Tom Stites, a former editor at The Chicago Tribune and The Kansas City Star, also edited the fine magazine Jazz, which published from 1976 to 1981. Jazz featured some of the best writers on the subject, including Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Tom Piazza, Bob Blumenthal, Leonard Feather, Sy Johnson, Peter Keepnews and Stites himself. The magazine’s approach was serious but not pompous. It avoided the fanzine excesses and shallowness of too much jazz journalism, and it got beneath the surface of the music into its essence. Based on quality, it deserved to succeed, but after an impressive run, it died. Stites went back to newspapers for a while and then took a job as editor of the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist religious denomination. A friend of his says that Stites is probably the only person alive who has edited the magazines of both his religions.
I winced a bit when I saw the title of an article Stites wrote for UUWorld—“Improvisational Faith:Jazz and Unitarian Universalist Thelology”—but a few paragraphs in, skepticism faded that this would be another exercise in the church-goes-pop movement that has produced weak theology and weak music. It was thoughtful, provocative and, somehow, reassuring. Regardless of your religious orientation or non-orientation, you may find it interesting. Here’s an excerpt:
…both jazz and Unitarian Universalism are inclusive rather than exclusive. Everybody is welcome, and everybody is welcome to improvise. In jazz, improvisation means spontaneous composition of music in the moment it is played. In Unitarian Universalism, it means that each of us must search for our own truth and meaning—and, like jazz players, we draw from many sources of inspiration. And neither jazz nor Unitarian Universalist improvisation is for the faint-hearted. It requires real courage to take responsibility for our own religious lives, both as individuals and as congregations.
To read all of Tom Stites’s piece, go here. It’s good to know that he’s writing, and where to find him.