It was just under a decade ago that I received an intriguing email from my pal James Gavin. For anyone jazz-savvy enough to be visiting this website, Gavin, author of bestselling biographies of Chet Baker and Lena Horne and the definitive authority on American cabaret and its practitioners, surely needs no introduction. Jim was writing to let me know that then JazzTimes editor Chris Porter was scouting for someone to write a regular jazz vocal column, and that he had put my name forward.
Based solely, it seems, on Jim’s recommendation, Porter took a chance on a writer whose work he’d never read, whom he’d never met and who also happened to live in a foreign country (hardly a world apart, since I’m based in Toronto, but foreign nonetheless – a complication that would result in more than a few review discs getting waylaid, or lost altogether, on their cross-border travels).
Since then, the magazine has seen a change in editors (with publisher Lee Mergner swapping the publisher’s chair for the seat vacated by Porter), endured a publication halt last summer amid the worldwide media meltdown, and risen from the ashes under new ownership.
Through it all, apart from a brief hiatus around mid-2006, I’ve been fortunate enough to maintain my slice of JT space. By this point, I figure, I’ve reviewed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 vocal albums plus contributed the occasional vocal feature, and even a handful of cover stories. I’ve been given the opportunity to interview personal vocal heroes both iconic (Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Keely Smith) and icons-in-the-making (Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, Diana Krall, Jamie Cullum).
What more could there possibly be to say? Well, there are always new albums to review and fresh artists to introduce. But reviews, and even features, aren’t enough to tell the whole story.
When I raised the idea of a weekly blog – a personal forum for extracurricular rants and raves – Lee was his usual encouraging self. With typical generosity (and blind faith), he said ‘yes’ without hesitation.
I see it as a great opportunity to dig deeper – to profile favorites new and old, introduce less familiar singers deserving of wider attention, talk about trends (emerging, fading, annoying or otherwise), offer up concert reviews, report from jazz fests, poke around in the past a bit, deliberate ancillary issues like the dearth of decent jazz venues, the evolving (or perhaps devolving) influence of jazz-oriented radio or the potentially game-changing effect of iTunes, Facebook and Twitter. In other words, simply to indulge in plenty of horizon-broadening.
But, I’ve learned enough about the blogosphere to know that one-way conversations become dull awfully fast. So, to make this work, I’ll need your help. I’ve been kicking around ideas for future installments, but 52 weeks are a lot to fill, and your thoughts and suggestions will be vital. Who are you listening to, and why? Who’s getting overlooked? What vocal trends are exciting you, confusing you, or outright irritating you? If it concerns vocalists, vintage or freshly hatched, let me know your thoughts. Together we can make this a great space to dissect, discover, debate and celebrate great (and near-great, and even not-so-great) jazz singers and their musical worlds.
You can email me at: [email protected]
I’ll be back February 8 for the first bona fide column, delving into a question both singers and listeners have long been pondering: what, if any, are the boundaries of the Great American Songbook?