Every Month, a New Boulder

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Sisyphys (1548–49) by TitianPrado MuseumMadrid, From Wikipedia


Each month when I begin work on the following month’s issue of The Syncopated Times I often think of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra, condemned for his self-aggrandizing craftiness to push the same boulder up the same hill each day throughout eternity. As I reflect on his plight (and mine), I’m not certain who should empathize with whom.
When Sisyphus undertook his daily task, it was always the same boulder. He knew it intimately—every bump, dent, and irregularity. He knew where to get the best purchase on the rock to move it upward, where it was likely to be slippery, where lichens and moss (that might aid in traction) had grown on it, and where the terrain would be easier or more arduous to navigate with his burden. In short, he got used to the job. After a hundred years or so, he had it down to a routine.

There is nothing routine about preparing an issue of The Syncopated Times. Every issue is its own challenge, with different events and people to inhabit its pages. Other than the graphic similarities of each number—the template, the masthead, the small ads, the column headings—it’s a new boulder every month. In fact, I don’t know what the shape of the rock is going to be until the paper is almost done. At the end of my task, I feel a measure of satisfaction—and maybe a twinge of chagrin—at what I have before me. And then—the job begins anew.

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But whatever emotion I feel has nothing to do with boredom or monotony. Perhaps King Sisyphus took comfort in his rock-hoisting, as an assembly line worker might go home at the end of each day knowing they had to go through the whole thing again on the morrow. I have heard such stories from my aunts and uncles who used to work at General Electric here in Utica. The uniformity of the work was soothing. One could daydream—and almost sleep—while doing it.

My personal boulder requires imagination and resourcefulness for me to move it to its destination. (Dare I use the word “creativity?”) His labor required determination and perseverance. And so, I am afraid, here is where Sisyphus and I find common (uphill) ground. His curse (and mine) are borne of pride. As editor, publisher, and all-around Pooh-Bah of The Syncopated Times, I admit to moments of self-aggrandizement. “I do this single-handedly,” I have been known to chortle. Neither Sisyphus nor I had assistance. No rock-pushing intern was there to step in during sick days or bathroom breaks. So we had bragging rights.

That, for me at least, is changing. I no longer have to move this huge thing—let’s change it to a piano, since I’m tired of boulders—entirely by myself. Yes, I now have someone to pick up the other end of this full-sized, century-old, rusty-castered upright, metaphorically speaking. I have actually propelled such lovely monstrosities of mahogany and cast iron, each one the same (but different). The unwieldiness of such a monolith would have daunted Sisyphus—though not Laurel and Hardy, who demonstrated the power of teamwork.

I am happy to have help, finally. In this issue, you will see the work of Joe Bebco, who contributed the cover profile of the remarkable Colin Hancock, the Final Chorus, and the CD reviews in “Off the Beaten Tracks” for February. He also took on the task of labeling the hundreds of postcards I sent out in January to remind subscribers to renew. (That job, which is truly Sisyphean, is one that I am relieved to delegate.)

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Joe shares our interest in early jazz, with the additional qualification of being knowledgeable about early ethnic and foreign recordings. Though I have wanted to make our coverage more international in scope, I was never confident enough to approach the varieties of music outside my immediate field of enthusiasm (however much they may intersect with it). The reader will note that Joe reviews imported traditional jazz, as well as other unique and worthy CDs, with astute sensitivity.

It is of particular importance now that I have help—and from someone younger than I am—in transporting this Cabinet Grand. There are changes taking place in the traditional jazz community, and The Syncopated Times has to ride out those changes. Some of them are positive, of course. Nonetheless, we noted last month the demise of two excellent jazz festivals, America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington and the Sacramento Music Festival. After going to press, we also heard that the Southern Oregon Music Fest was defunct. All three festivals were invaluable showcases for the music we love—as well as being reliable advertisers in this publication. (And in this very issue we find the announcement that the Capital City Jazz Fest will discontinue after this year.)

There is a mood of upheaval, but my instinct is that there is a new audience learning to love this music. I would love to have them subscribe so that they knew where to find it playing and learned something of its lively history. I hold out the hope that since suitcase phonographs and “vinyls” are making a comeback, perhaps print periodicals will gain some retro appeal. (As a last resort, I will grit my teeth and send a PDF.)

(Webmasters note: Though print is still king Andy has now released the keys to the kingdom which is why you are able to read this story online, no more reliance on clunking PDF’s, though they are still available..)

Another pair of hands—and another, younger point of view—are essential right now to keep this paper and the music it celebrates going long into the future. It may seem an uphill battle, but at least there is someone here ready to help push.


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