In 1907, after the Coney Island impresario George C. Tilyou witnessed the ashy ruins of his Steeplechase Park, he posted a pithy note that begins with two lines I find to be exceptionally beautiful: To enquiring friends – I had troubles yesterday that I have not today. I have troubles today that I had not yesterday.
Sitting at my desk in late May, I’m going to understand that sentiment better on June 6, the day after my last as the editor of JazzTimes. Mac Randall, one of my go-to freelancers and among the most skilled culture journalists I’ve ever worked with, is going to take over, and I’ll remain a contributing writer.
I signed on with the magazine in May of 2006, after having been a nonpareil JazzTimes intern, or perhaps the only one who actually listened to jazz. I was 22 then, which has a lot to do with why I’m leaving: The things you seek in a gig at that age are pretty different from what you want at 34, or at least they should be. It’s time to see what else is out there, even as my love for the music only grows.
From 22 to 34 isn’t an insignificant chunk of time, and those years of health and freedom aren’t ones you’d be wise to waste. At times—actually, most often—I was dedicated to the magazine beyond reason, but was I dedicated to a fault? “You only go around once, but if you play your cards right, once is enough,” Sinatra told us. Easy for Ol’ Blue Eyes to say. When he was in his early 30s he was seducing (or being seduced by) Lana Turner, not proofreading school-band CD reviews for the Jazz Education Guide. Still, it’s hard for me to feel anything but gratitude—to the musicians, to our industry friends and supporters, to my small but hugely talented editorial and production staff, especially my pal and mentor Lee Mergner, to my fantastic writers and photographers and, most of all, to you. I hope you enjoyed the magazine. It really was a privilege to put it together for you.
I also need to say thanks to those who employed me, namely Glenn and Jeff Sabin and, since 2009, Madavor Media. They trusted me, which is most of what any ambitious editor really requires—the straightest possible line between carefully curated writing and thoughtful reading, sans corporate second-guessing and oversight from advertising. My process was proudly non-scientific: I simply thought about the wide-ranging tastes of the readership, generated or accepted inspired ideas for articles to suit those tastes, assigned those articles to the best and most cooperative journalists I could find, and waited for the response. The results include some of the best music journalism I’ve ever read: Shaun Brady exploring the wild nights at the legendary club Seventh Avenue South; James Gavin digging into the cold-case file of vocalist Ann Richards; expertly crafted monthly columns by Nate Chinen and Gary Giddins; the early nationally published jazz writing of Giovanni Russonello, currently the jazz critic at the New York Times. You’ll see some of my final assignments next month, and I can’t wait to read them: a piece on a lost Coltrane Quartet studio album, by Michael J. West; a look back at the storied Village haunt Bradley’s, by Dan Bilawsky; a generation-spanning feminist take on Betty Davis, by Natalie Weiner.
This stuff isn’t content; it’s profile and feature writing, it’s long-form interviewing, it’s criticism and it’s deep thinking, about an art form that remains a secret history in dire need of professional documentation. In the end, I think we—that includes you—did some good.