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.
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?