New York Times Downsizes Jazz Coverage: A Response

Victor L. Schermer By

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The February 23rd report from the Salon website that the The New York Times has downsized its coverage of live and recorded jazz is quite a shock, and, in my opinion, a poor decision on their part which I hope they will seriously reconsider. Their iconic and highly competent reviewers, Ben Ratliff and Nate Chinen, have left the newspaper, although their reasons for departure aren't clear. Salon cites the reason for the downsizing to be a decline in the number of readers interested in the on-line jazz stories and reviews.

The New York Times is the most respected source of news in the world, and its coverage of the arts, performing arts, and literature brings the world's attention to creative people and projects many of whom would go unnoticed without the Times' featuring their work on its pages. This great newspaper has a responsibility to make hard decisions to maintain standards and ideals that go beyond popularity and changes in the winds of culture.

Jazz has admittedly lost popularity in recent years. Once the music of a generation, it now appeals only to a coterie of fans who are drawn to it by its special qualities of emotion, intelligence, and willingness to take risks to push the envelope of musical expression. But it is still a remarkable phenomenon of culture and embodies so much of the spirit of this country that Leonard Bernstein called it "America's classical music." It is an integral part of American life, and it is a quintessential expression of freedom, the human spirit, and the depths of the hearts and souls of people worldwide.

Jazz journalists such as Leonard Feather, Nat Hentoff, Whitney Balliet, Francis Davis, Gary Giddins, and David Hajdu, not to mention Ratliff, Chinen, and the remarkable staff of All About Jazz, have captured its essential qualities and helped keep jazz on top of itself and maintain its audiences for generations. The New York Times has been one of the prime venues that has perpetuated this journalistic tradition and kept jazz on the front lines of public interest. For them now to accede to popular taste and not sustain their important role of maintaining the highest standards of jazz reporting and analysis is a cheapening of their whole purpose: to report and understand the news in such a way as to elevate all aspects of American life to the highest attainable levels of taste, integrity, honesty, ethics, and cultural values.

This is one of those decisions where the moment counts. If not now, when? The change will too easily be forgotten. One can only hope that The New York Times' publisher and editorial board will reconsider their decision promptly and continue to make jazz a central feature of their coverage of the performing arts.

If you agree, contact the New York Times and ask them to reconsider their decision.


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