Monday, November 21, 2005

Is jazz publishing dead?

In the Dec. 5 issue of The Nation, David Yaffe reviews five recent jazz tomes: Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved to a New Address) by Stuart Nicholson; Crossovers: Essays on Race, Music, and American Culture by John Szwed; the not-so-recent Django: The Life and Music of a Gypsy Legend by Michael Dregni; Northern Sun, Southern Moon: Europe's Reinvention of Jazz by Mike Heffley; and Jazz on the River by William Howland Kenney. It's a long, engaging essay by Yaffe; and while I'm happy to see lots of column inches devoted to jazz books, the fact that all five come from university presses says more, I hope, about The Nation than the state of jazz publishing. (Of course, in my own experience, no press is interested in jazz.) But it probably says the same thing about both, and what it says is niche. It also says ghetto. Rather than lament the state of modern jazz or jazz publishing (to cite TMFTML, boo-fucking-hoo --- is there anything more tedious than another dude bemoaning the fallen state of jazz as a cultural force? Let's agree it has the cultural cache of maybe pro bowling), I'll note that two of the three nonhistorical titles in Yaffe's round-up focus on European jazz, and (seemingly) compare it favorably to the current domestic strains. It's possible jazz's "new address" is on the other side of the Atlantic, but I doubt it. Or don't want to believe it. Though the new audience is probably there. This kind of divide raises all kinds of questions, centering on race and cultural nationalism, that I'm spectacularly unqualified to answer. But academic presses owning the jazz field, and a migration of the center of the jazz world (conceptually, anyway) east across the water, doesn't bode well and taken together should make for one starchy-ass future for the jazz fan and reader.
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