Overdue Observations

In the Feb. 2001 issue we began a column called “Overdue Ovations.” It was a response to the constant cry that reverberates throughout the jazz world: “He/she is criminally neglected.” But our earnest and well-meaning response to that common declaration is one I’m already questioning because it edges close to a defeatist mentality: The idea that a musician won’t live a full artistic life if he or she isn’t propped up by a glossy magazine.

Take this month’s “Overdue Ovation” subject, Kidd Jordan. Do you think he has waited his whole life to be recognized by our magazine? Read Geraldine Wyckoff’s excellent story, and the answer is a resounding no. Why? Because Jordan is living his life exactly as he wants, playing difficult music in a style of his own choosing. He’s not trying to get grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He’s not trying to get on the cruise-ship circuit and play standards ad nauseam. He’s not trying to please anyone but himself and the students at Southern University of New Orleans he has so dedicatedly taught for more than 40 years. Even if we never wrote one word about Jordan, he would have lived a successful and fulfilling life, completely on his terms.

It’s not been a science as to how we’ve picked those musicians due an ovation: they’ve been suggested by our contributors. We’ve consciously stayed outta NYC, even though there are hundreds of musicians in the Apple deserving of a standing “o” in print. But at least they have a fighting chance to get some ink at some point because they are in the media center of the universe (and in our admittedly East Coastcentric radar).

The truth is, JazzTimes has always done features on obscure but meritorious artists. It’s just that now we’ve stuck a column name over the artist’s. Sheila Jordan, who spent most of her life in artistic obscurity working as a secretary only to emerge later in life to the music-loving public as one of the purest jazz vocalists ever, just as easily could have filled the “Overdue Ovations” slot as Kidd Jordan.

Despite a shrinking market share and a general lack of interest from young people, the jazz world is still too big to be adequately covered by one (or three or nine) magazines, simple as that. So is there any real reason to shine a special spotlight on those that we’ve slept on through the years? In reality, every musician who takes up jazz as a profession is overdue an ovation.