Waxing & musings. Word last week from Howard Mandel that JazzTimes magazine is on the ropes was disconcerting. For anyone who grew up thumbing through jazz magazines, the death knell if true represents yet another blow to Old Media. Sadly, the ongoing recession has tossed magazines into the same quicksand pit that newspapers have been struggling in for some time.
I don't buy the argument that the slow demise of print is tied to the "dumbing down of America." Fans today aren't reading less about jazz. They're just gravitating toward more essential content. What is essential? Content that's timely, surprising and independent. Sadly, many jazz magazines in recent years have missed the mark on all three fronts with cost escalations, talent drains and advertiser synergy deals.
It's simple economics, really. Having spent the 1980s and 1990s in the magazine business, I know exactly what uphill financial and production battles magazines must endure. To publish, most monthlies work up to four months in advance of publication, an absurdity in today's web world. Once story ideas are approved, editors assign articles to a shrinking pool of writers who still work for peanuts considering what's asked of them. When the copy comes in—typically late—it's often a disorganized mess. So editors have to rewrite. Then the art department gets the manuscript—also late. Costly photo shoots are assigned. When images arrive, layouts are designed based on the number of ads sold. Then articles have to be fact-checked before going into production. Finally, there are printing delays and mounting postal costs. Today, the inefficiencies of such a process take an enormous toll on any print publication racing to publish.
By contrast, the web allows many jazz sites to work a day in advance. The cost of production in most cases? Zero. Of course, ideas, writing, editing and packaging have enormous value. But there's no red ink spilled over paper, designers, printers, trucks, postage or fulfillment. Ad dollars haven't started to flow in yet in volume to jazz web sites. But they will as advertisers realize it's the only way to reach large attentive audiences with discretionary income.
The big advantage of the web is that there's no delay. Content flows from minds to fingertips to readers' eyes worldwide in minutes with the push of a button. It's astonishing. Jazz magazines haven't done anything wrong. And fans haven't stopped reading. Monthlies simply aren't built financially to compete in the new world of overnight e-publishing.
The challenge going forward for the jazz media isn't how to save clunky magazines or get them to run efficiently. It's how to exploit the web so it generates revenue without compromising independence and good taste. And if JazzTimes folds, a greater onus will be placed on websites to preserve jazz history and make jazz exciting and available to this and future generations here and abroad.
Ray Charles. Bret Primack has kicked off his Ray Charles series of video podcasts in support of Concord Records' re-issue of classic Ray Charles albums...
Benny Goodman. WFIU's David Brent Johnson, host of Night Lights, has posted a wonderful podcast that spotlights Benny's bebop bands of 1948-49. Go here to listen for free.
CD Discovery of the Week. In 1968, Wynton Kelly recorded for Delmark Records with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The album originally was called Powertree and featured a mix of bluesy originals and pop standards of the day. At this point, the three musicians had been working together for nine years, starting in 1959 with Freddie Freeloader on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. They also backed Miles on his 1960 European tour and recorded with him on Someday My Prince Will Come in 1961.
Jimmy told me months ago that in the middle of a 1961 tour, Chambers and Kelly left Davis because of a misunderstanding over money. They also wanted to start a trio. Jimmy said he remained with Davis because he needed the dough. So Chambers and Kelly returned to New York and used Art Taylor on drums until Jimmy left Davis in 1963.
As you'll hear on this CD, Kelly remained one tasteful pianist even in the late 1960s (he died in 1971). Kelly always managed to sound light and bluesy without sounding, well, light or bluesy. There's a grace to his playing, a loping that's so appealing. Chambers sounds strong here, too, despite being less than a year away from his death. Much has been made of Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones as the ultimate trio. But as this recording documents. these three were quite something as well. [Photo of the Wynton Kelly Trio in 1966 by Lee Tanner]
The CD issue of Powertree is called Last Trio Session and features a mix of Kelly originals and the pop hits I Say a Little Prayer, Watch What Happens, Light My Fire and Yesterday. These 1960s standards never sounded so hip.
Wynton Kelly: The Last Trio Session is available on CD here.
Oddball Album Cover of the Week. Hats off to Michael Bloom for sending along this Gothic grabber. The album is Archie Shepp's The Magic of Ju-Ju (1967). It's a rather limited four-track release for Impulse by the tenor saxophonist that sounds in places like Free Jazz meets Quincy Jones' Soul Bossa Nova. The supernatural quality of West African ju-ju certainly is captured on the LP by Shepp's heavily spiritual approach. And the skull on the cover symbolizes the fetish tradition of ju-ju. What's unclear is why the skull has undergone a Summer of Love face-painting treatment featuring an array of Love Bug flowers. And is it me, or do you also see the image of a grand piano with its top open where the ear once existed?