Trouble — or transition — at Jazz.com?

Stepping down from presiding over Jazz.com two years after its launch, editor, author and pianist Ted Gioia isn’t saying much about what’s up with the site that has become a major web resource and destination. Naturally, this leads to wondering what has become of the promise and potential of jazz on the web.


We have many bloggers about the music, yes (see my blogroll) — some well informed, some less so — and large dedicated websites including AllAboutJazz.com and JazzCorner.com, which serve the informational and promotional needs of the greater jazz community each in their unique ways. But under Gioia, Jazz.com has succeeded in laying a foundation for a living online center concerning the music, through commissioned blog posts and articles, track reviews and the inclusion of Lewis Porter’s Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

One of the features we enjoyed most has been Jazz.com’s aggregation of “news and views,” in which provocative postings from across the jazz-specific blogosphere could be quickly and easily scanned in one place, viewed as screenshots. Not to be modest, Jazz Beyond Jazz bits often have turned up there, and I’ve been glad to have them rubbing shoulders with news from Peter Hum, Patrick Jarwarttananon of A Blog Supreme, James Hale, Doug Ramsey, Don Heckman, JazzWax, and many of the other colleagues I try to keep up with. Jazz.com provided an easy way to do it.
I’ve asked Ted directly what’s up with Jazz.com, and he is observing a diplomatic silence. The site, without advertising OR subscriptions to generate revenue, has from the start been financed by a silent partner, rumored to be a Las Vegas-based media entrepreneur. The url “jazz.com” is reputed to be a highly valuable property, though jazz online mavens have never explained why; without great content, no url can really be worth much. Not to be too worried about Ted — he’s been stalwart, judicious and productive: The Birth (and Death) of the Cool is his just-out-now book, after volumes on Delta Blues, Healing Songs, Work Songs, The History of Jazz and West Coast Jazz. And jazz readers will hope that whatever transition is occurring at Jazz.com is one of those things, a bump not a breakdown. Stay tuned, keep reading. . . 

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Comments

  1. says

    “The site,” you write, “without advertising OR subscriptions to generate revenue, has from the start been financed by a silent partner, rumored to be a Las Vegas-based media entrepreneur.” Actually it’s no secret that jazz.com is the property of Greenspun Media Group, whose chairman is Daniel A. Greenspun. To avoid direct solicitations, that connection was never publicized on jazz.com itself. But a day after the site’s launch in December 2007, the digital marketing agency Spacedog let the cat out of the bag, announcing on their web site: “Working with the Greenspun Media Group of Las Vegas, we designed, developed and recently launched a portal dedicated to jazz music at http://www.jazz.com.” And in a blog marking jazz.com’s first anniversary, Ted Gioia acknowledged Danny Greenspun as one of “the many individuals who have helped in various ways during our pre-launch and first year of operations.”
    As a former jazz.com staffer, I have no inside information as to why Gioia is leaving, nor did he or anyone else ever discuss the site’s business plan with me. All of the background data in the preceding paragraph is the result of a simple Google search I conducted this morning. It’s too bad that you prefer to rely on rumor instead of spending a few minutes to get the facts, but I realize that as president of the Jazz Journalists Association you’re much too busy to do simple journalistic research. But at least you don’t resort to the rank speculation of typically know-nothing bloggers such as Chris Rich at Brilliant Corners, who today charges that “hapless Jazz.com” was a vanity project micromanaged by a “dumb shit tycoon from Vegas” under the sway of a right-wing conspiracy of crackpot “Marsalists” out to corporatize jazz.
    Given that other writers even more uninformed than I are expressing themselves with reckless abandon, I’d like to offer an alternate take. Greenspun Media Group includes Niche Media Holdings. “Catering exclusively to the high-end luxury market through its distinctive publications,” GMG’s web site explains, “Niche Media is renowned for reaching the most affluent consumers, making the pages of these publications some of the most valuable ‘real estate’ in the country.” Wrapping jazz.com into the Niche Media business model would logically entail a protracted start-up period during which sponsorship was deliberately eschewed in favor of building site traffic based on content. As you correctly point out, “without great content, no URL can really be worth much.” Thus, instead of accepting ads right away from Dave’s Drum Shop and hawkers of Kenny G T-shirts, the strategy would be to wait until the volume of daily visitors could attract high-end advertisers looking to target affluent consumers. Gioia’s leaving jazz.com may be neither a bump nor a breakdown, but merely part of an overall design that Greenspun Media Group, for competitive reasons, chooses not to make public.
    HM: Thanks, Mr. Kurtz, for clarifying the ownership of Jazz.com. You’re right, I was too hasty in putting up this news, while writing a feature for one publication, composing another for tomorrow’s deadline in the back of my mind, corresponding with my NYU class and doing email. Such is the price paid for freelancers having to multi-task.
    Doing some Google research, though, I’ve found out a bit about Greenspun Media Group and Niche Media’s holdings, which include several slick lifestyle magazines that don’t target deep cultural matters, but rather skim the surface (cover stories on John Cusack for Michigan Avenue (Chicago) and Andre Agaxsi for Vegas Magazine, Jay-Zee on Gotham, the calendar of which includes as “musts” the New York City marathon, Thanksgiving Day Parade, Cirque de Soleil and Rockette’s Christmas extravaganza as well as Iranian composer Hafez Nazeri at Carnegie Hall, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at BAM and Fela! on Broadway — no jazz). So Jazz.com seems like a bit of an anomaly.
    One thing several GMG/NM pubs have in common is a story headlined The Legacy of a Las Vegas Crusader, summarized as: “Brian Greenspun and Senator Harry Reid discuss the life and legacy of Hank Greenspun who’s [sic] life is chronicled in the 98-minute documentary file, ‘Where I Stand: The Hank Greenspun Story.’” Hank Greenspun, father of Brian (current editor of the Las Vegas Sun) and Daniel, was a “maverick newspaperman,” a publisher who defied Joe McCarthy during at Senate committee meeting when accused of being a Commie, helped Bugsy Siegel reopen the Flamingo Hotel, knew Howard Hughes, “never liked the mob” and was great at “moving pieces around a chess board, especially if it helped Las Vegas — and its denizens — prosper.”
    So the question is what is the chess piece called Jazz.com worth to Daniel Greenspun, who is on record for contributing more than $40,000 to the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and today (Nov. 19) was photographed talking to students in the 52nd Sun Forum about gay marriage and civil unions. Your speculation that GMG’s “strategy would be to wait until the volume of daily visitors could attract high-end advertisers looking to target affluent consumers” might be good news — perhaps the day has come and high end advertisers are about to start pitching to Jazz.com’s “affluent consumers,” in which case all parties involved — except Ted Gioia, no longer involved but the man who drew those consumers with content he commissioned — will all be happy, because we need Jazz.com and other sites like it to produce revenue that can continue to pay for high quality jazz journalism.

  2. Alan Kurtz says

    You overcompensated with your belated burst of research. First you recite a litany of slick superficiality among Niche Media’s print holdings “that don’t target deep cultural matters,” as if jazz were by contrast a deep cultural matter, which is debatable. Next you recount biographical material on the Greenspun family that has no relevance to jazz.com, and append the stunning journalistic revelation that Danny Greenspun gave money to big-name Democrats in 2008 and today has the audacity to speak in public about gay marriage and civil unions. This relates to jazz.com how? Finally you declare that Ted Gioia will not be happy if high-end advertisers start pitching to jazz.com’s affluent consumers. Have you asked Mr. Gioia that question, or did you consult the standard-issue blogger’s Ouija board?
    HM: Please — I was just trying to contextualize, and I don’t have any agenda or hold any brief on this topic. Firstly I looked at the “high end” publications of GMG and NM, which are nothing like jazz.com; whether or not jazz is deep, jazz.com has provided deep and focused coverage (no one else offers track reviews) unlike anything else in the portfolio. Then I looked to the source of the firms’ journalistic initiatives, which harken back to an interesting patriarch who seems to have done things his own way (maybe influential on his son’s values and behavior now). Then I found the only references at hand, on Google, to Daniel Greenspun’s interests, Democratic presidential politics and a public appearance talking about an issue that some people find provocative, which only improves his image in my book. Finally, I doubt high end advertisers will come to jazz.com — but if they did, that would be fine because then jazz.com could continue to pay its contributors (I am not a jazz.com contributor because the site insists on an all-rights contract that I wouldn’t sign). Yes, I consulted Ted Gioia and he wrote to me that he liked my phrase “diplomatic silence.”

  3. says

    The site,” you write, “without advertising OR subscriptions to generate revenue, has from the start been financed by a silent partner, rumored to be a Las Vegas-based media entrepreneur.” Actually it’s no secret that jazz.com is the property of Greenspun Media Group, whose chairman is Daniel A. Greenspun. To avoid direct solicitations, that connection was never publicized on jazz.com itself. But a day after the site’s launch in December 2007, the digital marketing agency Spacedog let the cat out of the bag, announcing on their web site: “Working with the Greenspun Media Group of Las Vegas, we designed, developed and recently launched a portal dedicated to jazz music at http://www.jazz.com.” And in a blog marking jazz.com’s first anniversary, Ted Gioia acknowledged Danny Greenspun as one of “the many individuals who have helped in various ways during our pre-launch and first year of operations.”
    As a former jazz.com staffer, I have no inside information as to why Gioia is leaving, nor did he or anyone else ever discuss the site’s business plan with me. All of the background data in the preceding paragraph is the result of a simple Google search I conducted this morning. It’s too bad that you prefer to rely on rumor instead of spending a few minutes to get the facts, but I realize that as president of the Jazz Journalists Association you’re much too busy to do simple journalistic research. But at least you don’t resort to the rank speculation of typically know-nothing bloggers such as Chris Rich at Brilliant Corners, who today charges that “hapless Jazz.com” was a vanity project micromanaged by a “dumb shit tycoon from Vegas” under the sway of a right-wing conspiracy of crackpot “Marsalists” out to corporatize jazz.