back to be.jazz

Caught up with the O.G. jazz blogger Mwanji Ezana at the gig last night in Antwerp.

Mwanji (also spelled Moandji) hasn’t updated be.jazz since 2008, but back when the jazz blogosphere was new and exciting, Ezana was a major player on a little scene that included Darcy James Argue, Steve Smith, Destination: Out!, Patrick Jarenwattananon, Pat Donaher, and others. (More than I remember! The tag “jazz and blogs” on be.jazz records an astonishing amount of activity.)

As far as my own story goes, Mwanji was first. Ben Ratliff had told me one night: “There’s this guy from Belgium, Mwanji Ezana, who is really smart, and is writing about jazz online.” I was still plugging my computer into a landline, but upon searching out be.jazz I immediately saw why Ben was impressed. Soon after, I talked Reid and Dave into letting me start Do the Math.

I admit I miss those days, circa 2005-2008, when the internet seemed much more freewheeling and innocent than it does now.

Is blogging mostly a historical practice, something as au courant as the 8-track tape? DTM is still here, but I am sort of a special case. My sense is that “the conversation” moved to conversational social media posts, aggregates like Reddit, and more recently subscriber platforms such as Substack. “Hot takes” are the main currency, especially concerning the culture wars, while fun and moderately in-depth music appreciation content done for the sheer joy of sharing has slowed to a trickle, at least compared to back in the day.

In the 2000s, a vast amount interesting info was placed online by rabid amateur fans and specialists. Most of that rare info was never officially published, and at least some of it is now lost. (“404 error: page not found.”) If there were a way to compile an anthology of “Best Amateur Music Writing” from those years it would be valuable resource. When looking up the jazz articles, be.jazz and the episodes of “Around the Jazz Internet” edited by Jarenwattananon would be a good place to start…

Certain other moments hit home on the recent tour. I’ve visited London frequently over the years, and the city has changed a great deal. Many old friends have grey in their hair. Trying to shake off a pandemic is another factor. When I turned south from Covent Garden and saw St Martin-in-the-Fields I felt something akin to vertigo.

I met the late jazz critic Richard Cook on the steps to St Martin-in-the-Fields sometime before The Bad Plus played its first gig. Thanks to Richard, my early Fresh Sound records got positive mentions in The Penguin Guide to Jazz, which was a lovely, huge doorstop of a book and one of the best sources of basic discographical information before the internet. At the time I was performing with the Mark Morris Dance Group and had brought along a girlfriend to see London. After taking tea with Richard, she told me that she had thought I didn’t talk that much, but now she knew that I could talk a lot about jazz. Doing the math, I suppose the year was 2001 — in other words, 20 years ago.

From A Dance to the Music of Time:

…nothing establishes the timelessness of Time like those episodes of early experience seen, on re-examination at a later period, to have been crowded together with such unbelievable closeness in the course of a few years; yet equally giving the illusion of being so infinitely extended during the months when actually taking place.