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JT Notes: What to Do About Live Reviews?

Editor Mac Randall opens our October 2020 issue with a dilemma

Malou Beauvoir and James Germain
Malou Beauvoir (left) and James Germain at the 2020 Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

You may possibly recall that in a previous era (about six months ago as I write this), JazzTimes used to publish reviews of concerts and festivals. Most of them appeared only on our website, but every so often they’d make it into the pages of the magazine too. Such was the case with Sharonne Cohen’s feature-length take on the Port-au-Prince Jazz Festival. The fact that this annual event, held at the end of January, had gone on in the face of near-disastrous conditions in Haiti warranted a longer treatment, which we gave it in our April issue. That issue reached subscribers in early March, by which time we in the eastern U.S. had a looming disaster of our own to contend with. I had planned further live reviews in March and April, but none of the concerts in question ended up taking place. Port-au-Prince was the third performance event we covered in 2020, and as of now it remains the last.

Of course, there’s been no shortage of jazz performances over the subsequent months. But nearly every one of them has been virtual, experienced via screens, and the idea of reviewing them has seemed—to me, at least—unfair. Given the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic has created in our lives, does it make sense to critique the work of musicians who we all know are working under less than opportune conditions? Should we carp when the sound quality is bad or the camera work is sloppy or the audio and video aren’t synced or the signal cuts out? My feeling up until now has been that we ought to accept these internet offerings as gifts in a difficult time and not criticize them.

However, as the months go by and a complete return to that previous era seems less and less likely—and as a growing number of jazz venues, from Blues Alley in Washington to the Baked Potato in L.A., are getting into the paid-streaming business—I find myself wondering whether it’s time to end our moratorium on live reviews. Should we find a way to approach the “new normal,” or should we continue to keep our distance? Drop us a line and tell us what you think: [email protected].  

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.