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JT Notes: Jazz a Year Into the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mac Randall opens the May 2021 issue of JazzTimes looking to better days

Marshall Allen
Marshall Allen leading the Sun Ra Arkestra at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival (photo: Marek Lazarski)

So now we’ve passed the year marker. More than 365 days without many of the places, people, and events that so many of us built our lives around in the pre-pandemic era. More than 365 days—at least where I reside, in Manhattan—without a club or a theater or a concert hall or a festival. More than 365 days of a strangely diminished existence, a kind of half-life.

The last live musical performance in front of an actual audience that JazzTimes covered was a show at Town Hall here in New York on March 4, 2020, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the nonprofit Arts for Art. William Parker was in charge of the first set, presenting a tribute to the songs of Curtis Mayfield. Marshall Allen and the Sun Ra Arkestra took over for the second set; they paraded through the crowd with abandon, a Saturnian second line. Alan Nahigian took pictures for us. Looking at them even a month later was a bittersweet experience. Looking at them now, more than a year on, it feels like they might as well have been taken decades ago.

We were probably being over-optimistic when we decided to print our 2020 Festival Guide this time last year. None of the events we listed then took place in the way they were originally intended. Maybe we’re still being over-optimistic now by going ahead with our 2021 Festival Guide in this issue. But our growing sense of optimism is clearly shared by many. By the time you read these words, my wife and I will both have received our second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Our parents have already been fully vaccinated. I hear rumblings of event preparations in the works from as far away as New Zealand and as close as (yes) Newport, Rhode Island. And my lament for the passing of the Jazz Standard a few issues ago may have been premature; although the club won’t reopen in its old NYC location, it has launched a weekly virtual concert series under the same management team, which suggests that more may be in the offing.

Something is changing in our country, and it’s not just a byproduct of spring’s annual arrival. We’re getting ready, I think, not to return to the way things were—that can never be—but to move ahead, to go somewhere familiar yet new, with a wider appreciation for what we have and a deeper understanding of just how swiftly it can all disappear if we’re not careful.

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.