POSTLUDE: J-JAZZ AND
THE FIN DE SIÈCLE BLUES
In January 1995 the late Yui Sh¯ oichi invited me to attend the annual Swing
Journal Awards Ceremony, at which, I was stunned to note, record company
executives took home all the prizes. Corporate ‘‘suits’’ walked on stage to
accept album awards ostensibly going to Chick Corea and
¯
Onishi Junko.
The only jazz artist who actually received an award was Pooh-san, pianist
Kikuchi Masabumi, who flew in from New York to accept the annual Nanri
Fumio Prize for significant artistry by a Japanese. When I asked Yui about
these practices, he replied that Swing Journal bestows the awards directly to
the recording companies to ‘‘get advertising.’’ He personally disavowed this
modus operandi, but that’s how things are done.
Things started to make sense now. For months I had been struck by the
fact that SJ, which reviews hundreds of new and reissued recordings each
month, practically never gives a bad review. Jake Mori, a member of the
magazine’s editorial sta√, concedes that its editorial policy rarely allows for
worse than a three-and-a-half (out of five) star rating. He admitted feeling
troubled that readers do not trust SJ reviews. But the problem is not unique
to that publication. Uchida oichi, historian, vibraphonist, and publisher of
the independent newsletter Jazz World, explains that positive reviews of a
particular record company’s releases result in substantial advertising reve-
nue from said company. Furthermore, critics who write positive reviews are
then o√ered jobs with those companies, writing liner notes for future re-
leases: in other words, writing favorable reviews literally pays o√ for the
critics. Isono Teruo, who worked for SJ for thirty years, admits partial re-
sponsibility for this state of a√airs. He used to be a harsh critic—a trum-
peter whose work he trashed once punched him in the face and broke his
glasses—but as a member of the magazine’s editorial sta√ he collected
money from musicians who had scored well in SJ polls, thus setting a
precedent of exchanging favorable attention for advertising revenue. He
now disparages SJ as an ‘‘advertising magazine’’ that exists not for musi-
cians but for recording and audio equipment companies. Jazz critics in
Japan repeatedly express a yearning for the critical ideal we (theoretically)
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