Losing a jazz mag?

Rumors abound that JazzTimes magazine is folding — it’s laid off employees, notified writers of waits for May payments, not shipped its June issue to the printers and failed to sell itself to a new publisher. A senior contributor says he was told not to write his next column until asked for it. These are rumors, I stress: I’ve emailed JT’s publisher and editors for confirmation or denial, comment and clarification, without response so far. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising, given the economic drift and hard times for print media. But the demise of JazzTimes would change the game for everybody — musicians, readers writers, advertisers — focused on jazz.

Recently boasting a circulation of 100,000 — 30,000 more than claimed by rival Down Beat (I’ve worked for them both) which is currently celebrating its 75th year of publication — JazzTimes was founded as Radio Free Jazz in 1970 by Washington D.C. jazz record store owner Ira Sabin. It was a scrappy periodical with a homemade feel (thanks in part to its newsprint format) until 1990 when it upgraded to enviable slickness. It also produced the Jazz Times Convention in New York City from the early ’90s through 2000, when the four day “schmoozathon” was folded into the annual conference of the International Association for Jazz Education, which dissolved in spring 2008.  

As a monthly, JazzTimes has taken on a topic-oriented approach to feature coverage, also offering extensive record reviews — only of jazz records, though it defines the genre broadly — and has included regular columns by veteran critics Nat Hentoff and Gary Giddins and Nate Chinen of the New York Times. Its April 2009 issue was 98 pages including 22 full-page four-color ads and an accumulation of about another dozen pages of partials, promoting jazz artists, their instruments, festivals and schools.

In March 2008 JazzTimes‘ sister publication Harp, covering rock/pop, closed after a seven year run. JazzTimes has won the Jazz Journalists Association’s award for Best Periodical Covering Jazz every year since that category was established in 1999, and has maintained an elaborate website. As JazzTimes’ editor-in-chief Lee Mergener wrote in October 2008, replying to a derogatory review of his mag by a blogger, 

With the major newspapers cutting back on arts and jazz coverage, we all should appreciate any print media outlets paying close attention to this music, much less the ones who are doing it very well.

I hope the rumors are wrong — jazz since last December has suffered the unannounced suspension of publication of Coda, Canada’s 50-year-old jazz magazine, and the cessation of publication of the Mississippi Rag, the beacon of traditional jazz put out by Leslie Johnson until her death in January. On the plus side there’s been the relaunch of the UK’s long-running Jazz Journal, which in March absorbed the recently defunct Jazz Review. It’s not easy sustaining a jazz magazine, although there seem to be readers, writers and advertisers who want to be involved with jazz. Dare we hope all endangered species will find ways to successfully and profitably migrate to platforms online?

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  1. says

    That would be a real shame. I read both Jazz Times and Downbeat and like them both for different reasons. It’s good to have more than one perspective, even if many of the writers are shared.
    Let’s hope they can pull it out!

  2. CraigP says

    I wonder if Jazz Times will keep their Web portal or fold everything. I know that more jazz coverage is preferable to less, but I haven’t perused a print jazz magazine in years – I get everything from the Web.

  3. William says

    Jazztimes lost any credibility years ago. Good riddance.
    HM: JT has published good stories and mediocre ones. Is it the very model of a modern music magazine? Other models, yes, but few operative examples of print editions (whatever that’s worth, obviously less than it USED to be worth) on a continuing national basis (coverage and distribution). Besides Jazz Times and Down Beat, in the US it’s Jazziz, SignalToNoise, Cadence; in Canada the Jazz Report out of Toronto stands alone, I think, since Coda hasn’t printed in 6 months; in the UK: Jazzwise, Jazz Journal (as reported in the blog), Straight No Chaser and The Wire. There are also dedicated jazz mags I know of in France, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Scandanavia, Kiev, Russia & Japan. Please tell me of more periodicals in that category, especially credible ones.

  4. says

    I hope they pull it out as well–like Jason I read both magazines and have been a subscriber for the past few years. I keep all the back issues here at the office and just yesterday pulled a June 2005 JT article on Charles McPherson. An invaluable resource that many of us would miss a great deal.

  5. says

    Sad news if the rumors are true. Yet another lost outlet for jazz musicians to get their message out.
    HM: And not only musicians.

  6. regina says

    This is truly sad. I think you’re spot-on about there being readers, writers and advertisers who want to be involved in jazz. I’m encouraged by NPR’s recent move to launch a terrific blog dedicated solely to jazz. May they get enough support that they encourage other jazz entrepreneurs to follow suit.
    HM: The new NPR blog seems promising, but it is facing the limitations in regards to entreprenuership (as I learned today from NPR blooger-in-chief): Who pays bloggers?

  7. GaryM says

    This isn’t surprising news but sad nevertheless. I stopped subscribing when they increased their coverage of smooth jazz a couple years ago. One could argue that the beginning of the end was when they fired Stanley Crouch. I will miss Nate Chinen and the great Gary Giddins but I suspect their thoughtful insights will show up somewhere else.
    HM: Crouch’s firing didn’t lead to Jazz Times’ problems. Read Nate every Friday in the New York Times, and Gary on occasion in the New Yorker (plus his books!)

  8. Peter Williams says

    I hope that Jazztimes stays afloat, and anyone on this site who cares about jazz should hope so too.
    The comment above, saying they lost all credibility and good riddance, does no one any good.
    Jazztimes has done a great job promoting this great artform. They review CD’s, write articles about musicians, they review shows, and for anyone interested in jazz, have been a valuable resource.
    Of course, they won’t make everyone happy all the time, and they shouldn’t, they should be promoting all facets of this great music, and they have.
    I hope they stay afloat, and will be watching.

  9. BigManRestfull says

    JVC Jazz festival in NYC: cancelled.
    Chicago jazz festival: cancelled.
    Jazztimes: cancelled.
    IAJE: broke and, therefore, cancelled.
    But, New York and Chicago aren’t really “jazz” centers, so I’m sure jazz is doing just fine.
    HM: Chicago’s Jazz Festival is on — the JVC Jazz Festival there wasn’t much of a factor; they also have Ravinia jazz bookings (ticketed events in a park on the North Shore), a free African-American festival in the park outside the DuSable museum the same Labor Day weekend as the fest in Grant Park, and they have had (haven’t heard about it yet this summer) free outdoor jazz fests in Hyde Park (Obama’s neighborhood) and at was back in my youth the “restricted” South Shore Country Club, now a city park. New York City has announced the free Charlie Parker Jazz Festival (two days, one uptown one downtown) and there are jazz events at the free Summerstage in Central Park, Celebrate Brooklyn! fest in Prospect Park, River-to-River festival which goes from South Street Seaport to Battery Park, east to west. Also, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors presents a lot of music, some of it jazz. So don’t worry, jazz isn’t down and out in these centers — or in New Orleans, Boston, Philly, Kansas City, San Francisco, Monterey, Pittsburgh, LA, Seattle, etc. JazzTimes has been produced out of Silver Spring MD. The music is health; the commercial concerns have faltered.

  10. says

    In terms of substantial coverage of significant facets of jazz not otherwise documented in the jazz media, the loss of CODA is far worse news than the demise of JAZZTIMES. My personal experiences of contributing for many years to both publications aside, I must say that CODA not only allowed contributors to use one’s own voice, it was actively encouraged by the editors, who tended to make the music, rather than the business of music, their higher priority. Especially after the switch from newspaper to magazine format, this was not the case at JAZZTIMES. To some extent, all publishers must also be panderers, at least to their advertisers, but if the Washingtonians failed to exercise enough sense of proportion in maintaining a balance between aesthetic and economic considerations, so too did the Torontonians, though in the opposite, and, to my mind, more admirable direction. I doubt I will be the only one to see irony in both magazines folding in such close chrono-proximity as our beloved print age accelerates in drawing to a close, nor will I be the only one to miss both.
    HM: Under the editorship of John Norris and Bill Smith, from the ’70s I believe into the ’90s (and maybe even into the ’00s, I forget), Coda was a distinctive music publication, giving pride of place to non-commercial jazz (as did its related record label Sackville). However, changes in ownership and editorial management re-directed the mag’s efforts, and it has had difficulty securing a new identity. Having met with Coda’s current publisher at the final IAJE convention in Toronto in 2008, Jazz Journalists Association members were quite optimistic about the periodical’s future. However, reports of severely late payments and non-payments began to surface from Coda contributors, and the mag seemed to be unresponsive. Naturally this did no go for its editorial voice. Some of the spirit that once characterized Coda might be found at http://www.pointofdeparture.org, the monthly web-zine that includes writing by its publisher Bill Shoemaker, former Coda editor Stuart Broomer, former Down Beat editor Art Lange and several other thoughtful contributors.

  11. says

    If this is true, it’s a tragedy. Being a music magazine publisher myself (OffBeat Magazine), we are in the same quandary. I’m constantly struggling to keep our integrity intact and not to “pander” to advertisers. But it’s getting really difficult. Look at just about every media now: it’s about ADVERTORIAL. The advertisers demand ink; if you don’t give it to them, they’ll spend money with media that will give it to them (and many, many will). It amazes me, makes me angry and despair over the future of media having journalistic ethics. The line between church and state has slowly but surely been coming down. Personally, I think it’s a function of what readers and media viewers will tolerate. The less you respond to journalism that’s obviously tainted, the stronger media with some integrity will be as a watchdog for truth. But publishers’ problem is that if we can’t support our editorial staff, we have to fold. We have no choice. Or does the public mind that the new journalists of the world are bloggers? By the way, the money from internet publications is miniscule. Have seen several print pubs with websites who have scaled back to internet-only models that have folded. You can’t even pay writers on internet ad revenue.
    HM: Advertorial, as I use the term re the JVC Jazz Program books, is paid for editorial content. It was not a giveaway of journalism to the advertisers, but clearly marked. If advertisers insist on product placement in news and feature stories as part of their ad packages — yes, that constitutes a serious journalistic breach of ethics. Readers should beware of any publication spicing its editorial content with fulfillment of advertisers’ demands.
    That said — does the gen’l public care if the new journalists are all bloggers? I guess bloggers are better than nothing, and the public hasn’t yet caught on to what they’re going to be missing without newspapers and other professional journalism. But Jan, you’re absolutely right — there is no payment for this; online ad revenues don’t cover it, and hardly any online publications are paying bloggers (unless they work on staff for the Huffington Post or a handful of the very most visited sites). I’ve had half a dozen online magazines fold after I’ve contributed to them; still, I believe that publications that don’t go online are doomed, regardless of whether the business model to support online publications has yet to be determined. This is a huge conversation all by itself, and one that is taking place every day in journalistic circles, including here around ArtsJournal.com

  12. Jessica Sendra says

    This would be heartbreaking. I sincerely hope it’s not true. I’ve been an avid Jazztimes reader and (occasional contributor) for many years.

  13. Jessica Sendra says

    This would be heartbreaking. I sincerely hope it’s not true. I’ve been an avid Jazztimes reader and (occasional contributor) for many years.

  14. Jessica Sendra says

    This would be heartbreaking. I sincerely hope it’s not true. I’ve been an avid Jazztimes reader and (occasional contributor) for many years.

  15. says

    I am very saddened to hear of Jazztimes’ possible demise (not least because I purchased a 3-year subscription when the Canadian dollar was at par). I have subscribed to both Downbeat and JT for years and find the useful content far outweighs the smooth jazz tripe that sullies Jazziz. I especially enjoy the interviews that Gene Lees has done over the years.

  16. Ron says

    Such a shame.
    I have a subscription to JazzTimes and look forward to its arrival every month.
    I enjoy Downbeat on occasion, but my interest lies in the avant garde side of jazz, and it always seemed Downbeat was more for traditionalists.

  17. says

    Obviously, everyone knows the rumors are true. This is absolutely terrible.
    I am the biographer of Gene Krupa, writer/producer of the Hudson Music and Warner Bros. “Jazz Legends” DVD series, Scripps-Howard newspaper columnist, founder of JazzLegends.,com, and a drummer and entertainment industry professional since childhood.
    I long considered Jazz Times to be the jazz magazine of “record,” if there is such a thing. The contributors through the years–Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Leonard Feather, Gary Giddins, Ira Gitler, Stanley Dance,Doug Ramsey and many more–were the finest writers, critics and musicologists in jazz history. Without Jazz Times, the industry–such as it is–will never be the same.
    While economics certainly played a part in the demise of Jazz Times, I also believe that people are just getting their information–jazz and otherwise–in different ways these days.
    After all, if you can get it for free on the net, why bother paying for the magazine?
    This mirrors what I perceive to be a trend, which cannot be reversed at this late date, of what’s going on via YouTube and its clones. As the producer and writer of dozens of videos on jazz musicians through the years, I am seeing my priceless clips being posted–with no credit or source given–on YouTube at no charge. In other words, surfers can now get things for free that they used to have to pay for.
    I’ve gotten dozens of comments–posted on the Jazz Times site, coincidently, saying things like “all music should be free for everyone.”
    I cannot tell you how much my business has suffered. It looks like Jazz Times has suffered as well.

  18. CraigP says

    Re: comments that “music should be free”: I’ve seen those comments as well, in particular from tech bloggers for some reason, and it just amazes me that people take that position. The only saving grace, I suppose, is that most musicians, even in pop and country, make most of their money from touring and merchandise sales rather than CD sales. But I wonder if those who want music to be free think that all arts should be free? After all, there are costs associated with getting a recording out to the public, or a production to the stage. I also wonder if they’d like to work for free in their chosen field.
    HM: Agreed on most of your points, Craig. But that musicians “make most of their money from touring and merchandise sales rather than CD sales” is a relatively new phenomenon. Not sure when it started — perhaps around 2000, when record companies started to drift away? But it used to be that musicians made their $ from CD sales and touring was mostly supported by record co.s as marketing for those CDs. The arts should be free, in that they should be able to draw on what they need to survive, grow, thrive. Not “free” in that they can just be anything, without sense, without craft, without point. That’s my point.

  19. says

    I received my magazines in times, It seems it was a rumor. I had always been a reader of the JazzTimes. It has contributes in many direct and indirect ways the passion of Jazz for us.
    HM: JazzTimes continues to publish under new ownership. Check out its website.