JazzTimes and the White Critics
New ownership has a scorched-earth policy. So who's getting burned?
My copy arrived in today’s mail. A NEW ERA, declares the cover — a bold headline that’s objectively true, though things get more subjective once you turn the page. In the event that you haven’t been following the saga of “America’s Jazz Magazine,” its new owner, Gregory Charles Royal, is eager to bring you up to speed.
In an introductory manifesto, Royal writes: “As I say my peace [sic], I want you all to imagine a world in which Black writers, as a matter of course and almost exclusively, provide the critique, opinion and coverage of White jazz artists and their music. Scary, huh?” He goes on to affirm his own foothold within the music (“My Cred”), drop dozens of names in a word cloud (“Kevin Bacon Ain’t Got Sh%^ on Me!”), and finally, nurse a core grievance (“The Result of an Untreated Wound”). Here’s the top:
This publication has lived in an insular bubble for decades — a magazine seemingly written for the consumption and from the perspective of white journalists (often themselves wannabe jazz musicians) who have had no interest in appealing to a general public. A wankfest of the highest order, largely undertaken and overtaken by white people at the expense of cultivating a legacy amongst jazz's primary heirs — past and future Black generations.
These writers, aka the gatekeepers, historically worked on a tab until this Black man said get the fuck out — now they want their money yesterday and are losing their fucking minds all over social media.
Later in the issue, there are four pages of tweets critical of JazzTimes and its new direction, all stamped with an exultant kiss-off. Like the cryptic slug at the top of Royal’s note — RIP the April 2023 Issue — it’s all so inside-baseball that I can only imagine what the experience is for a reader with no knowledge of What Went Down.
Cards on the table: I haven’t been actively associated with JazzTimes for a handful of years, but I have a lot of history with the magazine, where I began writing features and reviews around the turn of the century. The Gig ran as a monthly column there for more than a dozen years, beginning with the May 2004 issue.
The previous year, JazzTimes had ended Stanley Crouch’s tenure as a columnist — a reprisal, he claimed, for his scathing column “Putting the White Man in Charge.” Crouch’s polemic was recently anthologized by veteran jazz journalist Willard Jenkins in a vital book titled Ain’t But a Few of Us: Black Music Writers Tell Their Story. So was another essay even more germane to this discussion, Amiri Baraka’s “Jazz and the White Critic,” first published in DownBeat almost 60 years ago. Baraka, then still writing as LeRoi Jones, opened that essay with a lucid provocation: “Most jazz critics have been white Americans, but most important jazz musicians have not been.”
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