Traditional Jazz and the JJA

Traditional Jazz and the JJA

Don Jones and Howard Mandel
copyright © 2000 Don Jones, Howard Mandel

In response to news of upcoming JJA programming, member Don Jones, publisher of The American Rag, directed the following question to some of his senior writers.

Howard Mandel's response -- and Don's follow up follow:

Don Jones:

"As a member of the JJA (and I can't for the life of me give myself a good reason why I am??), I occasionally receive these Emails announcing various JJA activities always with "far out" topics for discussion and reasons for meeting. Am I missing something? or what's going on that seems so important to these jazz writers? They always seem to have some axe to grind. It seems they meet to justify their ability to call themselves Jazz Journalists, which I'm sure they are much more BIG TIME than I will ever be.

Can anyone fill me in on the benefits of remaining a member? Do any of these guys even know about Traditional Jazz? Do they care?"

Howard Mandel:

Let me explain that we're not neglecting trad jazz or any other kind in the Jazz Journalists Association: I'm happy to feature programming that has anything to do with any kind of journalism about jazz; as I think you know, we featured an on-line discussion about Trad Jazz: Ignored and Neglected? some while back (it's still posted at, and is active -- that is, it could generate further discussion easily). But we cast ourselves as a loosely associative professional trade organization, trying to yes, assert that we have a profession in journalism and addressing topics that seem to us part of the problem for getting coverage of all and any kinds of jazz to increase, to be respected, and to be decently paid for.

Personally, I've just had an interview with Lionel Hampton published in Down Beat, and have been immersing myself in Armstrong the past several months; I've also been doing historical research so as to create timelines of the entire jazz century, to further my own enjoyment and knowledge of jazz. I don't know if you consider that knowing anything about traditional jazz -- I don't, but I'm curious about the music, and have some skills to comprehend it, and some opportunitites to promote it and help other people help themselves get better at getting the opportunities to do the same.

So in the past several months we've tried to focus attention on book authors (including Stanley and Helen Dance, Dick Sudhalter, Whitney Balliet, Peter Levenson, and Gary Giddins and Ted Goia -- coming up, W. Royal Stokes), on photographers (including Bill Gottlieb, Bob Parent and Bill Claxton, coming up Ray Ross), and broadcasters (including Marian McPartland, and Willis Conover). We promote the jazz awards so that we can try to claim some iota more attention in the press that we work in for some consensus view on who's active in the jazz scene currently (without being slavish to sales figures, as will be the case in the Billboard/BetOnJazz Awards, which will be televised on cable in early June). As an organization we've done a LOT of connecting with educators (not least at IAJE conventions, also by making our own opportunities to address teachers and students at schools including the New School and New England Conservatory), and fans at festivals from Victoriaville Canada to Monterey CA to Chicago to Cleveland to New York City to San Francisco to Newport Rhode Island. We are trying to find young writers who might be interested in following the footsteps of the best journalists who've ever written about American jazz. We're linking to people all over the world who write about, photograph and/or broadcast (and often also present concerts and produce records of jazz). We maintain a credible, up-to-date database of jazz obituaries, as well as a column on jazz-related births. We have a newsletter that comes out quarterly, that any member can write anything about. We are the only organization through which many of our members can buy health insurance. We have a decentralized, chapter-oriented but individual-member-based way of programming, wherein if there's something you want to do, and you need JJA assistance/resources, you need but ask and we try to give what we can (short on money, long on contacts).

These aspects of the JJA may not serve your personal needs, but for $30 per year you've been supporting some substantial amount of activity. We could be more active, but we're a volunteer organization and most of us are really hustling to pay the rent, however big time you think we are (we mostly don't think that). We don't have many axes to grind, but we've got some concerns to admit to and maybe start to address together. It's not a bad thing to do, and you're welcome to participate as you have been, or in some other way.

I hope you'll share this note with others who have the same questions you do. If there is some way the JJA can address many members' desires, please share this way with one of the officers -- me (, JJA vp Willard Jenkins (, Jazz Notes editor W. Royal Stokes (, membership secy Paul Blair (, treasurer Janis Lane Ewart ( or whomever seems most appropriate, approchable, able to convey the info more broadly.

Thanks -- Howard Mandel, JJA pres

Don Jones:

Thanks for your most complete reply to my query. If nothing else, it convinced me that you and your members are out of my league - - and that's a compliment. I'm sure I became involved with trad jazz too late in my life to do much more than I'm doing at the level of publishing The American Rag, which is a labor of love and a service to a small but viable community of old-time jazz nuts who can't get enough of the old music and don't want anything to do with that music which evolved from it.

It's hard to imagine having fun in a graveyard, but that's exactly how it feels. We keep the names of Bix, Louis and all those good old boys polished on their imaginary headstones and in the minds of our readers. And I'll put our writers side by side with your members any day. We're at the point where most of the musicians are younger than most of the audience - - now think about that one for a minute. And frankly, I can't see the end of the road from where I sit today. For example, it has been a long time since the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall Concert, and yet they are re-issuing that recording with enhanced sound and new tracks not found on the original recording. Somebody must think they see another round of mass market sales to be willing to redo that recording for the umpteenth time.

At certain festivals in this country we see a fair amount of 40 thru 60-year-olds enjoying trad jazz side-by-side with their 70 to 90-years-old seat mates. And then there's Europe and Japan! And like everything else, the pendulum does swing back thru the arc to pass over those who missed the action the first time around. Jazz didn't become our National Treasure by accident on a wing and a prayer, and for the Baby Boomers to discover and enjoy what their grandparents were crazy about is not hard to believe and accept as a distinct possibility given the current minefield of entertainment choices filled with death and violence with today's modern music playing amplified above 200db in the background.

I would ask that you share these thoughts with other JJA members in the hope that they might seek out Trad Jazz Festivals in their neck of the woods and write about what they saw and heard. We don't pay much, but they might submit their findings for publication in the Rag.

Best Regards, Don Jones
Publisher, The American Rag

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