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JT Editor Evan Haga Introduces the October 2014 Issue

Take jazz for granted

Ah, the summer of 2014: the season in which two articles made jazz’s online community flip its lid, throwing into sharp relief the importance of having interests outside of jazz and the Internet.

The first shot fired was of course “Sonny Rollins: In His Own Words,” a satirical column written by Django Gold and posted to The New Yorker‘s website in late July. I didn’t care for it but I also didn’t take it as a sign of the apocalypse; more than anything I wondered what exactly Gold was aiming for, so I assigned him the goodhearted guest column. (If you tracked the ordeal you were interested in his reasoning too, so don’t call me an apologist.)

It was the other piece, Justin Moyer’s “All That Jazz Isn’t All That Great,” still on view at WashingtonPost.com, that I found more problematic-not because of its argument, which was undercut by charlatanism, but because it followed an unsettling larger trend in how mainstream outlets cover jazz nowadays (if they cover it at all). While there are terrific exceptions-the New York Times comes to mind-most current jazz coverage in non-jazz outlets falls toward trite think pieces about one or more of the following tired-ass topics: whether jazz is/isn’t dead (naturally); why “jazz” festivals book pop acts; how X artist is reinventing the tradition for the youth demographic by fusing it with hip-hop, covering Radiohead and/or playing the showman; an interpretation of an abysmal (and meaningless) statistic about jazz record sales. The list goes on, and will put you to sleep.

In a healthier media landscape, these pieces were offset by a steadier stream of genuine jazz criticism; now it seems they’re jazz’s only option for exposure besides obituaries. The average consumer will learn about how jazz is at a crisis point and take in a surplus of lousy Kenny G quips before he or she hears that a great tenor player is headlining the local concert hall. Hey, editors and staff reporters: Instead of something on whether Jon Batiste will or will not save jazz, how about a review of a Batiste gig by a skilled jazz writer? Instead of an indictment by a non-participant, how about a roundup of fine recent jazz albums? Jazz, that silly little art form that’s so easy to drag through the mud, has been around for a century. It’s time to start taking it for granted.

Originally Published