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The Work of the Jazz Journalists Association

I became International Editor for the Jazz Journalist Association (JJA) last year. However, I am slightly embarrassed to say that, while I knew their work and was a member, I had little knowledge of the history or how the JJA was formed. I did know they serve and help journalists in jazz, so I decided to interview Howard Mandel, a founding member of the Association.

The Jazz Journalist Association was formed by journalists who kept bumping into each other at the same festivals and other music events. They decided to create an association to promote the work of jazz journalists while upholding standards. Initially for U.S. journalists, the JJA has widened its sphere to become an organisation of journalists, with members in many countries.

The JJA provides a resource platform for many areas. For example, it offers information for writers seeking advice on how to approach publications and how to negotiate pay. It provides a space for discussion and nurtures connections with other journalists.

The JJA is open to any jazz journalist, and diversity has become one of the driving aspects of the organisation. Past projects have included actively seeking emerging artists and giving them opportunities to increase their visibility.

Jazz journalists can seek advice on areas such as filing taxes or managing multiple websites. Much of the information is available to the public, but those who become members can also access private discussion forums such as the members' page on Facebook and regularly update their membership profile to promote their activities.

There are several sub-committees like the Book Club, which reviews and recommends books for a yearly award, and a Photography Committee, which does the same. Individuals may be recognised for their contribution to jazz every year, and the occasional lifetime award is given.

It is important to have a professional association with members actively talking about jazz music. Members can network with other professionals in the field, find advice on how to promote a book, find a publicist, contact musicians, get to record labels, and promote their work.

On a more practical note, you can also find where to eat or stay if you visit a new country or town, find editors for your work, and so on. The JJA can also provide a stepping-stone for bloggers into professional journalism.

The JJA has been managed for many years by Howard Mandel, and I caught up with him to quiz him on the JJA and its inner workings and aims.

SS= Sammy Stein

HM = Howard Mandel

SS: How did you become chair of the JJA, and how long have you been doing this?

H.M.: I was involved in the JJA from our first group meeting in 1986. By the early '90s, it had become ever more evident that jazz journalists needed a professional organization that could speak specifically for our unique working conditions and personal interests. I lived in New York City, knew many people throughout the jazz ecosystem, and in 1994 was elected president by attendees at a large convening of JJA members. I've always been organizationally-minded, and took on the task of structuring and sustaining the JJA. As it has become a more complex association, no qualified successor has volunteered to take on all the JJA responsibilities, so rather than see the JJA fold, I've continued to lead our efforts, guide our developments, and be the hub of communications for our extensive network.

S.S.: The JJA initially was set up in the U.S. by U.S. journalists. How do you feel the JJA has a wider appeal?

H.M.: Jazz journalists from outside the U.S. have always asked if they could join, and the answer has always been 'yes.' However, it is difficult for professionals in any one country to know what counterparts in other countries face in their professional circumstances, and also differences in time-zones have made online real-time collaborations, such as webinars, hard to schedule. Finances and mailings have also been difficult to coordinate. I've always encouraged jazz journalists outside the U.S. to form their own associations, as our friends in Russia did.

S.S.: What are the benefits of being a member of the JJA rather than simply accessing the public material on the website?

H.M.: JJA members get to participate in the organization's activities, including voting in the JJA Jazz Awards, presenting Jazz Hero celebrations in their locales, promoting themselves via the JJA's monthly Members Updates and with professional profiles posted in a Members Directory at They can also write articles for JJA News that are disseminated via JJA social media platforms and feeds, and gain contact information that enables consultations with a large coterie of colleagues. JJA members get membership cards, can post their year-end Best Of lists, get discounts on JJA ticketed events, and the benefit of knowing they are doing something concrete to establish a voice for our profession among other actors in the jazz ecosystem. The JJA has gone to bat for individuals who have complaints or concerns about those who employ us. Members typically feel united rather than in competition when their works are all acknowledged as meeting the professional standards the JJA encourages.

S.S.: From what you have observed, do you feel the JJA has a continuing role given the number of online writers and bloggers, and what is that exactly?

H.M.: Jazz journalism as a paid profession has been challenged by the shift from print to online publishing, but the standards appropriate to professional journalism have not changed. The JJA hopes to represent traditional journalistic standards regarding critical thinking, language usage, fairness and veracity. We also strive to be towards the front of recognition and adoption of new technology and strategies to reach audiences. The JJA continues to be valuable as a network of professionals taking pride in what we do, and hoping for long careers in it, rather than the here-today, gone-tomorrow aspects of less committed bloggers and opinion-mongers.

S.S.: For a journalist, how would you advise them approaching the JJA to write about their own scene?

H.M.: welcomes articles about the business of journalism as it affects those writing, broadcasting, or photographing jazz and the business of jazz as an overview that individual members may take as a starting point for their own investigations and reports. We don't publish reviews of music at JJA News and interview musicians rarely if they have something to say about journalism or the music businesses that would be useful for journalists to know. In the series Jazz On Lockdown/Jazz Rebounds, we're looking for news on how musicians and audiences, individuals and institutions are maintaining a presence for jazz, pivoting online to make events happen, and other imaginative responses to limitations on live music-making and presentation in light of virus-related restrictions. There are many interesting stories to be told!

S.S.: How do you see the role of the JJA changing, and in what directions?

H.M.: I don't see the JJA's role in the greater world of jazz culture changing. Jazz journalists are here to sustain the flow of news and buzz about jazz in the overall media stream. The JJA is here to support the efforts of those jazz journalists.

S.S.: Why jazz, for you?

H.M.: I was drawn to jazz first by its sound - deep, active, dramatic, fast, or moody. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and was attracted to music by black Americans who lived near me, more than the folk music that mostly white college students were buying at the time. I prefer instrumental music to vocals and liked the interactions of musical players, as I soon learned, acting independently yet interdependently. As I learned something about playing piano, flute, saxophone, and electronics, I continued to be drawn to improvisation, and when I heard what black Chicago South Siders in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians were doing, it struck me as more sophisticated, complex, innovative and meaningful than anything I heard in contemporary composed music, rock/pop (much of which I still enjoyed) or folk forms (including the blues, raga, gamelan, all of which I also listened to, and continue to). Finally, studying American history and race relations, then the music of the entire world, I found jazz made sense, was fun, and gave me hope for a future. I found a lot in it to write about that didn't seem to be in the common cultural discussion, and I got mostly positive responses from potential employers as well as fellow listeners, readers, and even musicians for what I wrote about what I heard and who I spoke to. Lucky me!

The JJA continues to thrive and support jazz journalists in many ways. They now have an International Editor and are actively seeking contributions from journalists discussing their scenes and developments from outside the U.S., as well as continued input from those in the U.S. the JJA already has members in the UK, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Czech Republic, and Canada and is interested in hearing from journalists in other countries to continue its work as an international body of professional jazz journalists working for the highest standards of journalism within the jazz community.


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