Monday, April 11, 2011

What to read...

The arrival of blogs and the actual possibility of anyone publishing anything to be read anywhere in the world has changed the game of publishing in general, and, in its small turf, jazz criticism. If we step aside the Northern hemisphere axis that goes from the US to Japan through Western Europe, the internet must have meant quite something for the unlikely but very real fans in places like Iran, China, or the southernmost tip of South America, who had very poor access to quality information are now much more likely to read about and even listen - legally or ilegally - to their heroes.

I emphasized the anywhere and its positive effect, but there's a significant problem with the anything being published. Good editors and their quality control and content-filtering are missed in the deluge of blogs and websites passing for serious publications, and it's more difficult to know what's worth our precious time. Anything does mean that anything is published, and the number of visits and other statistics will never reflect the quality of the publication.

Luckily there some very good stuff around (what's in my blogroll, on the right of this window, for instance), but if you're really interested in this music and are ready to put some effort and time, I'd strongly recommend the following three sites:

  • JOURNAL OF JAZZ STUDIES: Formerly known as the Annual Review of Jazz Studies, and even before that, as Journal of Jazz Studies, which was first published in 1973 by the Institute of Jazz Studies. As a (irregular) collector of ARJS, I can tell you that each issue looks more like a small book than a journal, and they are as consistently serious and engaging as they are expensive, even second hand. The good news for the readers, is that from now on the JJS will be published twice a year, on line, and it'll be free to read for everyone. It's a peer-reviewed publication, so expect no nonsense. The managing editor is Evan Spring, and the first issue can be found here.

  • CURRENT RESEARCH IN JAZZ: This on-line, also peer-reviewed, journal has been around for over a couple of years. The brains behind it are those of master discographer, and co-author of Gigi Gryce's biography, Mike Fitzgerald. He's an extremely active promoter of serious jazz research and the use of the internet to improve its quality. He explains the philosophy and goals of CRJ here. The first issue can be read here, the second and most recent is here.

  • JAZZ STUDIES ONLINE: This is a different website from the other two. Edited by saxophonist and politics scholar Tad Shull, and sponsored by Columbia University's Center of Jazz Studies, it compiles different resources for the serious student of jazz. There are audio interviews, performance and a selection of articles, like Scott DeVeaux's seminal "Constructing the Jazz Tradition".

    The crown jewel here, however, especially for all of us interested in vintage magazines and 1950s jazz, it's the whole run of the legendary Jazz Review. This short-lived publication (23 issues, between 1958 and 1961), edited by Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff, marked a turning point for jazz criticism and commentary, and it carried some historical articles. It opened its first issue with Gunther Schuller's study of Sonny Rollins's "Blue 7", "Sonny Rollins and the Challenge of Thematic Improvisation", the article that apparently shocked Rollins so much that he said he wouldn't read anything else about him any more. And there's much more, like interviews with James P. Johnson and Walter Page, criticism done by musicians (Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, George Russell, Bill Crow...), the first jazz writings of Harvey Pekar, and much, much more. All that in .pdf format (text-searchable in some issues).

Enjoy the reading.

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