Q&A with AllAboutJazz.com's Founder & Publisher Michael Ricci
“ I don't see a downside to the internet and how it serves jazz. ”
Jazznin: In many ways All About Jazz has the same aim as Jazznin magazine. You want to be a hub for jazz lovers. You say it's a site whose mission is to spread the word about jazz to a larger audience. How did this idea come about?
Michael Ricci: I wish I could say I had this grand plan to build a jazz portal early on, but that would be a stretch. Back in 1995 my business partner and I developed desktop software and decided to sell it on the Web. One of us had to create the software and the other had to build the site and run the business. Our skill sets were different enough so it was obvious who would do what. I purchased one of those "Learn HTML in 21 Days" books, and because I was a fan of the music, chose Jazz as the subject for my test site. Somehow people discovered the site in the very early stages (late 1995), and I noticed that as I added content, traffic increased. It wasn't until 1997 when I decided to publish CD and book reviews that traffic spiked. At the time, the now defunct Jazz Central Station was the only web site offering original content. Unfortunately, JCS was slow and very commercial. I saw an opportunity to present a more grounded and community-based web site and went for it.
Jazznin: Did you ever think of making a printed version?
MR: We are now. AAJ has regional newspapers in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia. We're also working on papers in the Washington/Baltimore metro area, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver and Rome, Italy.
Jazznin: What is it like to be the center of a "jazz cyber community?"
MR: Well, I do feel a sense of responsibility to the musicians, to the contributors, to the readers and to the jazz industry in general. I also feel it's important that we continue to provide substantive coverage on a daily basis, build the various resource directories, and refine and develop our technical infrastructure.
AAJ attracts an impressive following (250,000+ unique visitors per month) because we're constantly updating the site (we published 31 interviews in July 2003). We entertain, we inform, and we have a very active bulletin board community.
Jazznin: Are older jazz fans also catching on or are you looking at a younger audience?
MR: Older fans have been hip to the Web for a while and we're constantly reaching out to a younger audience that has an interest in jazz. We cover a wide range of topics and jazz stylesso we're literally all things to all people.
AAJ provides monthly coverage of big band and the other established forms of jazz for the older jazz fans. We cover the more modern forms like free improv as well as hybrid jazz musics with ethnic (world) and electronica influences, for the younger fans. We also offer many helpful beginner guides to jazz, like our Building a Jazz Library section.
Jazznin: How do you imagine your average reader?
MR: There really is no standard or generally accepted definition of "jazz," which makes it difficult to define or describe the "typical jazz fan." From what we do know through personal interaction and surveys with our readers is most are 30-60 years of age, well read, and if they're not musicians, have responsible jobs.
Jazznin: Maybe it is so that outside the live house, the internet is where one can most easily find likeminded people?
MR: It's true. Meaningful relationships can develop over the Internet. I know I've become friendly with many of the writers who have contributed to AAJ over the years. The bulletin board has provided an opportunity for local people to meet and to ultimately get together and see shows. Several board members from Seattle, Washington have organized an annual jazz party, which is very cool.
Jazznin: What are some positive points about using the Internet to spread jazz?
MR: Jazz radio has been in decline for years and many brick & mortar stores are either closing or reducing and eliminating their jazz sections. Not good.
I'm not going to say the Internet will save jazz, but I do believe it will help jazz musicians sell more records and improve attendance at live shows. The internet offers a tremendous opportunity for jazz musicians and I think every musician should have a web site that at least provides the basics: new release and discographical information, sound samples, a secure way to purchase their music, and a monthly calendar.
Jazznin: How could it be negative?
MR: I don't see a downside to the internet and how it serves jazz. There will always be file sharing (people freely distributing music electronically), but even that can have a positive effect because it exposes more music listeners to jazz. People have always dubbed tapes, burned CDs, and so on. It remains impossible to prevent music fans from using peer-to-peer software to exchange songs.
Jazznin: Do you find it, as we do with Jazznin, that many find it an honor and great pleasure to write about jazz, and that it gives them a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose outside the regular grind?
MR: Definitely. We've built a staff of 500+ and the 50 regulars know they're making a difference. They hear it from the musicians, the readers, and the publicists every month. Jazz is a real art form, and people always feel good about supporting the arts or contributing to something that has substance. Jazz also has an "underdog" quality that I think people rally behind. I know I do.
Jazznin: You have a big list of loyal columnists and contributors, and in your Global Jazz section you have people in many different countries. How many have you met in person? Are they people you met on your travels?
MR: I work closely with Luigi Santosuosso, who publishes All About Jazz: Italy from New York City. I've also met All About DJ's Rob Evanoff in Los Angeles. I haven't met many of the overseas correspondents, but I have gotten together with several contributors in the States. Jeff Fitzgerald ( Genius Guide to Jazz ) and I go to a Baltimore Orioles baseball game every year in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jazznin: Are there places yet to be blessed with jazz, that you would especially like to spread it to?
MR: At the moment, we have IBM's ASCII White supercomputer compiling a list of each and every human being on the face of the earth that has not yet been introduced to jazz. Of course, people are constantly dying and being born, so there's a lot of flux. But the point is, we're on top of it. We plan on sending missionaries into the more remote areas of the earth, while those in industrialized nations can expect small samples of jazz in their mail.
Jazznin: How can Jazznin readers contribute to AAJ?
MR: Let's collaborate on a Japanese Jazz section at All About Jazz. We'll post a monthly article from Jazznin and you can publish an AAJ article in your magazine. Sound good?
Jazznin: There is an impressive directory of schools, venues, associations and so on. How do you promote yourselves so that they all know your site is around?
MR: I made a point of swapping links early on... back in '96 and '97. I also made adjustments to the pages at the site so they would index higher with certain search engines. Did you know that All About Jazz is almost as popular as BritneySpears.com?
AAJ has been a grass roots movement since day one and it has benefited greatly from word of mouth publicity. The reach of 500 contributors is difficult to measure, but most are strong supporters and true champions of the sitethey actively spread the word. And we've created well over 30,000 pages in the last seven years, so it's a hard to avoid us on a Google search.
I also make a point of attending the annual International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE) conference and have had the opportunity to speak on several discussion panels. Over 8,000 industry people attend this conference, so it's always a good place to network and a great opportunity to raise the awareness of the site. AAJ just recently won its second consecutive Jazz Journalist Association (JJA) jazz award for "Best Website Covering Jazz." Accepting an award in front of four hundred industry people doesn't hurt either.
Jazznin: Any closing thoughts?
MR: All About Jazz has been fortunate to attract bright and talented people who care about the music and the musicians. My primary collaborators, Nils Jacobson, Chris Slawecki, Mike Lorenz and Luigi Santosuosso have helped shape the site and have been instrumental in AAJ's success. They're all dedicated, in it for the long haul, and I'm proud to be associated with them.
Have a question for Michael Ricci? Post it at the AAJ Bulletin Board.
Jazznin is a bilingual Japanese-English magazine distributed free of charge at some 50 live houses as well as HMV, Tower Records and Disc Union around Tokyo. Focusing on the local talent, both Japanese and international, Jazznin aims to become a hub that connects all lovers of jazzbe they musicians, photographers, writers, club owners or fans. The magazine was launched in December 2002 by Marco Mancini and Vanessa Asell.