Michael Ricci: A Modern Day Jazz Messenger

Michael Ricci: A Modern Day Jazz Messenger
Ian Patterson By

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Our primary consideration has always been what's best for a jazz musician, because what's best for a jazz musician is what's best for us fans. —Michael Ricci
All About Jazz is celebrating its twentieth anniversary but for founder Michael Ricci it's business as usual. For the Philadelphian that means dedicating huge amounts of time and energy to giving jazz musicians everywhere a platform, promoting the music globally, providing numerous services and encouraging debate around the key issues facing jazz today.

This is pretty much what Ricci has been doing daily since 1995 and his efforts haven't gone unnoticed. All About Jazz has reached a peak of 1.3 million monthly readers and has been voted Best Website Covering Jazz for thirteen consecutive years by the Jazz Journalists Association.

It's fairly safe to say that no other jazz magazine or webzine has the same reach as All About Jazz, and that's largely down to the loyal team of volunteer staffers who share Ricci's vision of jazz as a beautifully edifying force for the good.

The first twenty years have been a rollercoaster ride for Ricci and All About Jazz, with many highs and a few lows. Yet perhaps the greatest chapter in the adventure that is All About Jazz is only just beginning.

All About Jazz: After twenty years of keeping a weather eye on jazz, pretty much globally, how healthy do you think jazz is today?

Michael Ricci: I'm exposed to new music daily, much of it arrives from around the world, and I constantly hear good things. When I attend shows, the venues are typically full. I was at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival in July—the programming was superb and most of the events were sold out; even the jam sessions were packed. From my point of view, jazz is healthy enough, but it needs better infrastructure.

AAJ: How has the music changed since you first launched All About Jazz in 1995?

MR: In terms of the music being produced, I'm hearing less standards and more original music. In terms of access and discovery, it's unprecedented. From CDs, to peer-to-peer distribution, to Amazon's related recommendations, to digital downloads, to YouTube, to human or algorithmic-curated streaming services, to a musician's website, to social media... all from a desktop computer, to a laptop computer, to a tablet or a phone. Music discovery is now at your fingertips.

AAJ: When and where were you brought up? What music was in your house growing up?

MR: I'm from Philadelphia, and I was exposed to all kinds of music though the majority of the music my father played was classical and jazz. When I started collecting music in the early '70s I gravitated towards instrumental music with horn sections—bands like Chicago and Earth, Wind and Fire.

AAJ: What was your path into jazz?

MR: I played the trumpet growing up and I always had an interest in music. I attended my first jazz concert when I was eight and bought my first record when I was eleven, so the music has always been a part of my life.

AAJ: What inspired you to launch AAJ in the first place? What were your aims and ambitions at the very outset two decades ago?

MR: All About Jazz started as a hobby. I have a background in programming and the early days of the internet were wide open and very exciting. With the right skills, interest, and time, you could create anything and call it your own. Some of my friends were interested in politics, some were interested in humor, while others gravitated towards technology. I decided to combine my interest in the internet with my love of jazz. It was built slowly over time, but I became more serious in 1997 and turned the corner in 2000, when we built the database. The All About Jazz database has served us well over the years and we were lucky to get it right the first time as we've been able to build on top of it ever since.

AAJ: Had you thought seriously of launching a paper magazine instead?

MR: No. I've always thought web and database first. Building and engaging a community was also important early on. I did create a series of newspapers, but the purpose of the newspapers was to brand All About Jazz and drive traffic to the website. I'm also fond of trees.

AAJ: Were you aware of other jazz webzines at the time?

MR: No one was thinking magazines adapted to the web early on. N2K's heavily funded Jazz Central Station and Joe Vella's Jazz Online were more focused on new media rather than old media.

AAJ: Can you remember what AAJ looked like back then?

MR: Um, yes. The good news is the Wayback Machine has no record of AAJ from 1995 to 1996 when it was located at http://www.visionx.com/jazz/. But you can still get a glimpse of what it looked like in 1997. AAJ started as an outlet for my cartooning interests and I created and animated a character that played the trumpet. The character was a part of our logo for a few years. Here's an example.

AAJ: What services were you offering then?

MR: No pay services. For the most part we maintained a list of links, announced new websites, published reviews, built a jazz timeline, and had fun. Here's how the site looked in April 1997.

AAJ: How many people were involved?

MR: Initially just myself. An old friend (Doug Ronallo) got involved and built a history of jazz timeline. I was able to network through newsgroups and web-rings, and anyone from a knowledgeable newsgroup user to Gene Lees would email me material to publish. I think everyone realized it was a work in progress and a grassroots effort and they wanted to help.

AAJ: I guess that the services offered today by AAJ are much greater than 20 years before—in what ways?

MR: Greater and different. We can leverage newer technologies and much faster connection speeds to present more robust promotional solutions to musicians. And as we scale infrastructure, we can expand the content we deliver to our readers across devices and platforms.

AAJ: How many people contribute to AAJ today?

MR: We've had nearly 2,000 contributors since our launch in 1995, and we [now] maintain a staff of 45-50 volunteers.

AAJ: According to the Open Market Internet Index, 37% of the world's population used the internet as of December 2014, 100 times more than in 1995; how have AAJ's figures grown/fluctuated over the past twenty years and do the numbers surprise you in any way?

MR: We did really well and very early on. Our best year came in 2007 when we topped 1.3 million monthly readers, but the web has grown rapidly since then and once Facebook became mainstream and Twitter caught on, we saw a precipitous drop in traffic. People had more options. The good news is we're slowly building our numbers back and our readership is way up over our the previous two years. The paradox is that we're popular website about an unpopular subject, and that's a testament to how we remain current and continually innovate.

AAJ: Do you know where the readership is from, globally speaking?

MR: Yes, mostly English speaking countries, with the United States representing 46% of our readership. The UK represents 11%, while Canada represents 6%. We also have a nice following in Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, France, Australia, Germany, and China.



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