By Lee Mergner
Editor-in-Chief of JazzTimes magazine and JazzConnect conference organizer
In Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the digital visionary, Isaacson quotes the late Jobs talking about the design of the Pixar offices. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” Jobs said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
It speaks volumes that an e-innovator like Jobs had such an old-school notion of the power of human interaction. Thanks to all of our devices and the technology they provide, the idea that we are all in communication with each other all the time, but not really talking, is not a novel one. Yet it seems as though we’re nearing some sort of tipping point in which we are increasingly unable or unwilling to truly listen to one another. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, texting or any number of social media channels, the opportunities for connecting with one another seem to grow and the illusion of real interaction deepens. And, worse, civility seems to be evaporating with all that access from a distance.
There is much disconnect in how we connect.
A jazz musician I know has a phrase for that blunt and often rude UPPER CAPS approach to communication through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail: “keyboard courage.” Civility is not gone, but it’s certainly taken some serious hits, and I’m not talking about web traffic.
In Franklin and Winston, a fine book about the unique relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, author Jon Meacham puts forth the thesis that the personal relationship forged from face-to-face contact insured that their two countries would be allied in the future against Hitler and expanding Nazism. He wrote about how Churchill was keenly aware that conflict between people is often lessened when they know one another and see one another. It seems that familiarity breeds contemplation rather than contempt. Let that be a lesson for all of those cyber firestarters out there.
Over the last 20-plus years , I have been involved as a participant and organizer in a veritable alphabet soup of music industry conferences, including NAIRD, AFIM, NARM, CMJ, SXSW, NMS, MENC, IAJE, JEN and a few more I can’t remember. Many are gone now, but each has had an impact on the jazz community in some fashion. The jazz conference I organized through the ’90s—the JazzTimes Convention—had no acronym, but likewise served as a catalyst to bring people together at a time when CDs and e-mail constituted new technology. Year after year, we carefully planned our program of panels and workshops to maximize the value of the experience for the attendees. However, we soon realized the most important aspect of the program was that it existed to bring people from all over the world together to talk shop and share ideas. Bonds, professional and personal, were formed at these conferences. Even a few marriages too.
Although we folded the JazzTimes Convention into IAJE in 2001, we continued to invest in the process of bringing people together to talk about jazz as an art form and as a business. Now, with IAJE gone, along with many record labels and record stores, the challenges facing jazz musicians and their allies are greater than ever. That’s why we decided to organize a day of workshops and presentations in New York City in conjunction with APAP and its JazzConnect track of sessions.
We’re calling it the JazzTimes DIY Crash Course, and though the title evokes a school learning experience, we all know that what most of us long remember from our school days are the people and the lessons we learned not just from our teachers but from each other. Although I believe we have assembled substantive workshops and presentations, in the end it will be the exchange of ideas between the attendees that will resonate the loudest. I strongly believe face-to-face contact between real people, sans emoticons or avatars, can produce innovation and forward momentum for the jazz community, in all its unique diversity. Best of all, we can tweet, post and e-mail about it later.