Celebrating the Other Editor of TST

Throughout history, duos have accomplished great things together. Perhaps not adversarial pairings such as Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, or the Democratic and Republican parties, but teams of two who were facing in the same direction often created more together than they would’ve done separately. For instance, where would Adam have been without Eve (if nothing else, they provided us with a joke even older than the one about the jaywalking fowl: Eve: “Adam, do you love me?” Adam (looking desperately around): “Who else??”); Astaire without Rogers, Batman without Robin, or Bonnie with no Clyde? Pairings proliferate in every walk of life: Williams had Walker; Butterbeans had Susie; Frodo had Samwise; Proctor had Gamble; Bromo had Seltzer.

There’s a team of two that keeps this beloved publication from going the way of the Birmingham Post-Herald or the Phoenix Gazette; the Northwestern Lumberman or the Utica Saturday Globe. Though neither team member seeks the spotlight, one stays deeper in the shadows than does the other, and this humble columnist thinks it’s high time the light be focused on the “silentpartner.

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It’s not a surprise we hear more from and about our esteemed Publisher and Editor, Andy Senior, than we do his stepson, Joe Bebco. Joe contributes a great deal of verbiage to each edition of TST, including the eagerly anticipated “Festival Roundup” and the extremely unwelcome “Final Chorus.” But because he’s the “Website Editor” (which in this case means the guru who translates the publication into something that will as meaningfully connect with online consumers as does the physical version that leaves you with ink on your hands), he doesn’t take up and brandish the editorial standard carried by our chief editor, Andy.

Each month, faithful readers of the print edition find Mr. Senior’s most recent musings, on page three, in his “Static From My Attic” essay. Whether one agrees with every one of Andy’s monthly commentaries, I’m guessing it’s a rare subscriber who eschews reading it. As well, Andy’s received awards and positions of honor. In April 2022, he wasvery deservedly—among 28 honorees to have bestowed on them the Jazz Hero” award by the Jazz Journalists Association (when I read how many honorees received that award in a single year, I was astounded; I frankly didn’t know there were 27 additional people writing about jazz in the world). As well, he is now the President of Syncopated Media, Inc., an honorific which will hopefully increase his exposure and influence in the ongoing effort to bring OKOM to more and more listeners of all ages.

Andy knows the lynchpin in “getting the word(s) out” is the online version of TST. It can reach farther and wider with no postage necessary and won’t stack up in one’s study. This month’s edition marks the 8th anniversary of the inception of The Syncopated Times, so if you’ve kept each issue, your stack at home is somewhere between 2-3 feet tall (figuring the earlier years have squashed down to 3 inches in height per year, while the newer years are still incrementally fluffy, let’s agree on 2 ½ feet). While there is something comforting in holding a paper (or a book) and lovingly turning the page to reveal the next adventure, I have to admit, though Luddite I profess to be, that I turn to the online version when I want a quick fact check or to figure out when such-and-such article about so-and-so was published. No matter the medium, the TST is a treasure trove of great writing and ideas about the music we cherish.

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The numbers are grim, however. Andy shared with me that there are between 950-1000 print subscribers. Joe told me you can add 500 “online only” subscribers to that total. So how does this paper survive? I believe the answer lies in another figure Joe listed: there are around 30,000 unique visitors a month to syncopatedtimes.com. While he reasons that number represents “mostly people finding some article or another through Google who will only view the article they land on,” the fact is they’re finding the paper!!…AND I’m more cautiously optimistic.  One doesn’t need to be as ADHD as am I to “go down the rabbit hole” when surfing the web (I searched last night for a twist on “Spaghetti Bolognese” and sat there until I’d somehow reached “Russian Nesting Dolls).  I imagine a high percentage of accidental tourists hang around longer than Joe is allowing. This kind of random interaction would rarely occur in the physical world (“Gosh, a newspaper was skittering across the park in the wind and landed at my feet. Imagine my surprise when I picked it up and found “The Syncopated” not “The New York” Times”).

Andy is quick to point out that Joe’s the one who is a go-getter, who reaches out, who networks and tries to broaden the spread of the publication and, as Joe is younger by about seventeen years, will hopefully carry the torch into the distant future. As a team, the amount of work the two of them do each month is staggering to me. Sure, I and another dozen or so writers from around the world are invited to contribute content to fill those pages (or screen), but beyond that responsibility, our job is done. Once our 750-3,500-word submission has been approved, that’s it until the next time. But Andy and Joe live with this thing every day of every month, and consistently produce both textually and visually amazing quality of content.

Here’s a compelling contrast between Andy and Joe: Andy is a musician; Joe is not. Joe attempted learning instruments during his secondary school years in the 1990s but found himself wanting in that regard. Instead, he continued to collect 78s and invested in a portable record player, all of which he’d cart over to friends’ houses, already “spreading the joy.” He does admit some of them would wonder “What’s this crazy guy bringing over here now?” In addition to records, he’d haunt venues featuring live music and it was at a coffee house concert/poetry reading that he met his future stepfather, Andy, who would go on to moderate the weekly event as well as setting up concerts where he sang his original tunes while accompanying himself on guitar. The friendship that ensued would eventually lead to, among other things (including Andy marrying Joe’s mom, Susan), the creation of this publication.

Joe’s is a formidable intellect. His writing never fails to impress me, but it’s the CD reviews he offers in his “Off the Beaten Tracks” column that often astound me. For a non-musician, Joe offers acutely insightful, discerning, and sensitive observations about the releases he chooses to discuss (hell, his comments have more depth than those of many “professional” reviewers, including some who are musicians, I’ve come across). He not only shares his frank thoughts about the music he’s hearing, but goes into the “how,” “who,” and “why” regarding the recording under scrutiny. He also contextually places what he’s listening to, especially regarding young bands, in the house of hot jazz of the past, present, and future.

For example, in Joe’s June 2023 discussion of the music of the band The Garden of Joy, he casually refers not only to contemporary practitioners of hot ensemble-based jazz (Frog and Henry, Tuba Skinny) but brings up Bunk Johnson and by way of references proposes one of the tracks sounds as if it could be on Rivermont Records Producer Bryan Wright’s podcast Shellac Stack. Mr. Bebco, being as young as he is, had some catching up to do regarding the original music of the 1920s-30s (which he initially gained from the Red Hot Jazz Archives and the “Great 78 Project”) but he has his fingers on the pulse of bands playing the old-time styles of music on the scene NOW!

Nauck

Andy and Joe at a Syracuse Jazz Association meeting.

Admittedly, Joe’s focusing on so much 1920s-30s inspired music being produced by musicians in their 20s and 30s started to make me nervous. Where do the hundreds of not-young-enough to be hip nor old-enough-to-be “rediscovered” journeymen (gulp…like me!!) fit in here? In January’s edition of “Off the Beaten Tracks,” I joyously read that while Joe is (rightly) championing the efforts of “da youts,’” his review of the latest CD produced by the GJB noted a special quality only found in those musicians who learned from the students of the original masters, if not those demigods themselves: “no group from the younger generation…plays quite what I hear in the old recordings of the Galvanized Jazz Band.” Joe continues his comparison, noting that while “many of the younger bands today are research oriented,” musicians of the generation of those in the GJB “played jazz passed hand to hand.” He then offers the most perceptive analysis I’ve encountered of what makes the CT-based GJB (the group I grew up with) so uniquely special in their 52-year history. Every musician reading this should hope one day for an audience FULL of Joe Bebcos. I’ll dare confess I sometimes look in the issue to see if there’s a new “Off the Beaten Tracks” before I turn to page three…(sorry Andy…)

Joe Bebco personifies the best kind of listener. As the music highlighted in this publication continues to evolve and diversify, so must its audience if it’s to survive. I conclude that Andy and Joe do make a terrific duo: Andy, the Captain Kirk of Syncopation, sits on the bridge while Joe, an enticing mixture of Mr. Spock and Scotty, goes boldly where few would dare in his observations of the greatest of all American musical gifts to the world, searching for new horizons while keeping an appreciative eye on the traditions that made them possible. Long live The Syncopated Times and the dynamic duo at its helm!!

Jeff Barnhart is an internationally renowned pianist, vocalist, arranger, bandleader, recording artist, ASCAP composer, educator and entertainer. Visit him online at www.jeffbarnhart.com. Email: [email protected]

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