Jazz and The New York Times

Nick Catalano By

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As most readers know, some of the great newspapers in America have undergone serious corporate challenges in the past few years. The family ownership of the L.A. Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal has always been recognized as the principal reason for the high standard of journalism that such papers have. New bottom-line management and control of these publications have largely replaced that family tradition, leading to fear that the very existence of great American newspapers may be in danger.

Last week, the granddaddy of all great papers, The New York Times, was the target of two hedge fund challenges to its ownership structure. The funds are seeking to name four new directors to the Times board, which is still controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family. Such news cannot help but instill fear in those who recognize the standards of integrity that the Times has upheld for over a century.

Almost from the inception of jazz during the early 1900s, no newspaper has done more to foster the appreciation and understanding of the music. As the paper of record, the Times has long been the custodian of critical response to the artists of the world. We have all disagreed with Times reviewers from time to time, but we know no coverage of world art is more comprehensive. Since the early days of the 20th century, when opera, symphony and ballet patrons would shun jazz as a serious art form, the Times has given an inordinate amount of space to jazz reviewing and has continued to be extremely important in promoting the exponents of the music while explaining (with occasional obfuscation) the myriad complexities of the music's essence.

I know of no critic who had greater insight or sensitivity than John Wilson when reporting about the Gotham scene. He set the standard for people needing guidance in understanding the Monks, Tristanos, and Evanses, and his prose gave confidence to those who had immediate emotional connections with jazz but were not able to articulate their feelings and discuss the music coherently. His legacy stands as a model for all jazz writers, some of whom tend to forget their readers and drown in their own egos.

Since the Times can be read daily all over the world, jazz musicians and vocalists whose names appear in the newspaper receive publicity unequaled by that in any other newspaper. This is an area that the paper has truly excelled in. Not content to cover just the biggest names, the Times has ceaselessly written up the activity of newcomers who, they feel, are making significant contributions to the music. For a few years now there have appeared delightful little write-ups, in the Friday Weekend Supplement, of performers working all over New York on that week. Most of the artists are certainly not well known. Last week the following musicians were mentioned: Gabriel Alegria and his Afro-Peruvian sextet, Karl Berger, David Berkman, Kris Davis, John Escreet, Rodney Green, Lionel Louke, Mike Melvoin, Pete Robbins, Adam Rogers and Nate Wooley. Not exactly household names but, thanks to the Times, no longer anonymous among a great share of an informed public.

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