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JT Editor Evan Haga Introduces the January/February 2015 Issue

Question and answer

I tend to assign stories based on questions I want answered for myself, and this keyboard-themed Year in Review issue bears that strategy out. Case in point: After reading reports on the New York-based Justice for Jazz Artists campaign but not quite grasping the mission’s real-world implications, I asked David R. Adler to outline the cause and its detractors in a more tangible way. You can check out his report in this issue.

The same idea applied to the cover story, Giovanni Russonello’s look into the life and especially legacy of avant-garde icon Sun Ra. Essentially, I wanted to know where and how Ra’s work has permeated the current hardcore jazz scene with meaning. Ra’s space-alien constitution gave him an appeal that spread far outside of jazz and into general exotica; for that reason, the devotion of his admirers has ranged from cult-like to superficial, with the separation between the two often dangerously narrow. I’ve seen much over the years concerning Ra’s influence on George Clinton, the MC5, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and the long-running indie-rock band Yo La Tengo-all of whom, it’s worth noting, seem to have absorbed the man’s music with depth-and relatively little on how his unmanageable discography filters through an acoustic jazz outfit today. Russonello found his answer mostly in Ra’s adopted hometown of Chicago, which harbors one of the strongest and earthiest jazz scenes in the country, an environment where tradition and newness cooperate without political handwringing. I used to say that if you had more Sun Ra in your record collection than Mingus or Miles you were more likely a connoisseur of outsider art than a genuine fan of jazz music. Now I’m not so sure.

Among my other favorite features in this issue is Adler’s Before & After session with Ethan Iverson. As you might expect, given Iverson’s ability to craft jazz interviews and liner notes that give many full-time critics a run for their money, this B&A is one of the most perceptive I can recall. I bring extra attention to it here because it does exactly what the exercise is supposed to do. Not merely a guessing game fleshed out by platitudes, B&A can reveal, with insight and candor, how and why a particular musician listens to music. What does this person value in jazz-in composing and arranging and improvising? When does he or she think a performance loses its way? What historical or personal connections can be drawn to the music? Iverson has set the bar.

Originally Published