Wondering Aloud: What’s up with New York Times jazz writers?

Though not a resident of New York City I spend a fair amount of time there — and if you work anywhere in the jazz business a working knowledge of New York is almost essential. I do a fair amount of work there, mainly curating two annual concert series for Tribeca Performing Arts Center. In fact — shameless plug intended: the 3rd and final concert in our annual young artists’ series Jazz in Progress is Saturday, December 19 at 7:00pm featuring what promises to be a killin’ young band under the leadership of bassist Joe Sanders, one of the 3 finalists from the recent Thelonious Monk Competition that we’ve featured. So as one keenly interested in jazz in the New York metro area I subscribe to the Sunday New York Times. The NYT remains one of the few dailies that still pays attention to jazz and the many jazz activities in New York, though in recent years the paper has contracted a severe case of A.D.D. where jazz is concerned and that attention might best be characterized as intermittent. Still the paper employs two very fine writers on the subject of jazz, Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff. Whenever a performance review or preview, a record review, or a jazz artist profile appears in the NYT you can bet it was written by either Chinen or Ratliff.

The Sunday NYT coverage of jazz in their essential Arts & Leisure section has dwindled down to less than quarterly, though the section’s coverage of other artistic disciplines continues to make it a fairly essential read, particularly for film and theater. Where I’m wondering aloud is where it concerns what has become a weekly Arts & Leisure section feature dubbed Playlist. This is where one supposedly goes to find out what are the most provocative new record releases — or at least those records which have provoked one writer or another to include them in what is essentially an encapsulated record review column. Chinen and Ratliff are two of a rotating cast of writers who contribute the weekly Playlist column and both amply display the broadness of their music interests by reviewing recordings from a variety of music genres… including what often appears to be one or two token jazz releases, and what in some cases amount to a jazz blackout — NO jazz included. For the Sunday, December 6 edition Chinen chose to lead with Beyonce’s latest, followed by Blakroc, the retro-soul compilation Daptone Gold, an item on a Newport Jazz Festival performance download service, and the Norwegian improvisers Supersilent, which only the most lame retailer would include in the jazz or even jazz-related section. Yesterday’s edition of Playlist (12/13), contributed by the estimable Jon Pareles, included not a whiff of anything jazz-related. I needn’t tell any jazz artist or media person out there that despite the new 21st century record paradigm, there continue to be a healthy number of jazz recordings released on a weekly basis. In this DIY era we may even be witnessing a more robust number of jazz record releases than ever! It’s safe to say that dozens of worthy jazz artists are rakin’ and scrapin’ for whatever newspaper ink they can gin up, with a mention in the New York Times being the gold standard of general interest dailies.

Those weeks when it’s not Chinen or Ratliff’s turn in the Playlist rotation one can count on one thing — there will be NO jazz recordings under review in the Playlist column. So one wonders why Chinen and Ratliff are compelled to be so catholic in their music review tastes while their peer contributors to Playlist feel absolutely no compulsion to include jazz releases in their Playlist contributions. Why is there no artistic reciprocation with these Playlist columns? Why are the only two writers who contribute the paper’s jazz commentary and reportage so open to other forms, while completely overlooking 99% of the jazz recordings being released. Given their respective writing skills and potential for such enormous influence… just wondering aloud…

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3 Responses to Wondering Aloud: What’s up with New York Times jazz writers?

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