In my 30 years as a daily newspaper sub-editor, nearly every time one of my associates was tasked with writing a headline for a story about jazz it would come back with one including the words “all that jazz”. And when I had the opportunity I would rewrite it to avoid that cliche before it appeared in print.
Now, it seems, another headline cliche has emerged: newspaper people aren’t happy unless a jazz story has “death” or “dying” in large type above it.
The latest is in The Independent and, slightly surprisingly, is on a story with a Phil Johnson byline. It is here together with some interesting comments if you scroll down to the bottom.
Now I have never met Phil Johnson, but I have read quite a lot of what he has written, and he doesn’t strike me as “one of them” when it comes to the “us and them” that is usually created when this art form we love comes under attack. In fact, I suspect he’s pretty annoyed that the d-word was used in the headline.
However, I can also see why the headline writer used it. Johnson is, again slightly surprisingly given that the hook for the piece is the imminent London Jazz Festival, discussing some problems faced by jazz in this country: declining attendance, the ever-ageing nature of those who do attend, the way in which we jazz writers tend towards being PR people for the genre rather than objective critics of it, the recycling of so many of the younger players in countless different bands which stops them developing real, long-lasting rapport, and the low esteem in which jazz is held by the establishment (specifically those who hand out the grants).
So, yes, it is rather a gloomy piece, but I wouldn’t want a moderately misjudged headline to get in the way of our musing upon the serious points Johnson is making.
The piece has drawn some strong comment from musician Tim Garland – seek it out on Facebook: the comparisons he draws with how jazz is valued in other parts of the world are very interesting.
So, what does everyone else think?