Jazz On The Internet

Michael Fitzgerald

Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies Jazz Research Roundtable
January 22, 1998


Introduction

The recent surge in public involvement in the Internet has been a most exciting development in the area of jazz research. When I first explored the net (in the late 1980's), the participants were mostly academics and professionals in the technology fields. This was due to the fact that access to the Internet was made available to these people through college or work. In subsequent years, the Internet became more accessible to the general public. Today, it is rare to see a print or television ad that does not include a WWW address. Every new movie has its own web page, all the major record labels have established a presence on the web and even jazz musicians can be reached via e-mail.

The upshot of all this is improved communication. Which is a good thing. It is easier, quicker and less expensive to communicate via the Internet and the world is embracing this new technology, guaranteeing its continued success.

The ability to include not only text but photos, sound, computer programs, even movies on the web presents us with a truly new medium that incorporates elements of print, audio and video but in a strikingly different way due to the interactive element that the computer brings. Which means that you decide where you want to go. If you come across a link in the middle of an article, you may choose no to finish the article and follow the link immediately. After pursuing as many links as you like, you may return back to the original article and finish reading. Or not.

This new electronic medium is not analogous to the Vari-tone saxophone. There is nothing inherent in the Internet that belittles musical tradition. Fogies, both young and old, can commiserate on the lack of respect given Pee Wee Russell (or George Russell, or Russell Procope) or, better yet, can band together and actually do something to rectify the situation. The Internet allows people with common interests to share information and by doing so, empowers them. I have seen the Internet convince major labels to reissue albums. I have seen tours booked online. I have seen fans across the country talk about those tours as they occur. No more waiting for the next issue of Down Beat to see if the show was covered. With the Internet, the full set list, personnel and review can be available an hour after the last tune. I can imagine a future where musicians and record labels have a close communication with fans and consumers, giving the people what they want - hopefully not another boring compilation.

But before we start getting too optimistic, we will need to look at the basics of the Internet and how they apply to the world of jazz. First, a look at the benefits of the electronic medium.


Benefits of Computer Publication and Communication

I became involved in Internet publishing in 1996 when I started my Jazz Research WWW site. I soon realized the many benefits of this medium. Revisions are (practically) instantaneous. When I receive new or corrected information, I can update my web site in minutes. The new information is then available to the rest of the world and the outdated version is gone. This is a very different situation from waiting for the second printing of a book which will most likely not be seen by all those who bought the initial issue. Obviously, a freely accessible Internet site can be seen by a much larger audience than a published book.

E-mail is very inexpensive and size of message and geographic distance are irrelevant. Fortunately (for me, at least), English is very much the international language of the Internet and I can communicate with very nearly all the people that I need to. Like the answering machine, a message is waiting for me to read at my convenience (from anywhere around the world). Like a letter, the length can be immense. When I have references to make, I can simply include a URL and the reader will be able to access the information.


Old way:

Dear Ed,

Please refer to the article by Lewis Porter in the 1994-95 issue (7) of ARJS on Dave Liebman. The excerpt where he mentions production standards was particularly interesting. What are your thoughts?

Mike


New way:

Dear Ed,

Comments on this idea from Lewis Porter's review of Dave Liebman works?

>Here again, Liebman makes a point rarely observed- that fusion contributed positively by
>demanding much higher production standards for jazz recordings in general.

The entire article is here:

http://www.upbeat.com/lieb/fourwork.htm

Mike


I have quoted material without typing it in and have provided an easily-accessed reference to the piece in question. This reference is known as a URL - a "Uniform Resource Locator" which can be thought of as a fancy footnote. A footnote which, instead of simply giving the title and publication information for a book, actually allows us to see the book in question. Most times, a URL is a WWW page, but it could be an e-mail address or a newsgroup.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a worldwide network of computers which are able to communicate with each other and are able to pass information from one to the next. Specific platforms (Mac, Windows, UNIX, etc.) are of no concern while on the Internet. For more information regarding this subject, I direct those interested to the following areas:

http://union.ncsa.uiuc.edu/HyperNews/get/internet.html

ftp://ftp.internic.net/pub/internet-doc/zen.txt

Who is the Internet?

Anyone with a computer, modem and software - in other words, The Real World. The best sources of information on the Internet are web sites or newsgroup responses by individuals - educated, intelligent individuals. Remember, however, that the Internet is no better than The Real World.

Media Used on the Internet

Text - Words in English (or any other language). Stuff you can type from a standard keyboard, with almost all the nice formatting possible from a good word processor.

MIDI - files containing information that can be understood by most synthesizers (this is not really sound, but can be easily translated into sound)

Example of MIDI files corresponding to articles in Keyboard magazine - appropriate software/hardware needed to hear

Audio - recorded sound of any kind (music, speech, etc.) - streaming audio allows for longer performances

Example of a live broadcast from the Blue Note, NYC - appropriate hardware needed, also RealAudio Player software needed - get it here

Pictures - scanned photos, computer graphics, also printed sheet music

Example of original jazz compositions

Video - motion pictures

Computer files - downloadable programs


Divisions of the Internet

WWW

The "web" is what has made the Internet the huge success that it is. It incorporates text, pictures, sounds, even animation and motion pictures.

One of the frustrating aspects of the Internet is that "surfing the web" is so easy that your attention wanders and you never do get back to where you started. You can bookmark all the pages of interest, but you still get the feeling that you have missed some exciting material. Which probably has a lot to do with the tremendous appeal of the WWW. I recommend devoting some time to serious surfing - just browsing to see what is available - perhaps once or twice a year. New sites are constantly appearing and it takes a while for them to become part of the "card catalog" of the search engines.

USENET

Usenet newsgroups are often compared to "bulletin boards" where people post messages and others comment on them, where people ask questions and others answer them. If you want to let people know about the great album you just bought or the show you just saw, this is the place to mention it. If you wonder whether it's worthwhile to go to see an unfamiliar musician, you could ask here and someone might be able to give you some information.

Commercial advertising is generally frowned upon in newsgroups. There are some groups specifically designed for such things. Also not appreciated are off-topic posts. If the newsgroup is for discussing classical music and you jump in and start babbling about Woody Shaw instead of Robert Shaw, people will be unhappy. Imagine many rooms in a building, each with its own topic of discussion. Find the right room for what you want to talk about. I can almost guarantee that it exists. One last thing to watch for is the "shill" - be wary of the corporate presence in newsgroups. There have been a number of instances where individuals posted glowing commentary on artists and were later found to have been working for the record label. Obviously, having label people online is a mixed blessing - we'd all like to get advance notice of new releases and maybe even have our recommendations heard. If they can divorce themselves from their job and participate as individuals, fine. But if all they post about are their own company's artists - well, you have to wonder, don't you?

E-mail

For the most part, e-mail is a one-to-one means of private communication. However, it is also the means by which most mailing lists are run (see below).

Telnet, Gopher, FTP

These are somewhat archaic parts of the Internet and are text-only. A great deal of information is available in this manner however, so it is good to be aware of their existence.


Finding/Sharing Information

What are "jazz people" interested in? Where should they look on the Internet?


WWW Research Tools

How do you find the wonderful stuff referred to above? Try a search engine (the "card catalog" of the Internet).

Yahoo - a directory or passive search engine

Alta Vista - an index or active search engine that seems to be the best as it is the most complete (also can search recent Usenet articles)

Deja News - a more comprehensive Usenet archive (with articles back to 1995)

Daniel J. Barrett's excellent book NetResearch: Finding Information Online is highly recommended to all who want to maximize their research time on the net.

Research Sites (WWW)

These are just a smattering (not even!) of the web sites of interest to jazz researchers

Library of Congress | Smithsonian Institute | Harry Fox Agency | ASCAP | BMI | New York Public Library | American Musicological Society | Chicago Jazz Archive | Darmstadt Jazz Institute | University of North Texas Music Library | William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz

The Online Marketplace

Amazon Books | CD Europe | Doubletime Jazz | Jamey Aebersold | The Jazz Store

Discussion Lists

Information on the Usenet hierarchy and such can be found here

The rec (recreation) area is where music fans and scholars will be most comfortable. There are a few groups of interest in the alt category.

rec.music.bluenote - this is the main discussion newsgroup for all jazz-related topics. Read the FAQ before proceeding.

alt.music.big-band - not available on all news servers

rec.music.makers.guitar.jazz

If you want to discuss various aspects of issues (variants, catalog numbers, value, etc.), the proper newsgroups are:

rec.music.collecting.vinyl and rec.music.collecting.cd

However, if you are looking to buy, sell or trade albums, the places to post would be:

rec.music.marketplace.vinyl and rec.music.marketplace.cd

Do NOT confuse the collecting and marketplace groups!

Free Jazz

This is a WWW-based discussion list, which is something of a rarity.

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists distribute a message sent to a central address by a subscriber to a list of other subscribers. Most are archived and searchable and some are available in digest form (rather than one-at-a-time piecemeal style).

While most serious researchers are turned off by the Miles Davis list as it has a poor signal/noise ratio (a lot of shallow banter, also much off-topic discussion), there are a number of good lists which are populated by insightful people of knowledge. These include lists for: Eric Dolphy (run by Alan Saul); Thelonious Monk; Duke Ellington (run by Andrew Homzy of Concordia University); and Stan Kenton and West Coast Jazz (two separate lists both run by the University of California, Irvine).

A list of jazz-related mailing lists (with subscription instructions) is kept here.


The New Jazz Critic

The Internet provides a forum for anyone to become a published critic. If you would like to review an album, book or concert, you are free to do so. Others may join in the discussion and there is great potential for education. The ever-present issue of qualifications is by no means lessened. Just as we often wonder about the qualifications of our newspaper and magazine critics, we can do the same for Internet contributors. Fortunately, much of the commentary on the net is provided by people better qualified than many established writers. After reading their work, you soon learn what their preferences are and can heed or ignore their advice. What is particularly refreshing is that these reviewers speak freely as individual fans or musicians - they don't have to be careful about stating their likes or dislikes. It is simply their opinion that they are voicing and they can back it up as they wish. Too often, print reviewers seem like the "voice of the publication" rather than just any individual opinion. Another difference is that, for the most part, there are no "review assignments" on the net, so people are not forced to critique something in which they are not personally interested.

Print publishers choose the authors and subjects and are mostly concerned with sales. The WWW is not strictly a commercial venue and unknown authors and esoteric subjects frequently find a home on the net. The multimedia aspect of the web is an added bonus for the electronic author. Of course, the downside of unknown authors on the WWW is that sometimes they should be unknown. Read on.


The Bad News

There are idiots (and worse) out there in the world. Everywhere. Even among people bright and hip enough to dig jazz. While you may have been able to avoid them thus far in your life, you will inevitably run into them on the Internet. And when you do, you may get frustrated. Please don't give up. Just ignore them as much as possible.

In my opinion, one of the best steps we can take towards solving the problem of misinformation and ignorance in the world (and specifically on the net) is to infiltrate the community with good guys - people who know what's what and are there to answer the questions that people may have. If no one pipes up and says "Moanin' was recorded on October 30, 1958," the bozos who say "Uh, I think it was done sometime in the mid-1960's…." will have succeeded in dragging the level of scholarship down another notch.

The intimidation factor that seemed very much present (at least to me) in the early days of newsgroups like rec.music.bluenote has in recent times been very nearly eliminated. I can vividly recall my very first post to r.m.b. It was about 1991 and I had been reading the newsgroup for several years. I knew the topics that were discussed there. I knew the major participants. I was definitely concerned that I not appear as a fool when I posted my question (an inquiry regarding Sun Ra). I remember writing out my query in longhand, editing it, typing it in, looking at it again and again on the screen before I finally submitted it to the newsgroup. If only all participants in r.m.b. today were so cautious and considerate.

The Future

Areas that I feel are not yet developed to a productive level are IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and its logical descendants, live audio and video. The technology to communicate in real-time over the Internet is not yet widespread enough to make these ideas successful. However, I feel that we will see this happen very soon. Already Newark's WBGO-FM is broadcasting over the WWW and we will hopefully be seeing more and more radio stations getting involved in this area. Those of us in the New York area can brag all we want about WKCR "The Greatest Radio Station on Earth," but it remains a local phenomenon. I truly feel sorry for those in geographic locations that do not have acceptable jazz radio and can only hope that the Internet can help bring some culture and education to these people who are yearning for it.


Recommendations

The following are some things that I feel would be very useful to the Internet jazz community

More attention paid to the FAQ for rec.music.bluenote (both in terms of compiling/revising it and in terms of participants reading and heeding it)

[Matt Snyder, who attended the lecture, has taken it upon himself to compile, revise, host on his WWW site and post it regularly to the newsgroup - now if only the rest of the group would read and heed it]

Discussion groups (mailing lists) for topics such as John Coltrane, swing music (Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Andy Kirk, etc.) and classic jazz (New Orleans and Chicago styles)

[Plans for a Coltrane list were set into motion days after my lecture]

A good jazz theory Usenet newsgroup - rec.music.bluenote used to handle these questions, but now serious musicians go to rec.music.makers.guitar.jazz, which is not really the appropriate forum

Finally, if research facilities such as Rutgers IJS could make more resources available to the Internet community, there would be more knowledge and less ignorance. Which couldn't hurt.

For Those Just Entering the Arena:

Remember, there are many people using the Internet who are just as confused as you are. There are places to get help. Make a note of them. Try your best to be polite. Be self-sufficient - if you are asking a question, try to do some research before bothering other people with it. The WWW search engines are wonderful tools, and when used properly can be remarkably helpful. There are plenty of fools out there - some will accept help, some will not. If you must be a fool, try not to be one of the latter.

I would be more than happy to help anyone here with any questions or concerns they may have about the Internet. Please do not hesitate to contact me at mike at jazzdiscography.com