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Bill Shoemaker

It’s an honor just to be nominated…

Really. It is.

Sure, it was a surprise when Point of Departure was nominated for a 2006 Jazz Journalists Association Jazz Award for Best Website Concentrating on Jazz. It gave me a sincerely good laugh because there was no way PoD would win, since the other nominees included award winner, the USA Today of jazz sites, as well as, the Grand Central Station of jazz sites, and, the JazzTimes of jazz sites.

Since I’m not a JJA member, I could not vote. If I could, I would have voted for the fifth nominee, Jerry Jazz Musician. It’s a much better Website than PoD. For starters, it’s a bona fide Website, not a print journal in a post-print environment. They have a far more extensive – and fluid – navigational structure. Through JJM, you can load up your virtual shopping cart with high-end collectibles like the Jim Marshall multiple exposure photograph of Rahsaan Roland Kirk that was used for the cover of Bright Moments – number 2 of an edition of 50 for $5,000. It is connected.

JJM’s accomplishment in terms of content is considerable: They cover mainstream jazz with an enthusiasm and energy that rubs off on the reader. What really tickles me about JJM content-wise, however, is the site’s exhaustive interviews with jazz critics, in which both parties seem to have a borderline fixation with what the critic thinks. It is always illuminating to hear what battle lines critics have drawn with their editors about terminology, presumption of the reader’s knowledge, or lack thereof, etc. In this regard, I found Jazz Award Lifetime Achievement nominee Francis Davis’ JJM interview account of how he had to fight for his right to write in the first person to be simply fascinating, since I am of the school that holds “I think” to be not only a totally useless phrase – redundant and repetitious, a crusty mentor would say – but the one that most reinforces the view that jazz critics are essentially solipsists.

Given all this, as a label publicist recently suggested to me, the choice that Jazz Awards voters made was not between apples and oranges, but between different food groups. The same can be said of this year’s nominees for the sole Jazz Award given for mediums other than books, The Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Newspaper, Magazine or Online Writing. The nominees spanned the ubiquitous thirtysomething David Adler to Our Man in Paris, Mike Zwerin. Davis and winner Nate Chinen rounded out the quartet.

Do you think the JJA would consider for one second combining all of the musician awards for saxophonists, clarinets and flutists in a single category for woodwind players? Or have a single award for all recordings, lumping together new releases, reissues, archival finds and boxed sets? Of course, not. Yet, they do this to their own dues-paying members. The lack of a more specific set of awards is problematic on two counts. It suggests the JJA is not meeting the fundamental journalistic standard of noticing what’s going on. Secondly, it is reinforces the notion that the whole exercise of presenting the awards at BB King’s Supper Club, replete with great live music, is really geared towards such crucial JJA constituencies as record labels, venues, media outlets, and agencies.

Separate awards for magazine, newspaper and online writing are indicated. This would at the very least acknowledge the varying skill sets required by each medium. The hurdles Davis must clear to write his fine Atlantic Monthly features are markedly different than those Chinen contends with in writing his award-winning work for The New York Times. Both of these sets are different from what Adler has to deal with to post an AAJ column. For that matter, multiple awards for books are also in order. This year’s nominees spanned Doug Ramsey’s winning biography of Paul Desmond and a coffee table book by photographer William Claxton and critic Joachim-Ernst Berendt. And, while we’re at it, photography deserves more at least two awards, one for performance shots and one for studio work.

Look, if presenting a half-dozen additional journalism awards cuts into the running time of the main event, then perhaps the JJA could have something like the technical Academy Awards, and make it a smaller, more informal event. Have it at Cornelia Street Cafe or Barbès, with something like a $20 ticket for a drink, a little finger food and a set from an up and coming band. They would pack the joint, not only with journalists, but with musicians and other interested parties for whom the main event is too pricey and the clientele is too establishment. I’d be inclined to attend.

Clean Feed Festival

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