Broadening the Jazz Journalists Association

JJA Prez Howard Mandel

In light of recent postings in our ongoing series Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black music writers telling their stories, friend and colleague Howard Mandel, President of the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA wrote the following open letter to stress the organization’s diversity mandate.

Dear Willard,

Thanks for your column "Ain’t But a Few of Us", highlighting jazz journalists who are of African-American heritage.  In a recent posting you mentioned the Jazz Journalists Association’s "Clarence Atkins Fellowships," a mentoring program for emerging music journalists from minority backgrounds, saying it was "short-lived."  However, that program basically continues, although it has evolved from principally "mentoring" (which sounds pretty paternalistic) to an initiative more along the lines of collaborations with equal professionals, which is what the people in the original Atkins group — several of whom you’ve featured [editor’s note: Ain’t But a Few of Us contributors Bridget Arnwine, Robin James, and Rahsaan Clark Morris] — have become.

As it has been since you first convened and co-founded the organization in the mid 1980s, the JJA is still on the lookout for and welcomes music journalists interested in jazz of all ancestry.  The organization doesn’t currently have the funds to sponsor journalists to five-day conferences in Los Angeles, as we were able to do in 2005, thanks in great part to sponsorship funds from BET Jazz that helped produce that year’s JJA Jazz Awards, also 2005 was the first and only year the National Critics Conference was produced, by a coalition including the JJA, the Music Critics Association of North America, the Dance Critics Association, the American Theater Critics Association, and the US chapter of the International Association of Arts Critics.  However, the JJA in September 2007 welcomed K. Leander Williams, Greg Tate, Stanley Crouch, Ashante Infantry, Ron Scott, and 28 other jazz journalists from around the world to participate in "Jazz in the Global Imagination," a day-long symposium at Columbia University, produced by that school’s Center for Jazz Studies (directed by George E. Lewis).  

The JJA’s January 2010 conference, five days of programming during the annual convention of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters included John Murph, Greg Thomas, Bridget Arnwine, Ron Scott, Norm Harris, Sheila Anderson, Martin Johnson, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and yourself as participants in town hall-style meetings, attendees at our party and guests at a luncheon prepared by the National Endowment for the Arts (where Farah Jasmine Griffin was one of three speakers).  I am in occasional correspondence with Atkins fellows Rahsaan Clark Morris, Michele Drayton, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, and Robin James.  The JJA seems to have lost track of Sharony Green [author of the Grant Green biography] — the last I knew she was at University of Chicago getting an advanced degree [drop us a line Sharony!].

Forrest Bryant (who first came to a JJA program at an International Association of Jazz Education conference) is a JJA board member and arts director of Jazz Notes [the JJA publication].  Though she’s not a journalist, the JJA has encouraged Meghan Stabile’s "Revive da Live" music productions, featuring her artists who cross jazz and hip hop at the 2008 Jazz Awards.  Ms. Stabile, Greg Tate, and Robert Glasper were panelists at one of the Jazz Matters meetings held at the New School (we’ve revived those meetings as of March 9 after a hiatus of two years).  Reuben Jackson, a former JJA board member, W.A. Brower, and Ron Scott are among the members who have been on our panels and their writings (as well as Bridget Arnwine’s) in the pages of Jazz Notes or on

Working with the folks at WBGO is not exactly helping "emerging" journalists, it’s just collaborating with fine broadcasters, and the JJA has a history of doing that with many other broadcasters from elsewhere — Bobby Jackson, Richard Steele, Eric Jackson, Clifford Brown Jr., and Mark Ruffin come to mind.  Photographers, including Chuck Stewart and Javet Kimble, are highly regarded friends of the JJA (as are A.B. Spellman and James Jordan from the world of arts funders).  The JJA has issued standing invitations to officially join us to many other black journalists who cover jazz among other things and have contributed to association projects.

But to get back to my original point, the struggle continues!  Some progress has been made in identifying and collaborating with the many (at least, more than a "few") journalists and jazz-identified activists (don’t forget the JJA’s A Team Awards recipients) of African-American heritage.

These details are meant to be informative, as you may not know how the association’s work has spread.  Whenever you run into a black writer, photographer, broadcaster, or new media professional who would benefit from JJA contact, I hope you will point them our way.  Same goes for any Asian, Hispanic, or Caucasion man or woman or LBGT person who wants to work on jazz/blues journalism, but the JJA is especially alert to identifying and encouraging African-American journalists or hopefuls.

The Jazz Journalists Association is right now consolidating its membership list, creating a new web platform, restructuring our journal Jazz Notes as a JJA news feed, and applying for funds for a January 2011 jazz journalism conference.  We’re producing the 14th annual JJA Jazz Awards next June; fundraising and ballot distribution is also on deck.  I offered arts presenters at the APAP conference JJA assistance in identifying and inviting appropriate jazz journalists in their local areas to come into their spaces to present enhancement programs during April Jazz Appreciation Month, and we seem to have a couple of takers on that project.  As you know, there’s much useful work to be done!  Thanks for your efforts on jazz journalism’s behalf, and best regards.

Howard Mandel, President, Jazz Journalists Association 

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