Current Research in Jazz
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A New Proposal for Scholarly Communication in Jazz Research

The Internet has done much to help scholars in the area of jazz research communicate and share information, but there is more that can be done to raise the bar for jazz scholarship. There is much information being discovered but often it has nowhere to go. At some point, this information needs wider dissemination, with appropriate attribution. The public should have access to the products of this improved communication. The sphere of information and publishing is in a dire predicament with much uncertainty, but hopefully we will see acceptable progress. What is certain, however, is that old models are dying; new ones are not working well enough; and if we continue in this direction, neither of these models will adequately address the needs of the field of jazz research. Even the information that is now being shared through publication has a difficult time reaching those who need it most. 

As a new type of solution, Current Research in Jazz is launched: an online open access journal designed to publish articles of original jazz research. I envision this as filling a very specific need. This does not eliminate any necessity for full-length books. I believe that even though digital books are possible, traditional printed books will (and should) continue. It is also not a substitute for the existing scholarly journals (both the few jazz-specific ones and those which are broader in scope but which occasionally include jazz). Those typically include articles of a grander scale than is envisioned for this new project. These new articles will serve and support the existing forms of scholarly writing. It will make them better, because those authors will be able to reap the benefit of others’ well-documented published research. If some may consider these new articles “minutia,” others may find great value in them. What is hoped is that they will be cited and used as evidence in other works. Like good discographies, they will provide a solid foundation upon which future research can be built.

I invite others to contribute to this project and encourage all to take advantage of the new information being presented. More detailed information follows.

Michael Fitzgerald
October 16, 2008

Target audience

This information is intended primarily for other jazz researchers and writers, but through open access, it will likely attract additional readers and, in the process, introduce them to an approach to writing about jazz that is informed by musical and historical knowledge, that is rooted in scholarly rigor, and that is not compromised by commercial interests. Other readers may be inspired by the published articles to conduct their own research for submission, according to the guidelines set forth. Unaccredited, home-grown researchers have played an important role in the development of the field of jazz studies and they are as welcome here as those holding bona fide jazz studies degrees.

Scope and content

These articles should be the definitive word on a particular subject and the subject should be specific enough that a short article is appropriate and not superficial. If the subject warrants a book, it should get a book.

A few possible ideas: 

These are by no means the only types of articles that could be of interest. No topic is too esoteric. Another researcher or writer might need this information for a larger project. Interviews and oral histories, if constrained, would be appropriate. It is vital to capture stories before the tellers are gone, but casting too broad a net inevitably means that some areas will be inadvertently overlooked. 

What is not of interest here are record reviews, book reviews, concert reviews, current artist profiles, and opinion pieces in general. There are many existing outlets for these types of writing.

Article style

The scholarly journal article is very much the model, with perhaps less of the trendy academic jargon and more “street smarts” based on real world listening, not simply citing what has been written about the music. However, thorough familiarity with the relevant published accounts is essential, if only to debunk the myths. In the interest of assisting other researchers, all articles will include detailed citations in the form of endnotes and bibliographies. Documenting the research process used is also appropriate, as there is no one standard method.

Presentation context

Occasionally, there are high quality jazz articles buried in publications that are not devoted entirely to jazz, or even to music. In fact, the Annual Review of Jazz Studies regularly publishes a bibliography of such things. This service is extremely helpful, but for this project, it would be more convenient for jazz researchers to have a source that does not have other agendas or that requires “membership” in another discipline. The jazz research world is not composed entirely of sociologists, for example, and it is not necessary to fit jazz into some social theory or another. Here, jazz is accepted as jazz. As it is a musical artform, notated musical examples are welcome within the boundaries of fair use. Full-length transcriptions would necessitate that appropriate permissions be obtained. As is the case with most journals, advertising is not accepted.

Article length

For whatever reasons, most of the jazz articles being published in the current scholarly journals are in the 20–40 page range. Some are considerably longer. I believe there are myriad topics of value that fit in the range of 5–10 pages or even shorter. The recent collapse of the International Association for Jazz Education took with it Jazz Education Journal, which occasionally included shorter scholarly articles (in a setting swamped by advertising). There was a time when these types of articles could be found in less scholarly publications—for example, the Record Changer or The Jazz Review. Those publications are long gone and there is no central clearinghouse for such writing at this point.

Distribution

It is commonly known that academic library serials budgets are severely depleted and it is often effectively impossible to commit to new subscriptions. The prohibitively high price of scholarly journals makes it extremely difficult for jazz researchers, many of whom are not part of the academic system to which journal publishers cater, to come in contact with the latest published research. Books with exorbitant pricetags—because the publishers must obey the laws of supply and demand—are another example of how the ordinary researcher is ill-served by the current system. Further information on serials inflation

According to WorldCat, there are only about 30 libraries providing access to the excellent new journal, Jazz Perspectives (Jazz Research News has fewer than half that number; the new Cahiers du Jazz and Jazz Research Journal have but a handful). I am sure there are more institutional subscribers, but if they are hidden from WorldCat, they are of limited use to the research community. Because jazz research has a long history outside of established academia, many libraries have no mandate to acquire these resources. Conversely, the Internet helps bring together communities across the traditional boundaries of physical location and institutional affiliation.

It is simply a matter of fact that most of today’s research begins on the Internet in one way or another. With articles published on the free web, everyone is able to access the information. Projects such as Wikipedia—for better or worse—attempt to summarize published research. Original research is not permitted and if it is challenging for jazz researchers to find the publications in order to cite them, it is worse for those who are not experts. For this new project, articles published will be available for the long term. Consistency and reliability are particularly important when websites can literally be here today and gone tomorrow. Further information on trends in scholarly information behavior.

Cost

Free. Free to read and free to contribute. No one makes money and no one is charged money. This is a no-fee open access journal. All this is being done in the spirit of the uninhibited exchange of information and the benefits are better scholarship, increased awareness, and impact—future bibliographic citations (if you can’t have fortune, how about a tiny measure of fame?). I can make no promises, but it is possible that the exposure from these small articles might eventually lead to something bigger. Further information on open access publishing

Consider this: publication in a traditional journal results in no payment and often requires the relinquishing of copyright to the publisher, who then makes money both by selling expensive subscriptions and by licensing the content to an aggregator database service, who in turn makes money by charging astronomical subscription fees to universities (in effect, selling the the fruits of university-affiliated labor back to the same universities in many cases). There are even cases where the author must pay the publisher. This project is different. Further information on economic models in academic publishing

Standards

This is a peer-reviewed publication. Submissions will be reviewed by the editor as well as by one or more readers. See information for authors

Logistics

There is limited space available in each issue of a print journal. With only an issue or two being published each year (sometimes even fewer), it is obvious that there simply is not enough room to accommodate everything. It is unrealistic to expect these publications, with growing backlogs, to add this new type of article. Current Research in Jazz has no schedule. It is a rolling journal, with articles made available when they are ready. There are no space constraints to “bump” articles. An entire issue will not be delayed due to one article’s tardiness. Each article will include all citation information, clearly presented so that bibliographical reference can be made to it in an accurate and consistent fashion. Further information on the traditional information cycle.

Indexing and abstracting

All experienced researchers know the value of good indexes and abstracts. Full-text searches can be useful but often provide too many results with minimal relevance and without any organization. Sometimes this is all we have. A thorough and well-constructed index, however, will maintain the distinction between strings of text and concepts. The concepts are what matter. As more pieces are contributed to this project, the index will grow and mere coincidences will become powerful. Brief abstracts and appropriate descriptors will summarize the work. Further information on indexing.

Publicity

Marketing is strictly by word of mouth, with some modern bells and whistles. A dedicated RSS feed is available so that feed subscribers will be notified whenever a new article is added to the website. It is expected that the existing network of jazz websites will readily accept this valuable new resource and through hyperlinking, it will be well-positioned in online search engine results. Any on- or off-line mention will be gratefully appreciated.

For further information, please contact:

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This page last updated October 24, 2008, 04:24