Posts Tagged ‘Downbeat’

Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

In 1965, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote a song for Frank Sinatra entitled “Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong.” That tune has been running through my mind a lot these days in line with some recent comments I made about DownBeat magazine in a story I wrote about the unfortunate demise of Jazz Times magazine.

With the publication of the July issue of DownBeat, which in fact is their 75th anniversary collector’s edition, I have come to the realization that I should not have dismissed them in such a cavalier manner. Indeed, with the publication of this issue, DownBeat has demonstrated everything that it was, is and likely will be.

DownBeat has what the other publications do not have, and likely could never have.

An incomparable legac editorial and photographic legacy. 75 years’ worth.

The hefty, 130-pager is well-balanced and thought out via archival pieces featuring everyone from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk to Hank Mobley and Mel Torme’. Portions of several pieces have been widely quoted through the years in a number of books, notably Louis Armstrong’s 1948 thoughts about bop (he described it as “modern malice”) and Monk’s famed, 1958 answer to the question about where jazz is going (“I don’t know where its going,” Monk said. “Maybe it’s going to hell”).

The editors also came up with quite the incisive concept via giving a number of artists the chance to explore their own, DownBeat archives. Sonny Rolllins, Dave Brubeck and Marian McPartland have been given the opportunity to comment on pieces written about them for, in some cases, six decades.

The roster of writers in this issue constitute a list of names never equaled in jazz journalism history, including Nat Hentoff, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Don Gold, Don DeMicheal, Pete Welding, Michael Cuscuna, John Litweiler, Chuck Berg, Elliot Meadow, Bill Coss, Joe Goldberg, Gordon Kopulos, Ralph J. Gleason, Dom Cerulli, Dave Dexter and Barbara Gardner. I grew up with many of these names as did many an aspiring jazz journalist. Its wonderful and heartwarming to read them again.

A marvelous feature of the publication through the years were the articles written by the artists themselves. Artists/contributors represented here include Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Anita O’Day, Count Basie, Jimmy Giuffre, Chick Corea and Benny Golson. Fascinating.

“On its 75th birthday, DownBeat can stand tall knowing that it has become an integral part of so many peoples’ lives,” says Jason Koransky, in his “First Take” column.

It has become an integral part of mine. “Everybody Has the Right to Be Wrong.”

I stand corrected.

Jazz Times: They Are A Changin’

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

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,

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, 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 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.”