Lose some, gain some

ASCAP’s longstanding Deems Taylor Awards recognizing excellence in music journalism has been suspended; no-charge online listening station Accujazz.com wants to be “the future of jazz radio.” Seismic shifts in the music media landscape continue.

I’m a proud two-time winner of the Deems Taylor Award, named for a late ASCAP board member and president who was also a composer, music journalist, broadcaster. The Awards were last presented in a 41st annual iteration on December 9 2008 to nine book authors including Alex Ross (for The Rest Is Noise), and John Kruth (for To Live’s To Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt), Howard Pollack (for George Gershwin: His Life and Works) and Oliver Sacks (for Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) as well as seven writers of articles, Philadelphia public radio station WRTI, a website created by Oxford University Press’ Norm Hirshy, and a posthumous award to Fred Rogers of the tv show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The prizes came with modest financial gifts ($250 to $1000, according to the ASCAP website — in ’85 and ’94 I received handsome plaques, no cash), but their true value is in giving some greater profile to media on music that are all too often taken for granted. According to Esther SanSaurus, who oversees the Awards, they have been suspended due to economy-related cutbacks affecting many ASCAP programs. 

Without the Deems Taylor Awards, the Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Awards (2009 announcement at a gala event on June 16 at the Jazz Standard, NYC) and the NARAS Grammies for album liner notes seem to be the only American-based honors still available for journalists; in the UK, Record of the Day last fall announced 23 winners in its Awards for Music Journalism and PR. We hope ASCAP resumes its Awards initiative.
On the brighter side, Accujazz.com is a bright website run by Lucas Gillian from offices in Chicago, offering a couple dozen channels of selected jazz programming. The channels are distinguished by style (“modern mainstream,” “old school,” “big band” “Latin jazz” etc.), by instruments (“piano jazz,” “vocal jazz,” “trumpet jazz,” etc.), composer (so far only Ellington and Monk, but their works are performed by many artists), region (New Orleans alone, to date), decade (“pre-1940,” “50s” “60s”). I spent an afternoon listening to the “avant garde” station and was pleased to hear selections by Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Joe Lovano with Judi Silvano singing — overall a worthy mix, though few surprises. 
Accujazz also features a blogroll (gotta get jbj on there), a shout-chat box, and it’s soliciting advertising. Good sound, clean execution, no audio ads mucking up the listening experience — best of luck, Accujazz. But would success spoil the future for jazz radio stations and deejays doing the job now?   

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  1. says

    HM:”But would success spoil the future for jazz radio stations and deejays doing the job now?”
    They would be competing for online “airspace.” Aren’t many of the jazz stations that exist streaming live? The DJs furnish information that accujazz does not. Think of the Columbia U station. It is outstanding…it is online and educational.
    Accujazz is another means to de-personalize and dumb down the music, something we do not need. The advantage is that it is 24/7. But who wants to lug the computer around? Oh, iPods, blackberries. There you go. There is no winning, Howard. The change is happening too fast. New ideas for use of this machine are up and running before you know it. We are doomed. The Luddites will remain in their caves.
    I hope that someone else besides James and me start talking to you. Geez.
    HM: Lyn, it’s winning to multiply the opportunities for people to find jazz, online as elsewhere. We’ve got to stop worrying about new tech changing our lives, and realize that new tech IS changing our lives. We’ve got to master it and use it to our own ends. That would not be “doomed.” We’re jazz appreciators, not Luddites. And I enjoy your comments, and James Hales, but I’m getting other comments, too . . .sometimes only on Facebook, but still (Facebook friends — post those comments here at artsjournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz!)

  2. says

    Thanks for turning me on to Accujazz. Don’t know how I missed this. Reminds me of how I’ve used Pandora.com, but without the level of control and personalization Pandora provides.
    I certainly hope there’s a role for jazz radio with DJs; that’s was a big part of my own education in the music (ie., the late, great WRVR). Just this evening I hosted a jazz show on WBAI, and I always hope that listeners will be entertained, educated and inspired.
    You’re right: we’ve got to master these new technologies and use them to reach people. As I mentioned to Russ Davis, who interviewed me on his Jazz America program recently, in coming years there will be jazz fans who will say that they got into the music on their iPhone, or through Internet radio or TV. It’s inevitable.
    Please stay in touch; I’d like to cover the JJA Jazz Awards on Jazz it Up! Thanks.
    Greg Thomas
    Host, Jazz it Up!

  3. says

    Dear Howard,
    More thoughts re: Accujazz. I emailed a radio colleague of mine about this service, and here’s the response:
    “Accuradio is one of those streaming audio services that calls themselves radio. A trained parrot could do what they do…just throw some tunes up there with little or no thought or extras like production, interviews, professional commentary, etc. The mortar between the bricks is what makes radio and all they give you is the bricks.”
    I don’t agree that no thought goes into such programming, but the critique is trenchant. Jazz radio revolves around the music, of course, yet for the term “radio” to be used, as the medium has been thought of for 80 or so years, the “extras” are crucial.
    For listeners at early stages of interest in jazz, insights brought by radio announcers, interviews with artists, radio documentaries, etc., are very important. Can you imagine “Bird Flight,” on WKCR, hosted by Phil Schapp, without Phil’s insights? (Whether or not he gives too much info or doesn’t let the music speak for itself enough is another matter.)
    If Accujazz would incorporate other elements as mentioned above, it would provide newbies a way to nourish their interest.
    Do you agree, or do you think their current approach is adequate?
    HM: I think their approach is adequate but not excellent. I understand that pretty much anyone could (and does) through a lot of music up on a site with some extras, and to call that radio is to demean to a medium that has much greater potential, more ambitious practitioners (Phil Schaap deserves a big hand — and an editor; I also think of Steve Roland, Steve Rathe, Becca Pulliam, Ben Young, Ted Panken, Alissa Clancy, Bobby Jackson, Neil Tesser, Ted Panken, Marian McPartland, Tom Vitale, Bob Porter, Eric Jackson, oh so many colleagues and friends who’ve done/do creative, constructive, entertaining radio — check out some of my own NPR pieces archived at npr.org to hear my info and music in Chicago-born delivery).
    I prefer Pandora and have blogged about it in the past — it offers surprises (and more background data, but still not enough). I’ve used Last.fm recently, and Rhapsody sometimes, to find specific titles, but not to listen to as radio, pouring forth. I think the simplicity of the accujazz.com organization by styles and its start on decades makes it a useful site for newcomers, who my experience teaching suggests want and need some basic parameters as they jump into unfamiliar listening. They don’t want to be overwhelmed; their abilities to make informed choices and pursue useful paths of understanding are undeveloped. Accujazz I can understand as a start, whereas a Schaap-like approach might just be too much.

  4. says

    In my weblog, I explore the future of Public Radio and serious music (for me, Classical music and Jazz).
    I believe that the internet is the future for serious music beyond the concert hall. A few years ago, there were problems of low bit rates and lack of stereo.
    I said that PubRadio managers needed to wake up to the fact that they could no longer be content with local terrestrial radio. The competition for listeners and member dollars was and is global. Some time ago, in a New York Times article, we learned that KCRW, Los Angeles, had as its second largest market New York City.
    Also, Public Radio has other internet competition. Just look at Shoutcast. There are streams of all sorts from all over the world competing for our attention. There are also services like Live365, and AccuRadio.
    Public Radio has gotten the message. The bit rates are up and even little WPRB, a great station in Princeton, NJ, has an mp3 stereo stream.
    Streaming may not be your cup of tea, but it gaining rapidly in acceptance. Public Radio services like the afore mentioned KCRW, and WNYC, WBGH, all biggies, have 24/7 unhosted streams. They seem to be doing quite well.
    I have recently begun to listen attentively to what is going on at AccuRadio. Why? Because while it was a pretty crummy service when it started, it has survived and the quality of its offerings has gotten a lot better. And, it is free!! So, I consider it a serious threat in the competition for listeners. The one drawback is that I need to listen in their player on their site. I cannot load their streams into Windows Media Player or Winamp, as I can everyone elses’, including now, finally Live365.
    Most recently, I was listening to several of their Classical streams. Not so hot. The Beethoven stream presents chunks of works, movements of symphonies, etc. No one who seriously wants to hear Beethoven wants that.
    But, the same is not true of their Jazz channels. I am a member of WBGO, Newark, NJ, an all Jazz station (O.K., some R&B also). I also belong to WPRB, which in its “modular” fashion has just about the best Jazz programming I have found. Of course, on these two stations, everything is hosted. Listening to these stations, I get to learn a lot about musicians and composers. But, that does not diminish what is happening at AccuRadio’s Jazz streams.
    I recently suggested to the powers at AccuRadio that its was time for them to be subscription based and to allow the listener to save what ever streams he or she wanted in their player on their computer. This allows the listener to click in or away to other choices, including the listener’s own library, all with one “app” open. I pointed out the success that this model has been for Live365.
    In spite of how we feel music should be presented, we must be awake to the realities of the digital age.
    The standard for purchasing music for the present and the foreseeable future is being set by iTunes, which I shun, and Amazon, which I adore, both with digital downloads at generally reasonable prices. That is the reality. Some other organizations, like Bang On a Can, and Steve Rowland’s artistowned.com are selling .mp3’s right from their own web sites. That’s it. That is the present.
    Similarly, like it or not, streams like those at AccuRadio, Shoutcast, Live365, and my beloved PubRadio stations are succeeding at an accelerating pace. Again, that’s it. That is the present.

  5. says

    I wrote a long response which is not appearing here yet, but just a further very short note:
    The most important fact is that anything from AccuRadio is showing up in as august a weblog as this one.

  6. says

    This is Lucas Gillan, the programmer of AccuJazz.com. It’s really exciting to see Mr. Mandel mention us on his great blog. I am a regular reader and don’t know how I missed this post (will definitely get JBJ on the blogroll, too).
    I feel like I should write some sort of official response to the criticism/comments in the comments here. I think you people figured us out, and I’m just fine with that: there’s no DJ, it is randomized, it’s not as customizable as Pandora but it’s more customizable than FM radio.
    I don’t think a parrot could do what I do, though. And I’m glad Mr. Thomas agrees! I put a lot of thought into what goes on each channel, even the extent to which each song is played. For instance, we just launched a third composer channel, devoted to the compositions of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I realized we had a lot of recordings of Bird and Diz playing their own tunes, but too small a ratio of other musicians playing them, so I actually removed some of the original recordings from the channel and doubled- or tripled-up some of the more interesting covers by artists like Paul Motian, Anthony Braxton, John Ellis, and others. Now there is a greater chance that people will hear some eclectic covers within the mix of the great originals. I had to carefully consider this. It’s comparable to being a DJ, though I admit it’s still not the same as having a familiar voice tell you about the songs.
    Other ways I compensate for the perceived lack of personality are by communicating with listeners via twitter, blogspot, facebook and myspace. On twitter I give personal opinions about recent releases, on the blog I go in to detail about what thoughts I put in to new channels, etc. It ain’t your grandma’s jazz station, but that ain’t all bad, either.
    Thanks for mentioning us!
    P.S. I also subscribe to Jazz it Up and really enjoy it! I tell my Twitter followers whenever a new episode is up.
    HM: Thanks for your comments, Lucas, I’ll check out Jazz It Up.