9/11 -- A Year Later, Jazz Journalists Reflect

9/11 -- A Year Later, Jazz Journalists Reflect

by Carla and Jason Rupp

copyright © 2002 Carla and Jason Rupp

from Jazz Notes 10/2002

"I feel the momentum of jazz got bombed along with the [World Trade Center] Towers," said Russ Dantzler, who operates Hot Jazz Management.

"I don't think I'll ever get over it. There will always be some haunting memory," said veteran jazz writer Arnold Jay Smith.

"It's not something I sit around thinking about," said Mitchell Seidel, Hot House editor. "Let me stew on it. Call me back."

"Artistically, I don't think we've seen much of a difference, except for the tributes. And as a magazine, I think it's important to have some places in your world that are sanctuaries," said Jason Koransky, editor of Down Beat .

These are a few first reactions.

Can you talk about your experience in jazz journalism and the September 11 events almost a year later?

Sentiments vary. Everyone in our random sampling seemed to take a different turn in our telephone conversations about the subject. Some writers cited changes in the way their work was handled, while others said they were not affected as much. Still others spoke about their feelings. One writer said the horrible events sent him "walking."

Russ Dantzler's column "Scrapple from the Apple" appears regularly in Kansas City's Jam magazine. Column notes were set aside a couple of times by post-9/11 economics, he said.

Arnold Jay Smith, JJA treasurer who has taught his "Jazz Insights" series at the New School in New York City for two decades, discussed his feelings. "I'm reluctant to talk about it because I feel very close to the subject." However, he did recall his days pursuing his dream of writing about jazz while working on Wall Street. "I worked downtown 30 years. What happened is a terrible tragedy. It will haunt me forever." And he and his wife Fran were hit with a "double whammy." Several houses blew up in a presumed explosion in Brooklyn eight doors away from their home. Arnold said he tends to want to shop and eat in Lower Manhattan to help the merchants needy of business, "But when I'm driving, I go out of my way to avoid the WTC site." In an earlier issue of Jazz Notes, Smith reminisced about the World Trade Center area before the towers were built. That article resulted in some calls, including an interview on National Public Radio.

Jason Koransky said that while Down Beat is about music, the subject of 9/11 and its ramifications necessarily becomes a topic for discussion. "Artists are naturally expressive people and musicians talk about it in interviews. People have had the forum to talk, and that [9/11] was what people often talked about. If it worked with the story, I kept it in, and if it didn't work I took it out. That's my job as editor." He would like Down Beat to be a type of "sanctuary" -- an oasis. We're so inundated with contact about 9/11, between what's going on in New York, Afghanistan, and Iraq, that we get enough of that. But Down Beat covers the jazz world and artists have been affected, especially if they have been composing tributes. So it keeps coming up."

Koransky spoke about the Down Beat article by JJA president Howard Mandel. "Howard did the main piece about the subject. It dealt with concerns our readers had. Howard wrote about how 9/11 affected our world, the various effects on musicians." Mandel has been actively seeking to help jazz journalists cope with the aftermath of the 9/11 situation. Among other things, he chaired a seminar for jazz journalists on dealing with financial problems stemming from the tragedy.

Other jazz publications were also affected, with their editors experiencing emotions similar to those of the writers. How did the September 11 events affect the Silver Spring, MD-based Jazz Times, for example? "Like all magazines, our advertising took a hit, though the economy was faltering already before 9/11," responded editor Christopher Porter. How did the past year since the tragedy affect him personally? "The same way it affected every decent human being: horror, shock, anger."

A few writers' professional lives were less affected than others' were. Paul Blair, for one, says, "I'm doing basically the same thing I was doing before 9/11 -- mostly writing profiles for Hot House." Blair, JJA membership secretary, went on to say, though, that 9/11 gave him the motivation to walk around the city, especially into areas that figure prominently in the history of jazz. He's anticipating that this will be a boon to his jazz writing. "I'm enjoying walking around the city with a focus. I decided six months ago that I was going to substantially research those jazz locations that I've been curious about, like Slug's or Monroe's Uptown House." In so doing, Blair made some interesting discoveries. "I stumbled onto where Coltrane's Giant Steps was recorded. Now I've got six different itineraries around the city. I think the city looks great. I'd love to put this information into a portable guidebook, something systematic and easy to use. It could be used for jazz and tourism as an invitation for others to walk as I have after 9/11."

Bob Bernotas, freelance jazz journalist and author, was asked how much effect 9/11 had on his music writing. "Not a great deal. Most of the time I'm writing for myself." He has published the book The Top Brass: Interviews and Master Classes with Jazz's Leading Brass Players (see review next issue) and is writing a similar one about reed players. Upon further reflection, he commented that his liner note work was affected. "It seems like there is a lot less going on at the labels. And it was really quite noticeable for a while. But I'm happy to say that other than that, 9/11 hasn't had any direct impact on my work."

Dan Kassell, publicist and jazz marketer, recalls his wife Cassandra looking out of their river-view Manhattan window and seeing the first tower collapse. "I saw the aftermath. Basically I got depressed and business got depressed. People are just not coming out and responding to invitations. Restaurants are suffering, too. My musician clients have lost jobs and places have closed. Many restaurants are not seeking music to attract customers because of the expense." Kassell said that he is promoting a musician at a midtown-Manhattan restaurant for a once-a-month engagement. "In previous times, we could expect 20 reservations in advance, but in July we could only get four reservations."

Ron Scott, who writes a weekly jazz column for the Amsterdam News and reviews for the Jazz Heritage Society, said, "I wasn't so much affected financially. But sometimes I get the feeling that it seems insignificant writing about music. But then, I think it gives one another perspective. It takes people away from the tensions they are dealing with in daily life. It was music that got us through World Wars I and II and the Korean War. Listening to music and reading about it can be a spiritual outlet."

Eugene Holley, who writes for Vibe magazine and Amazon.com, said his jazz writing was affected because one of the websites he writes for lost a lot of advertisers that were located in the World Trade Center. That website, he said, offered more work in the aftermath of 9/11, but told him that payment would have to be delayed. "They said, 'You're welcome to file stuff, but we can't pay you right away.' I think things will get back to normal. I'm getting travel gigs again." Holley said he also suffered physically from the tragedy. "When I went to the Knitting Factory after 9/11 to see trumpeter Russell Gunn, I could only stay for half of the set. I couldn't stand the smell. I don't know how he played, the fumes were so strong!"

Retired Newark Star-Ledger jazz critic George Kanzler was reached in South Carolina. "The 9/11 events didn't affect my writing very much. We should learn from the musicians. One of them told me, 'I'm going out to play music! What can you do?' What can we do, but keep writing? Go out and hear the music. We need to hear live music now more than ever after 9/11. You can't just hide under your record collection.

"Jazz is a living music. I'm only retired from the Star-Ledger, so I'm still going to write about jazz. I just wrote a review for Hot House. I also turned in an introduction for a book on the historic concerts at William Patterson College. I go to concerts in Greenville (SC). I'm catching up on all the records I was going to listen to.

"Now I can listen to the stuff I really like! Marian McPartland was here and it was great to go to a concert and not have to take notes! I'm so glad to be able to listen to the jazz stations like WBGO on the Internet. I was just glad after it happened that musicians didn't drop into their cocoons. It was heartening to see that unlike the tourism industry, jazz didn't take as big a hit. I'm been going to clubs for over 40 years, and clubs were never filled up. Let's remember the truth."

Historian Delilah Jackson also provided some sage words of advice. She says we should remember the past but look forward, because jazz is always moving forward. "It's been a setback and everybody's saddened by it." But she pointed out that even during the second world war, Billie Holliday sang upbeat songs and Louis Jordan performed "Let the Good Times Roll."

"Musicians and writers shouldn't let anything get them down," Jackson said. "Look ahead. And look to history."


C o m m e n t s

Don't Look Back at 9/11 1 of 1
Daniel Kassell December 17, 08

Arnold Jay Smith-JJA treasurer, Russ Dantzler-Kansas City's Jam magazine, Jason Koransky-Down Beat, JJA president Howard Mandel's Down Beat article, Christopher Porter-Jazz Times editor, Paul Blair-Hot House writer, Ron Scott- The financial world has taken anotherr hit greater than New York City's worst disaster.

Amsterdam News columnist, Eugene Holley-Vibes and Amazon's scribe, Delilah Jackson-historian, Bob Bernotas-freelance jazz journalist and retired Newark Star-Ledger jazz critic George Kanzler are great company to be included with as reporters of feelings and thoughts about the devastation of the World Trade Center on our jazz community now known as 9/11. -- Dan Kassell, Swing-Jazz reporter and DVD videographer

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