentary that I’ve read over the years. I am also especially fond of your “Legends of Jazz Drumming” CD that you produced a little over a decade ago. I still play tracks from it on my web radio station.

    I happended to come across your blog post today “Jazz Times they are a changin'”. Once again sir, congratulations on an insightful, well written article. I take no issue with any part of your piece, as it is your opinion, except one glaring (to me) factual error. I, Curtis Davenport, do actually exist. No one else at JazzImprov (now Jazz Inside) writes under that name.

    If you’re not fond of my writing, I can certainly understand and respect your opinion and I take no issue with it. I don’t request nor do I expect any response from you, as it this a rather trivial matter. However, I do a bit of research and fact checking before I write my articles, as I’m sure you do as well. And because I am very proud of my name and by extension, my existence, I did want to rectify that one error for you.

    Thanks for your time today and your past contributions to jazz journalism. I’m looking forward to your commentary and music in the future.

    Curtis Davenport

  2. Bruce Klauber Says:

    What a pleasant surprise to know that you actually exist! I’ve always enjoyed your writing, but for a number of reasons that I’ll detail here, I have had a number of, for lack of a better word–“suspicions” about Jazz Improv through the years. I had voice them repeatedly for some seasons and indeed, did try to track you down more than once.

    I know JI principal for many, many years as a writer, publisher and instrumentalist. In fact, I submitted serveral, very enthusiastic quotes about the publication when it first started,which were used extensively in JI’s promo material.

    Obviously, a good amount of the material is written by the publisher under various pen names, and and I suspect there is no actual editor. When a magazine’s staff is not listed on the publication’s website, it is clear that the very matter of the staff is being downplayed.

    All this is pretty much standard practice, especially with publications like these, but my strong issue with JI’s credibility began with the Buddy Rich tribute issue.

    You may know that I wrote and produced, along with Estate of Buddy Rich, the only official and authorized videos about his life and music, initially for what was then DCI Music Video. And since then, I’ve pretty much had a hand in virtually every, commercial, Buddy Rich DVD ever produced.

    Imagine my shock–and I still can’t believe it to this day–when not word one was mentioned about the existence of any Buddy Rich video or DVD in what I believe was a 300-plus issue of Jazz Improv devoted to him. How could this possibly be?

    After a while I believe your publisher told me it was a matter of space.


    I’m pretty certain I know what the problem was.

    It’s pretty clear, to me, anyway, that JI exists on a rather intricate trade/barter/advertising system–with some exceptions–whereby a product gets editorial coverage if there is paid advertising involved. And by the way, JI does what it does, very,very well, but again,my issues with it are in the area of editorial credibility.

    You don’t publish a 300 page tribute to Buddy Rich without even a mention of the only, officially sanctioned videos on his life and music. The omission was clearly a slap in the face to whomever chose not to advertise.

    Such revenge.

    I have tried various times to get answers as to how JI actually works, why we were actually left out, and just what goes on over there. I have never, ever heard from anyone until you.

    Feel free to share your insights here, or more privately via my DrumAlive@aol.com.

    And yes, I thrilled that you exist.

    Keep swingin,

    Bruce Klauber