In every issue of The Syncopated Times, I mean to celebrate the life force; syncopation itself is the pulse of life. The beat of one’s heart is analogous to the beat of ragtime and jazz. It’s not a dirge. There can no music, as such, without vitality. The tempo dictated by our inner metronome may persist for a century or more and while we are largely unconscious of its throbbing we move to its rhythm. We favor that music which roughly synchronizes with it.
This month the issue is dedicated to reveling in the long and productive “Ragtime Life” of Max Morath; last month I spotlighted four performers energizing the world of jazz with their youth and enthusiasm. Whatever our fleeting distractions, music is the pacemaker that compels us to be positive. That doesn’t mean that we are oblivious to dire occurrence. I noted the sad condition of the world in my September column, and disasters have transpired between its writing and today. New Orleans, the epicenter of early jazz, took a direct hit from Hurricane Ida, and the historic Karnofsky Tailor Shop, which had been young Louis Armstrong’s second home, was leveled.
Having a positive attitude does not preclude mourning the loss of that which is irreplaceable. Rather, it should provide us an emotional ballast that enables us to bounce back and face our problems with resourcefulness, and repair that which can be mended. I concede that my own outlook on life needs work; in publishing my “happy little jazz paper” I strive to offer stories which emphasize good news—when possible.
Things vary from month to month. Last month was a focus on four young musicians (with my Static counterpoint of “what kind of a world are we leaving for them?”); this month my layout contains four feature stories that are memorials of musicians and other luminaries who have died within the past month. All are eminences who have earned their due articles. And, just this past Monday, George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, passed away. My paper was already too full to give him more than a brief obituary. Next month there will be a suitable remembrance.
In a way George Wein’s death felt symbolic of what the jazz community now faces, not just due to COVID, but because of changes in the ways people choose to hear live music. The Newport Jazz Festival, founded by Wein in 1954, was the first outdoor jazz festival ever produced. Other than “battle of the bands” events at ballrooms and concerts like From Spirituals to Swing, it was the first jazz festival of any prominence, period.
COVID has certainly taken a toll this year, after a “false spring” during which people gleefully ripped off their masks and went barefaced into public places. Then Delta coughed and said, “Hold my beer.” Organizers cancelled several festivals this month alone, though some are going forward as virtual events. As of this writing, we have two festivals advertising live events: Suncoast and Arizona. San Diego has gone online and Jubilee by the Sea is holding off until next year; both cite the new state COVID protocols for “mega events” in California.
I have to smile, albeit wanly, when I read the editorial by my predecessor Don Jones in the July 2015 issue of The American Rag: “Thus far through the first six months of 2015, the Trad Jazz Community of Festivals are holding their own at 34 . . . Since February 2007, the month and year we began creating this paper on computers, we have lost . . . 17 festivals.” The editorial had the somewhat fraught-looking title, “WHAT LIES IN THE FUTURE FOR TRAD JAZZ FESTIVALS and THEIR AUDIENCES???”
Here it is, October 2021, and the festival prospect is bleak indeed. After the 20 months we’ve been through, I wonder if people will ever be fully comfortable attending large events again. Yet I can’t bring myself to feel the same measure of panic as Don Jones felt in July 2015. It may be that my nature is too phlegmatic. It also may that, even before the pandemic, long-standing festivals folded during my proprietorship. I initially noted the loss of advertisers with some alarm—and then I decided I can do this.
I want to stress here that I would like to keep The Syncopated Times coming to you in a print edition each month. What has changed—and what may well be permanent—is that I can’t rely on festival advertising to pay my printing, mailing, and other expenses each month. I will support festivals and welcome their advertising as long as they still exist. As for myself, I have no intention of going out of business.
As the music audience by necessity grows younger, they may prefer to enjoy their music through an intervening LED screen, or via earbuds, or in more intimate public venues. They may recoil at the notion of hearing jazz or ragtime amid a throng of other fans. (Since March 2020, we’ve all become somewhat germphobic. Howard Hughes would nod approvingly.)
There’s this, though: owing to the lack of advertising, the October 2021 issue of The Syncopated Times has more editorial content than any previous edition. It’s positively crammed, and there are numerous excellent pieces that didn’t make it and will be run next month.
If festivals aren’t going to pay my bills, then who is? Look in the mirror. If you suspect it’s time to renew your subscription, it’s time. If you don’t suspect it’s time, look at your address label. If you know someone who would like the paper, please proselytize it to them or buy them a gift subscription.
Max Morath, whose birthday we celebrate this month, recently sent me an email: “Keep ’em comin’! TST is not only a great read today, but will be a great historical resource for years to come.”
I am humbled. I can think of no higher endorsement. Consider that—and your renewal.