I had to reflect, this month, on the passing of JazzTimes publisher Ira Sabin at age 90. In reading his Washington Post obituary I was struck with an eerie sense of empathy for someone who was in almost exactly the same business that I stumbled into two years ago. JazzTimes and The Syncopated Times generally don’t overlap in terms of content or the kind of music we encourage, but I had to identify like mad with Mr. Sabin.
Here’s a direct quote from the Washington Post obit: “‘I was flying by the seat of my pants,’ Mr. Sabin wrote in JazzTimes in 1995. ‘I was the writer, editor, publisher, advertising sales person, artist, proofreader, photographer, distributor, you name it. Editorial decisions were simple, though: whenever I’d hear a player that knocked me out, he or she would be on our next cover.’”
An artist that would knock Ira Sabin out might bore or irritate me (with all due respect for musicianship)—but, yes. I have been thrilled, delighted, and floored by certain musicians who I felt compelled to get into these pages. More than that, the whole litany of job descriptions rolled into one waking nightmare is exactly what I have done since January 2016. And “flying by the seat of my pants” hardly describes it. Most days I am barely airborne, skimming the tops of acres of cacti. I’ve referred to what I do as a Sisyphean task, but Sisyphus never got run over by his own boulder. That’s a daily occurrence in this office.
I wondered how Mr. Sabin survived the editorial stress-test until passing at 90, until I read that he retired at age 62. That’s still six years away for me, and even when I reach it I doubt retirement will be an option. For one thing, I’m not ready to relinquish my chair to someone who regards spelling and punctuation with indifference. All my departed grade school teachers are having a good laugh somewhere as they watch me move commas all day. In fact, my own Sisyphean boulder is in the shape of a comma.
Yes, I know there’s an “app” for that. It’s called “Grammarly,” and all the cool kids are using it. They were too busy developing self-esteem in the third grade instead of having punctuation beaten into them with a hickory stick. I also spent years learning long division when it turned out I would grow up and emerge into a world where calculators come from the dollar store. I can still do long division as a party stunt—or would, if I had time to go to parties.
Someday, probably when I am way older than 62, I’ll have to find someone younger who can do spelling, grammar, and punctuation like a champ. It’s taken me over fifty years of assiduous practice to know just where to roll that boulder—er, move that comma. By then, of course, they might have actual software applications that can write better than I do, and with funnier jokes. Wit and humor will have fallen into “long division” territory. Machines will go on Facebook to amuse other machines, and mere humans will have to go back to cave painting. Nonetheless, I’m hoping there is a young Luddite in our future who can swing an em dash.
Shuddering back to the present, I cannot but smile at the suggestion that being the factotum of The Syncopated Times is a “labor of love.” That metaphor works only if one considers that love starts out as infatuation and gradually settles into responsibility. There are moments of passion and joy, but most of this love is enduring the long stretches of dealing with not-so-thrilling stuff because one has to do so and no one else will. Moreover, one cannot imagine doing otherwise. If that sounds like your marriage, congratulations.
Even as I push the endless line of commas up the street with the bridge of my nose, I sporadically raise my head to see why I’m doing this. In this issue, in addition to our cover story by Pops Coffee on the remarkable Tuba Skinny, our Associate Editor, Joe Bebco, has highlighted a number of CDs by young British bands you will certainly be hearing more about. Of Frog & Henry, Joe says, “This one is going to be a big review. I seem to have scooped the story on the next Tuba Skinny. The only mentions in press have been local gig promos. They only started actively playing and touring as a unit in early 2017 but it is a truly all star, if anonymous, group.”
Having young and adventurous minds on board who are willing to explore the new and exciting musicians on the scene keeps this paper from being solely an exercise in musical nostalgia. We honor the past in a number of excellent articles this month, but this is to light the way to the future. We mourn the dissolution of the High Sierra Jazz Band after 42 years of making great music, but we thrill at the emergence of groups like The Cable Street Rag Band and Frog & Henry.
Also, please check out Joe’s interview with the incredible young jazz violinist Daisy Castro.
This paper is a responsibility—I have often referred to it as a trust—that I take very seriously. If I miss the big stories for the commas, I’m not doing my job. The future of Traditional-Hot-Roots Jazz is bright, but we must open our eyes and minds to its dazzling promise.
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