Michael J. West’s feature story in our July/August issue on the COVID-19 lockdown is the first major piece we’ve published about a pandemic-related subject, but I can promise you (sadly) that it won’t be the last. If we didn’t already know it in March, we sure know it now: We’re in this thing for the long haul, and it’s going to affect just about every aspect of our lives for quite some time to come.
One thing that I do feel cautiously positive about is the way the jazz community has responded so far to the crisis. And I don’t just mean the outpouring of online events and benefit initiatives (some of which you can read about in Michael’s article), though those are all wonderful. I’m also thinking in terms of sheer numbers. In March and April, we took one heavy blow after another, and that was reflected in the last issue of JT, which paid tribute to two dozen of the departed. As I write this toward the end of May, I can’t help noting that our Farewells section is two pages instead of last issue’s four, and that only four major jazz deaths in the past month were connected to COVID. Of course, those are four deaths too many, but we do seem—and I really hope I’m not jinxing us by saying this—to be moving in the right direction. Which leads me to three observations:
1) In a global health crisis like this, musicians will always be among the most immediately endangered. It’s an inescapable part of the job description (or at least it has been until now). To do what they do properly, players and singers need to be out in the world, to mix and mingle with people from all over the place and of every socioeconomic background. And that, as we’re currently being reminded, is risky.
2) When the quarantines begin, musicians lead the way. That our casualty numbers have dropped so much after an early explosion indicates that the music world—at great financial cost to those within it—took the situation much more seriously much earlier than many others did. Why? Because…
3) Musicians are smart and they care about people. I’ll admit this is a big blanket statement, but it generally corresponds to my personal experience. Over the past few months we’ve seen videos, heard soundbites, and read news reports about a lot of folks (many but not all of them in America) who have demonstrated time and time again that they aren’t smart and don’t care about the welfare of others. In fact, certain individuals and organizations seem to be passionately—no, maniacally—invested in making our lives more dangerous. I think it’s safe to say that most people who play music don’t subscribe to such a program. Let’s hope that continues to be the case, for all our sakes.