Monday, December 6, 2010

Adios, MinnPost Arts Arena

A little over three years after my first MinnPost article was published, the Arts Arena is no more. Starting today and going forward, the very smart and capable Max Sparber will be covering all arts and culture in his daily column, “Max About Town.” I’ve been asked to stay on as a contributing journalist (which I have been all along) and write an article on jazz every four to six weeks, and I’m happy to do so.

I’m not so happy that arts coverage in the Twin Cities continues to shrink. I’m not saying that Sparber can’t write about anything his heart desires, just that I miss the classical music writers, and the dance writers, and the theater writers—people who developed expertise in specific areas. All arts writing is not alike.

And I’m not questioning MinnPost’s decision. In fact, I’m surprised that I was allowed to inhabit my merry little jazz corner for as long as I did. Most readers go to MinnPost for news about politics, public policy, and the media. The fact that I was paid to write about jazz (not a lot, but I was paid) for more than 150 weeks is pretty GD amazing, in retrospect. 

During that time, I wrote just under 260 articles (columns, posts, pieces--whatever you want to call them). I had terrific editors, starting with Casey Selix, who took the time to gently teach me the journalism basics I was lacking. (I came to MinnPost as an experienced writer, but not as a journalist, and I had a lot to learn.) I developed the discipline of writing once or twice each week. I still can't believe I actually did it, even when I was on vacation.

I interviewed some amazing national artists—Charlie Haden, Ahmad Jamal, Maria Schneider, Mose Allison, Poncho Sanchez, Dr. Billy Taylor, McCoy Tyner, Ramsey Lewis, Sean Jones, Anat Cohen, and many more. Because I love our local jazz scene, and because nobody at MinnPost said I could only write about national acts, I also interviewed area artists including Gordy Johnson, Dean Magraw, Connie Evingson, Arne Fogel, Dave Stanoch, and Nancy Harms.

Before I began writing for MinnPost, I thought I didn’t like doing interviews or didn’t know how. I was wrong. I love doing interviews and most of them turn out okay.

I also thought radio was scary. Then Corey Anderson at MinnPost suggested that as long as I was writing about jazz events in the Twin Cities, maybe I should go on the radio at KBEM and talk about them live. I contacted station manager Michele Jansen, who spoke with “Morning Show” host Ed Jones, who graciously said sure, why not.

Starting in October 2008, I’ve gotten up early (for me) every Friday morning and spent 10 minutes on the air with Ed. If you’re near a radio or your computer at 8:30 a.m. on Fridays, tune in to 88.5 FM in Minneapolis/St. Paul or listen online.

As part of my MinnPost gig, I got to know presenters, programmers, artists, and club owners. I went to venues that were new to me. I started keeping a Google calendar of live jazz events in the Twin Cities. At first, this was for my own use; how could I decide what to write about for my weekly MinnPost jazz picks if I didn’t know what was going on? I later made the calendar public so anyone who was interested could discover the astonishing wealth of live jazz events happening each week right here at home. I call it my time-sucking labor of love, but if you’re into jazz, it sure is useful.

So MinnPost opened doors for me, and for that, I’m grateful. For a time, we covered jazz more frequently and thoroughly than any other mainstream/semi-mainstream media outlet in the Twin Cities. And not just the big-name stuff. I made sure to write about events that are usually ignored--CD releases in neighborhood cafes, jazz in churches, improvised/free/avant-garde performances (the kinds that draw very small audiences), jazz classes--because I believe they matter as much as Doc Severinsen’s Christmas show at Orchestra Hall or Dave Brubeck’s rare visits to the Dakota. 

Jazz at Café Maude or the Clown or the Aster, upstairs at Studio Z in Lowertown or across the way at the Black Dog, at Hell’s Kitchen and the Loring Pasta Bar and the Riverview—all help make the Twin Cities a vibrant arts community, a fact we take for granted until we go someplace else and try to find something interesting to do on a Thursday night, good luck with that.

I’ll now have more time to write for Bebopified, the mothership. If Don Berryman will have me, I’ll write more for Jazz Police, the long-running, information-packed, essential Twin Cities jazz website that also serves as an invaluable archive. I’ll continue writing for And the weekly jazz picks I wrote for MinnPost will move to here, starting this Friday. Expect the usual Facebook and Twitter blah-blah about those.


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