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JT Notes: Before & After Evolves During the Pandemic

Editor Mac Randall explains how the fan-favorite column adapted to social distancing and quarantine

Shabaka Hutchings
Shabaka Hutchings (photo: Pierrick Guidou)

For more than three decades—ever since Leonard Feather started writing them for us in 1989—our Before & After listening-session articles have been a firm favorite of JazzTimes readers. Sometimes the sessions were conducted in front of audiences on festival stages or in college lecture halls. More often they were one on one in a room, journalist to musician (or musician to other musician). But one thing was consistent: They always happened in person. Listening to recorded music just doesn’t work as well over the phone; too many nuances get lost.

Then along came the coronavirus. All of a sudden it was no longer advisable to put two strangers together in a room for an extended period of time, and we were forced to contemplate the likely demise of Before & After. How could we possibly keep the sessions going without doing them in a shared space?

Well, there was this little thing called Zoom that a bunch of people seemed to be using, and we had to admit that it had potential. As long as we could sort out the necessary audio details to our satisfaction, maybe a remote Before & After wouldn’t be so bad after all. So we did our due diligence, and almost exactly a year ago we conducted our first B&A via Zoom, with Shabaka Hutchings in London. It was a success, and we’ve kept on doing them ever since.

At some point early in the testing process, something else occurred to us. Zoom is designed for group meetings, so why not invite a group? (Assuming, of course, that the musician in the spotlight is okay with that.) This realization—that we could turn Before & After into a regular event with a potential worldwide audience—has transformed the way we approach our listening sessions. We began live-streaming them and then archiving the full videos, at first on Facebook and YouTube. Now they’re available, both live and on demand, through jazztimes.com as a special benefit for our members. It’s a treat to be able to watch these sessions as they happen, with no after-the-fact editing, and actually see the way musicians respond to the mystery tracks as they hear them. If I may be so bold, it’s reason enough to consider a JazzTimes membership, if you don’t already have one.

In closing, I’d like to thank Ashley Kahn, who’s led the way in our COVID-era rethinking of Before & After. His historical knowledge, technical savvy, and skill as an interviewer have made the transition an easy one. It’s beginning to feel almost as if we never did these sessions in person. In any case, that was before, and this is after.

Originally Published
Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.