I must preface this piece with the statement that I’m not quitting. I’ll be covering the last few days of this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival for the first time. I am booking at least two more shows in San Antonio, Texas, under the banner of Nextbop by the end of the year. I still intend to throw the annual Jazz for the Masses day party in Austin, Texas, during the South by SouthWest Music Festival next March. I am still the host of KRTU San Antonio’s The Line-Up and still love doing that show dearly every week. I burrowed my way into this jazz world and I don’t see a way for me out of it, for better or for worse. I’m not quitting. However, if anyone who pays attention to Nextbop may have noticed, it’s clear our output here has been diminished over the last few years.
Over a few occasions a few months ago, I posted a question to Facebook asking those who I have friended on the social networking site — the people I have encountered in some way or another over the last decade through my time in Atlanta at Morehouse College, in my hometown of San Antonio from my youth and my present, and the numerous musicians who have added me since I stumbled my way into this business — if there was a work I had written recently, say in the last couple years, that particularly resounded with them. There were very few responses. My mom loved my trip to New York last year. It’s good to know my love of Phronesis is appreciated not just by the band itself and their label. However, in the digital encapsulation of my personhood, the question of my current work was met largely with silence from friends and colleagues. It may have not been the best means of finding out, but chances are it confirmed what I knew all along– my work has largely been for the service of others and most don’t actually seem to appreciate the work itself. My primary means of reputation has been to prop up the careers of others while many of those people appreciate the publicly stated compliments and go on their merry way. However, the narratives, the outside arguments, the rest of my work has been largely neglected, by this community in particular, if it hasn’t gone to serve someone’s specific work.
It’s odd trying to find value in the digital. We’ve been trying for years at Nextbop to do so financially, however, emotionally, we can feel just as bereft. My personhood is out there in the world, observing things, reacting to things, creating things. There are various means for me to quantify such things and time and again I’ve realized that my personhood is not appreciated in this community, my service is. Not my work, but my praise. Not my opinion, but my compliments. For six years, Nextbop has maintained the ethos that for a genre that only holds 1% of the market share of a steadily shifting music industry, we didn’t want to be harmful by saying anything mean. For six years, such an ethos has wore away at my ability to continue to do this job, such as it were, it has cost me money ever since I ventured into it and I’ve never gained a dime directly from it. For six years, I’ve been paying artists compliments for free in public and I just can’t continue to do it unless I rethink entirely how.
In the instances where I or others on the staff here have published work, for the most part we have done so because we felt actually inspired by the works we were describing. It was initially easier to constantly pay compliments to work when we felt compelled to do so by the work itself, not the constant barrage from publicists and artists sending so many emails like so many homework assignments, not the constant push to premiere a work solely because it exists. The wonder of being a writer is that I can make what I want. The even deeper wonder of being an editor is that I can publish what I want. I have always maintained a light editorial hand at Nextbop but it would seem most divine if publication based on inspiration were our guiding principle more than the never-ending rat race of playing the game. It is in this rationale that were are shifting editorial focus of the site. From time to time, we may not always be so complimentary to work that passes our way, but it is our hope and intention that we are always fair, honest, and speaking clearly about th work and this scene whenever it so inspires us to speak.
Much of the early years if development with Nextbop involved co-founder Sebastién Hélary and I shying away from the title of “critics”. We are advocates of the genre, cheerleaders of it. However, despite our best intentions, perhaps this title was inevitable. We put work in a context. We explain with words what began as music. Our write-ups, at least mine in particular, have been based with the underlying principles of Amoean hermeneutics. Run as much as we could from it, perhaps the title of critics would forever cleave to our necks like Coleridge’s albatross. Yet, I never truly shied away from it. Criticism is an art; it’s a continuation of the discourse the artist starts; it’s contextualization in an increasingly nicheified world. Criticism is necessary not only as consumer advocacy (arguably its lowest form, though often what I hear people most appreciate Nextbop for– the introduction of new artists) but as part of the artistic process of tossing something into a river and seeing what ripples form.
If I’m going to keep at this, to make this the Pitchfork of jazz I hoped it would be years ago when I first started writing for Seb and Justin, to be George Wein one day, at least in this regard, I have to do what I can to keep my heart in it. My heart hasn’t been in it for a long while and I’ve started to wonder who really has cared. If I’m going to be one of the few that does, then I’ve got to do what works. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll do what I can to stay inspired, very exploring what it takes to find that out.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.