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Hard at Work

Editor-in-Chief Lee Mergner introduces the December 2010 issue of JazzTimes

With a cover story on Roberta Gambarini and pieces on Mary Stallings and Helen Merrill, this issue was initially planned with a theme of jazz vocals. But I see the true theme as a deeper one that resonates for all of us, not just the musicians covered in these pages: hard work. No, not the title of the John Handy crossover hit from 1976, but rather the ethos of staying focused on the job at hand, no matter what the initial feedback or circumstances.

In our present economic situation, everyone who is fortunate enough to still have a job seems to be working harder than ever at it. Indeed, this magazine is saturated with elbow grease, from 2011 NEA Jazz Master Dave Liebman, who’s always been one of the hardest-working musicians in the jazz community, to Antonio Sanchez, who traveled to Berklee from Mexico City with nothing but his drums and drive, later becoming a rhythmic muse to Pat Metheny and Gary Burton as well as an imposing composer and bandleader.

So many of this issue’s subjects have experienced the music industry’s trials and travails. Italian-born singer Roberta Gambarini, who learned her trade by working under American jazz masters, tells Christopher Loudon about how she was once a struggling young artist in Milan with little more than her parents’ support as inspiration. Gambarini also relays how she tried endlessly to get a record contract before deciding to form her own label. (Her first Stateside effort earned a Grammy nom.) None of the subjects in this issue lived on Easy Street, it seems.

Nat Hentoff knows all about hard work. The longtime chronicler of stories in the jazz community, and a contributor to this magazine since 1998, is moving on from JT, but he’s not retiring. As Hentoff recently told me in an interview I did with him for, “I’m going to retire right here at the typewriter.” A senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute, Hentoff will continue to write about jazz for the Wall Street Journal and about all things Hentoff-like for the Village Voice. In more than 120 columns for this magazine, he’s written about everything from pre-teen musicians to octogenarian jazz masters like Clark Terry and Jimmy Heath, along with numerous pieces on his favorite topic, the Jazz Foundation of America. He had complete autonomy in his choice of subjects and occasionally covered social or political issues, such as music used as an instrument of military torture, human rights in Cuba and the role of the FBI in monitoring politically active jazz figures.

In his last column for the magazine, Hentoff wrote about 20-year-old guitarist Armand Hirsch. We edited out a sentence in that piece about how jazz will live on, “unless, as is possible, human beings are blown off the face of the earth as more and more nations, taking our growing example, develop pilotless drone planes and other instruments of robotic warfare.” We felt that it was entirely tangential to the subject of an emerging young artist, and Hentoff said he could no longer contribute to the magazine, calling the cut censorship rather than good old-fashioned editing. Nonetheless, we are grateful for his contributions over the last dozen years and wish him well.

[Editor’s Note: Nat Hentoff has since reconsidered and has resumed contributing his Final Chorus column to JazzTimes.]

Originally Published