In an interesting Vortex discussion with Ollie Weindling and Steve Beresford this week, it was agreed that the focus of jazz journalism has switched from the national press and monthly jazz magazines to blogs and social media. In a recent interview Ethan Iverson even suggested that social media such as Twitter, TikTok and others now have greater impact than blogs. You can read the interview here; it’s mostly previewing his recent gig at The Vortex, but he touches on blogs towards the end.
Certainly in promoting a particular gig Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as targeted email messages have become the main means of attracting an audience, and one remembers fondly the days of the Guardian Guide. It was our experience at Birmingham Jazz and later with Jazzlines that, if one was successful in getting a gig into the Guide, this would increase ticket sales significantly. In those days a leaflet and a possible entry in the listings of national or local newspapers seemed to work in attracting an audience, and required rather less work than persistent social media activity.
So social media can be very useful in promoting a gig, or drawing attention to a new album release, but blogs do play an important role in publishing thought pieces about developments in the music, also previews and reviews. For me, checking the London Jazz News website is one of the first tasks of the day, and I always keep up with Ethan Iverson’s Do The Math, Stephen Graham’s Marlbank site, the Jazzwise website and Richard Williams’ The Blue Moment when he is active on the site. I would argue that blogs such as these are now equally important, if not more important, as monthly magazines such as Jazzwise and The Wire.
One issue arising from the increased prominence of blogs about jazz and improvised music is the role of reviews on those blogs. Reviews of jazz albums or gigs are almost invariably positive, partly because reviewers only seem to review albums or gigs by musicians that they like or are interested in, and the reviews therefore become more of a means of drawing attention to a given release or gig than an objective analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the music. This is in marked contrast with film or theatre reviews that can be very critical. I believe that there are a number of reasons for this: one is that reviewers see themselves as part of the jazz community and are therefore keen to promote the music, both in general and for specific groups. The fact that many reviewers are enthusiasts of the music rather than professional journalists reinforces this point. Another reason is undoubtedly that the standard of the music is today at a very high level, and there is a huge amount of variety in both the live scene and in the music that is being recorded. Perhaps this is an over-optimistic view of an enthusiast, but I believe that it is a valid point.