Jazz Blogs: The Future

When Rifftides launched in the dark ages of jazz blogging, 2005, a handful of us, if that many, pursued this hybrid form of communication. Now, jazz blogs have proliferated to the point where it is probably impossible to keep tabs on the expansion. This evening, Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association, conducted a webinar (web seminar) with four young bloggers. Howard’s selection of his guests indicates his regard for their work or, at least, for their potential.

All relatively new to web logging, they discussed the attractions, possibilities, values and obligations of this hybrid form of communication. They did not agree on everything, but at the end they uniformly rejected the argument that jazz is dead or dying. That prognostication raises its head about once a year, most recently in a piece by Benjamin Schwarz in the November issue of The Atlantic. Dressed as a review of Ted Gioia’s new book, Schwarz’s tolling of the bell is called “The End of Jazz.”

The JJA webinar bloggers emphasized that they would not have taken up the craft if they thought it had no future. When the discussion ended, I visited each of their blogs and read them with interest. I’m adding them to the Rifftides blogroll at the end of the right-hand column. (Yeah, I know the list needs tending.) The guests (with links) were:

Alex Rodriguez of Lubricity




Veronica Grandison of Roots, Rhythm and Rhyme



Angelika Beener of Alternate Takes




and Jonathan Wertheim, who calls himself, with cause, The Disgruntled Jazz Critic.



Pay them a visit, see what you think, and comment to them on their blog pages or to Rifftides.

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  1. says

    What Benjamin Schwarz’s (the Atlantic’s literary editor) qualifications are to make pronouncements on jazz is unclear.

    The Atlantic used to publish articles on jazz and jazz musicians with some frequency. No more. Recently, they published articles on 1) why Gov. Chris Christie is a big Springsteen fan and why Springsteen ignores him and 2) why rapper Kanye West is “an American Mozart.” Need I say more?

  2. says

    Kudos to every young blogger who has decided to dedicate his spare time to write about jazz, new music, forgotten vocalists, or the old big bands.

    It’s a brave thing to do, considering decreasing audiences. Let’s try to keep it alive anyway. Let’s share our love, joy & passion.

    It’s our enthusiasm which may possibly infect others.

  3. says

    Bill Kirchner! Glad to hear your virtual voice! Long time since Wednesday nights on W 47th St. I believe the R.B. is R.I.P.?

    Jazz is indeed alive and growing. Jazz education has gone from being barely functional when I was in middle school to extremely competent today, and increasingly produces capable performers. However it has become less and less possible to extract anything like a living wage from the music economy. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, between 1999 and 2008, the segment market share for jazz recordings declined from 3% to 1.1% in an overall music market that shrank from $14.5 billion to $8.4 billion. So difficult as it was before, making a living playing jazz music now is like trying to run a marathon with a tight-fitting plastic bag over your head.

    I noted on B Mintzer’s blog, USC is grooming students to write and teach as well as perform…probably a winning strategy if one exists.

  4. Charlton Price says

    In a message to my JAM (Jazz Ambassador Magazine) editor Roger Atkinson, I had notedt that Schwarz sings the “jazz is dead “song only in his very last paragraph, just a couple of sentences. The rest of the article is reverential remarks about BG, Ellington and other classic greats, with nary a mention of the contemporary scene (as in the Ken Burns jazz documentary). Schwarz’s theme is that jazz was great when it fed on pop and show biz music. Perhaps the Atlantic editors then slapped the “jazz is dead” headline on the article.

  5. David says

    I don’t know why anyone who follows the new release recommendations on this or other blogs, or listens to jazz radio, would think that jazz is dead. There’s more great new stuff coming out than I have time to follow. The problem is that the audience is dying. I look at the audiences at our local jazz events and think, “In five years most of these people will be dead or on life-support.” (Same thing at chamber music concerts.) My students (elementary through high school) have no idea who Duke Ellington was and aren’t even curious. Their parents haven’t heard of him either.

    One of the bloggers pictured suggests that today’s jazz musicians should do more studio work like the guys who played (usually anonymously) on Springsteen or Rolling Stone records. None of the jazz musicians that I know would turn down studio work of any sort, but they aren’t getting many offers from Bruce or the Stones. What would really thrill them would be if Kanye would use a four second sample from one of their own recordings. Then they’d actually be getting royalties and not just a session fee.

    LOL at Bill’s comments on recent Atlantic articles (no more need be said!)

  6. says

    Chris Fagan, nice to hear from you. The old Red Blazer Too on W. 46th St. (not 47th) is now a club called Swing 46, which books many of the usual suspects.

    Re those RIAA statistics, they cover only major labels–NOT independent labels, imports, bootlegs, sales of used records, and self-produced CDs, all of which comprise the bulk of current jazz releases. So to paraphrase a colleague: things are bad, but they aren’t as bad as the RIAA would like them to be.

  7. Rick says

    RE: The “end of jazz”

    The last paragraph of Schwartz’s article contained this sentence: “The Songbook, a product of a fleeting set of cultural circumstances when popular, sophisticated music was aimed at musically knowledgeable adults, was the crucial wellspring of jazz.”

    The point is crucial – popular music and jazz were both originally aimed at adults. They bought most of the records and framed the cultural debate. This changed most notably in the 1960’s. Youth culture was celebrated, and in the ’60’s went from mostly being about falling in love and the like, to being an excerise in rebellion by the end of the decade.

    With help from media, (which is primarily about making money), youth culture became transcendent. This was true in the movies and of course television, but most true in the music industry. Let’s face it – jazz acts don’t fill stadia with their concerts ( and you wouldn’t like to listen to them if they did) and jazz doesn’t really appeal to the young like the latest pop tart, boy band, rapper or grunge group does. This speaks volumes about taste.

    The problem is that you might expect that a maturing person’s tastes might change. You don’t eat the same food that you did when you were 6 or 16, but for whatever reason, that no longer seems to be true with music.

    The real issue is lack of exposure and the failure to develop an educated ear. If you are never exposed to jazz (or the classics, I might add) then you can never develop a taste for it. And if your ear is never exposed to anything more complex or adult than the latest pop tart, how will you ever develop a discriminating aural pallette?

    No, jazz isn’t dead as long as someone is still making the music, but listeners are badly needed. How do you get record labels to give broad distribution to music that not enough people listen to? How do you expose the uninitiated to the music? I haven’t seen answers to these questions that satisfy me.

  8. says

    Thanks for the shoutout! I have been checking out Rifftides since I first started this whole jazz bloggery thing, and appreciate the support. It’s yet another reminder that it’s worth doing my best to keep up even when free moments to write are getting harder to come by . . .

    To me, this whole “blogosphere” scene is a great place for those of us who care to see jazz keep happening to stay connected and try new things — and yes, I’m confident that a new structure for dedicated writers will emerge soon.

  9. Tim says

    Doug, Thanks for keeping this blog going year after year. I nip in here regularly, even though I seldom have anything to contribute to the discussion. I’ll certainly check out the four new guests.

    I read the Atlantic review on the plane to Boston last Saturday. I think there is something to Schwarz’s comment about the lyrical and musical sophistication of “the canon,” but I disagree that the existence of a standard repertoire means that jazz is dead, doomed to endlessly recycle the same 254 songs.

    In fact, while in Boston this past week, I had the pleasure of hearing Dave Douglas and his quintet at the Regatta Bar. The band performed several of Dave’s compositions, including a tribute to Paul Motian that really captured something of Paul’s spirit. For me, however, the most moving numbers were those that brought the singer Aoife O’Donovan into the mix. These were folksongs and hymns that Dave and the band arranged. I listened to his new CD once, before leaving home, and my response was fairly lukewarm. The live performance was a different matter. This was music with a history, a story, and an emotional component that was powerfully moving and inspirational. Rather than being rooted in the blues, this music comes out of a different folk tradition, but it, too, synthesizes an old tradition and a newer idiom very convincingly. (Trad folk and jazz are about equally vital to me.)

    Dave’s band is built on younger performers. Pianist Matt Mitchell plays with intricate detail, in a manner that reminded me of young Andrew Hill. Tenor saxophnist John Irabagon was solid, giving weight and depth to Dave’s lyrical flights. Clarence Penn was joyous on percussion. And bassist Linda Oh, what can I say? She is a confident, articulate, sensitive and responsive part of the ensemble, and a mesmerisizing performer. Aoife O’Donovan was often overpowered by the horns, but her rich, beautiful voice came through without the words.

    I left that performance thinking how the jazz idiom complements so many forms of expression; how the level of musicianship continues to astonish; and how grateful I am for the hard work and dedication so many of these musicians, young and old, bring to their art and craft. I am optimistic that, since beauty seems to be continually replenished from below, jazz will never die.