Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Jazz Journalism and Serving Up The Sacred Cows.

A while back Nicholas Payton created a firestorm by publishing a blog post proclaiming that jazz was dead...Upon further review, Payton may not be 100% correct in his assertion but may be closer than most people would like to give him credit for. I am one of those people.

If jazz is dead then jazz journalism must have died with Leonard did.

I have been told on more than one occasion that unless you have the equivalent background of a professional musician with "x" number of years on the bandstand then you do not qualify as a jazz critic. This absurd train of thought is roughly the equivalent of stating only an Oscar winner can review a feature film. I perhaps received this poorly conceived idea thanks largely in part to the fact that I have no sacred cows. I respect people and I respect artists with the understanding you can play a piece of shit 500 times and it will not sound any better. There are ways that critics are expected to act and play the game. I avoid those, I answer to no one.

I "intercepted" a tweet last night between a rogue record label in the UK and former All About Jazz Editor John Kelman which appeared to refer to me while admittedly only using my initials. Paranoid? No, just smart enough to know if it walks like a duck...

John Kelman and I had a brief and tumultuous working relationship when I made the ill fated decision to contribute to All About Jazz for a very brief period of time and subsequently left when I was influenced into what the content should be on my own site. To be fair, I learned a few important points from Kelman that have served me well. To be honest, I learned more from my current editor with Gannet in 6 days than I learned from Kelman in 6 months. From a purely technical perspective you can consider John Kelman a great talent and someone that could and should be drawing a regular paycheck for his talent from any print publication cyber or otherwise. There is no money in jazz journalism, liner notes and submitted reviews don't pay the bills. I believe the going rate at Down Beat or possibly Jazz Times is roughly thirty dollars. I have never pursued these avenues as I value my own editorial control over a few bucks that would not even pay half a cell phone bill. To be clear I have been asked to do liner notes and press releases and have been flattered to do so. My reviews are my own...always have been and will be for as long as I am physically up to the challenge of writing.

In doing some research I discovered John is no longer the editor but is now holding down the position of "roving reporter." What I am about to offer up now is pure conjecture and is done so that the reader can make up their own mind. All About Jazz has a history in the industry of not holding on to writers/contributors for any significant length of time. Could this play a part? Editors are narcissistic control freaks by design, all editors. To voluntarily step into what is obviously a lesser volunteer position simply does not add up. If John moved to "roving reporter" to pursue a deeper passion for writing then I applaud him and certainly do not want to make this issue sound disingenuous on any level but...if it walks like a duck...My sources on turnover come from personal experience, Red Cat Publicity and another highly placed publicist on the left coast. All About Jazz is now reviewing pop music, so am I but I was honest enough to explain why. Both All About Jazz and Down Beat have made a more subtle attempt to gain readership through expanded coverage - makes good business sense but change your name or explain your editorial direction.  

Jazziz and Jazz Times are about the only legitimate jazz journalism sites left. Bloggers are overtaking the business and it is feast or famine. You have individuals that copy and paste a press release so they can obtain free music. Nothing ever receives a bad review as no original opinions are ever shared. Some bloggers take it seriously and are looking to fill the widening gap that publications such as A.A.J and Down Beat seem to be creating. You can respect an opinion and not agree with it. You can respect an artist yet call them out if and when the situation dictates. Honest reporting has turned into playing the game. I have even spoke to record labels that have informed me they don't care how controversial an artist gets as long as they sell records. One of these labels is now out of business...The future of jazz and jazz journalism is on the rocks. It is what it is.

***In the interest of fairness and full disclosure Kelman reached out to be and explained his transition. I have no reason not to take the man at his word, he is pursing a passion and perhaps a way to refocus. I admire that. Kelman and I also patched up our differences. I never want to do a blatant hit piece on anyone but I never shy away from picking topics others only think about. I'm a rogue critic. Musicians tolerate me, editors fear me - it takes a lot of work to be me.***