Last week I saw an article in 2paragraphs about the death of Gunther Schuller and the crisis of jazz criticism. The author was remarking on the lack of young voices in jazz criticism compared to literary criticism. As a young jazz commentator (and including a number of colleagues and friends in the jazz world), I feel the need to reply to this assertion that there are no young voices. 2paragraphs have published my reply, but this is a slightly longer version of that article.
The crisis is not so much that there are not young voices in jazz commentary and criticism, but rather that our voices are not being heard through traditional media. Because of the changes in the way press and publication works it is far more difficult for our voices to be heard through ‘traditional’ means. We find it harder to get work in traditional publications because those publications either have their full complement of staff writers who are well established, or they are moving towards ‘reader provided’ content for no cost. Other publications (such as one I regularly write for) might need to rely on the goodwill of willing and enthusiastic volunteers to survive. It is also becoming more difficult to find jobs to support us while we research a biography or history (in fact it’s getting harder to find a jazz related job period!), thus it takes longer to get to the point of sending something to a publisher (and then there are the issues of getting it published…).
Additionally many young jazz writers these days are coming out of the academic world rather than the journalistic world, and this is an added barrier to breaking into traditional media. Being able to adopt a journalistic tone is a skill in and of itself, one which takes time to develop and why would an editor take their chance on a person that may or may not know how to write in this manner- no matter what their knowledge of jazz is? Of course, the only way to gain this skill is to practice, which is where what young jazz writers are doing is interesting.
Young voices are writing and talking about jazz, but we are not communicating as much as our forefathers (and mothers) did through traditional media. Today you’re more likely to find us airing our opinions on our own blogs and other social media accounts- or we are writing (voluntarily, I might add- very little of this work is paid) for other blogs and sites. We might also be using podcasts or Youtube to reach our audiences. There are a number of ways for young writers to reach an audience, and while I agree that it is much harder to find young voices in amongst the thousands of jazz sites and blogs out there, it is not impossible if the reader is willing to try.