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Zan Stewart: Jazz Advocate

David A. Orthmann By

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AAJ: When Gary Giddins left the Village Voice a few years ago, he wrote that part of the job he would miss the most was the interaction with his readers. Do you find that contact with your readers is an important part of the job?

ZS: You want to know that people are reading your stuff. I hear from some. It's nice to be read. Writing is an alone experience. Somebody will say, "Gee, I really loved your story, or "I really loved that review. So people are reading and that's great.

AAJ: Have other journalists and scholars influenced your thinking and writing about the music?

ZS: A little bit. I liked the way that Whitney Balliett wrote. Because I liked the fact that he was a poet, and his use of metaphors was fabulous. I started reading Down Beat around 1960, and I used to read it cover-to-cover. And I used to read Metronome cover-to-cover. Some of the great names—Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Leonard Feather—they were people I read. I don't know if I ever thought about directly writing like somebody. I did try to write poetically when I was writing for the LA Times, at one point trying to use a lot of metaphors. That's a difficult task because you're asking readers to make a poetic step with you, and a lot of times that's not the way it's going to be. It belongs someplace else—certainly not in a daily newspaper.

AAJ: Do you sometimes feel the necessity to fill in gaps in your knowledge of the music by listening to artists at particular points in the jazz timeline?

ZS: Listening to music is very demanding. You have to be fully present or you're not going to hear it. I'm always listening, though I don't listen to every new CD that comes in. And I don't go to CDs for story ideas. My "Ticket piece on Friday is based on a performance within a seven-day period, Friday to the following Thursday. To tell you the truth, there's too much music out there and not enough time to listen. I know it would be good to hear more new and different things, but it's hard to do.

AAJ: Do you ever want to take a sabbatical to recharge your batteries and look at the music from a different perspective?

ZS: I would like to take a break from writing because it's demanding. As far as my perspective, there's never going to be a different one. I look at the music the same way I did when I was fifteen. Any other perspective would be extra musical. It would be about the scene, or about how people are making money or not making money. One of the things I'm asked each year at the paper is what's the best trend of the year? I don't see trends. I see people trying to play music, practicing, writing new material, trying to improve, and slowly but surely moving along. That's the way I approach it out here. It's just about somebody going out and doing their thing.

Photo Credit
Courtesy of The Walpack Inn


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