Even though JazzTimes‘ editorial offerings pretty much stay on course regardless of page count-that fluctuation is based mostly on how much advertising is sold-I receive semi-regular feedback about how the book is “looking thin,” as if it’s a man’s hairline. To which I’ve replied that readers are still getting great content; what’s missing, for one, are those multi-page advertisements from big-box book and record stores that kept us in the black.
Not this month. No, your local Tower Records hasn’t been resurrected, but we have combined our annual November drum-themed issue and our 2015-16 Jazz Education Guide into one tome that should make you feel like you’ve picked up mail from 1998.
It’s a doozy. David R. Adler’s cover profile of Jeff “Tain” Watts features revelatory insight from Wynton and Branford Marsalis, who describe Watts’ contributions to their groups as a source of invention rather than an embodiment of tradition. Also in the regular mag, virtuoso drummer Dennis Chambers opens up to Michael J. West about his recent health problems and how he empowered himself back onto the bandstand. Rounding out the features section is Jennifer Odell’s incisive coverage of the strange and complex controversy trailing trumpeter Irvin Mayfield.
The Education Guide has always been where JazzTimes strays from its status as a consumer magazine and heads onto trade-publication terrain. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be interesting to our larger general audience-just check out Aidan Levy’s excellent piece on jazz radio, which acts as both a tutorial and a deeply researched history lesson. Also in the Guide, Shaun Brady tracks how notation software has influenced the state of jazz composition, with some especially pointed commentary from pianist Fred Hersch, who claims that the technology’s ease of use is overriding good melodic and harmonic sense. And Marc Hopkins’ story on creative ways to pay for a college music degree could read as instructional or as a report on what it takes to succeed in our era of ever-rising tuition rates.
On a closing note, I’d like to extend our sincerest congratulations to writer James Gavin (and graphic designer Michael O’Leary), whose September 2014 JT article “Gates of the Underworld,” on the rise and fall of the notorious jazz dive Slugs’, won a prestigious ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for 2015. Even more important, we need to thank ASCAP. At a time when daily papers in the world’s most musically rich cities refuse to employ a fulltime music writer, it’s more essential than ever that an organization of ASCAP’s stature recognizes long-form music journalism.