Decisions, Decisions

JT’s managing editor explains the machinations behind the creation of the March issue

As our friend in jazz Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” I know, I know: It’s an age-old sentiment, reiterated in more ways than even the Internet can keep tabs on. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true, though. Making decisions that affect others is difficult, but it’s what defines authority; the only inevitable outcome is at least some dissatisfaction among the ranks.

As usual, the issue you’re reading now is the product of hundreds of decisions, some big and some small, some easy and some very, very difficult. Our annual Personal Farewells section always falls into that last category, with a surplus of late jazz greats for our limited editorial space. Certain artists—James Moody, Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln, photographer Herman Leonard—simply demand inclusion. Soon enough, however, we begin debating the importance of tremendous players and people who may not figure prominently into the larger jazz canon.

Truth be told, those conversations can feel downright immoral. How can you objectively quantify the talent and experience of, say, Kansas City tenorman Ahmad Alaadeen against that of Philadelphia organist and pianist Trudy Pitts? It’s an impervious task. Similar e-mail-to-e-mail combat was waged over folks like pianist John Bunch, an ace accompanist and musical director with enviable credits; drummer Edgar Bateman Jr., a Philly legend alongside Pitts; versatile saxophonist and flutist Hadley Caliman, who recorded with the likes of Carlos Santana, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson during the ’70s; and Canadian valve trombonist Rob McConnell, to name just a few. As editors and writers, we hated having to pass over Harvey Pekar; after all, the brilliant curmudgeon who helped elevate comics to literary art was a JazzTimes contributor and a hopelessly committed aficionado.

Oh yes, there will be griping—but there’s hope yet. On JazzTimes.com we’ll be posting more Personal Farewells that didn’t make it into print, including those dedicated to some of the artists mentioned above. And the section we did come up with boasts an A-list roster of guest contributors, among them Amiri Baraka, Cassandra Wilson, Charles Lloyd, the Supremes’ Mary Wilson and Kenny Barron. (Sometimes these guests’ work is so strong it makes our decisions for us—for example, Bobby Watson’s heartfelt clip on Alaadeen, which simply had to get ink.)

Another plus is the remainder of the magazine, especially the cover story, which constituted a no-brainer. There are so many reasons why Henry Threadgill deserves top billing, and most of them can be heard on product released last year: This Brings Us To, Volume II (Pi) and a pair of momentous retrospectives. And our David R. Adler, a guitarist with a working musician’s grasp of music theory, was the perfect scribe for the job, able to deconstruct Threadgill’s abstruse charts with precision but also layman-friendly clarity. This gig isn’t uphill all the time.

Originally published in March 2011

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