New Library of Congress Essay work
I am thrilled to be asked for the second time to write an essay as guest for the Library of Congress. As a non-US author, this is slightly unusual and an honour for me. My last essay on Sweet Emma Barrett was accepted into the Library of Congress last year.
Pause, Play, Repeat
A new book of interviews with 18 musicians at the top of their game about the impact of covid-19 on their careers, their lives and how they have managed during the pandemic.
I am now International Editor for the Jazz Journalists Association.
Journalists for other scenes , let's connect, share news and I can get material about other scenes on the JJA site to further JJA work and connections. Here is the introduction piece they published about me as International Editor
Meet Sammy Stein, JJA's International Editor
I feel I should have written this a while ago but a pandemic and busy times made it nigh on impossible. The Jazz Journalist Association recently added International Editor to their roles and I felt it important to introduce myself, the role and say how it fits within the work of the JJA.
Writing has been a big part of my life for many years, mainly writing about plants (3 books published on botanical subjects), and music. I have also done academic proofing for Cambridge University Press (for which I was paid in books). I have had pieces published in Essentials, Bella, Environment Times, Record Collector, The Irish Times, London Life and more. Over the years, the specialisation came to be jazz music. I got into jazz when I joined a jazz club in Hampstead, London. I played oboe and clarinet and even though I had not been able to bring either to London with me I thought I would just sit and listen. The club was run by David Cross (King Crimson) and he was having no-one just sit there. As my background was singing he decided I would sing.
I found jazz singing enjoyable and using the voice like an instrument, I found any embarrassment vanished. David's method in a free playing session was to point at people as we jammed and expect them to play for about 8 bars. When it was my turn, he kept pointing for what seemed like ages and eventually when he moved on something had happened. The reaction from the 30 or so musicians there was wonderful and uplifting. I was rubbish but they were incredibly patient and encouraging. I loved hearing the others play and 8 of us even formed a break-out group so we could play more jazz and experiment (my clarinet joined us at this point). Years went by and I learned more and went to gigs, concerts and enjoyed the music but I never really thought I would write about jazz or be able to if I tried.
However, when I found musicians I liked but hardly anyone had heard of I wondered if I could try writing. I wanted to share the feelings jazz music gave and tentatively bring the attention to musicians I felt people should have heard of. My first published jazz piece was for London Jazz News and was about the People Band - a free-form combo I had liked for a while. I freely admit, I had help. One of their players was Davey Payne of The Blockheads ( I am inordinately proud of the fact I have been an honorary Blockhead for a few years now, an honour given to me for my writing) and he suggested a couple of factual corrections before I sent the piece in for consideration. From there, I got a call from John Kelman, at the time, editor of All About Jazz. To this day, I still believe he thought I was another writer but he offered me a platform for my work plus my own column which I called Scumbles where I could write anything I wanted to so long as it related to jazz. I did not stay with All About Jazz for very long because of the editing requirements, (which, frankly, I was not up to), but their initial confidence in me gave me a real boost. From there I found myself writing for Jazz In Europe, Kind Of Jazz, Something Else Reviews and Free Jazz Collective. Now I just write for the latter three.
I have written many articles, profiles and interviews about well known and lesser known musicians. I found musicians and their agents approached me and I had to turn down many reviews. During this time I also connected with Anthea Redmond of Jazz Bites Radio. She interviewed me and then offered me shows of my own. I hosted a series called Ladies In Jazz, Jazz Unhinged and the Jazz Treasure Trove (which is still running). The Ladies in Jazz series was repeated twice as it was so popular. I decided to write a book. So many musicians gave me material and I also spoke with record labels, PR companies, agents, radio hosts and I was also talking with publishers. In 2017 my first book 'All That's Jazz' was published with Tomahawk Press.
I had no idea how well a jazz book written by me as an unknown writer would do but All That's Jazz received wonderful reviews and I decided maybe another book was possible. I wanted to write about women in jazz and 8th House agreed it was a great subject and important so we worked on 'Women In Jazz, The Women, The Legends and Their Fight' which was published in 2018. The reaction was amazing. In the book, women discuss their journeys, the status of women in jazz, misogyny and many other things. The book won a Jazz Times Distaff award, was placed on their Gearhead List, Won Phace Magazine's Book of The Year award, was nominated for Jazzwise and JJA book of The Year. I was amazed at the interest and positivity which the book generated. It is not surprising though when it came out just at the time when there was a surge in support for women in jazz from many quarters. This was followed by another book with 8th House, this time concentrating on the musical journeys and careers of 21 female musicians including Jane Bunnett, Georgia Mancio, Mimi Fox, Camille Thurman, Sheila Jordan and many others.
I was then approached by Debbie Burke - a fellow JJA member. She wanted to collaborate on a book with me. I was flattered when she said working with me would really be useful for her. If someone with as many books out there as Debbie asks to collaborate, you do it. At the time I had been asked to write a paper on gender issues in jazz but had decided against it but I had the germ of an idea for a wider looking book on gender in UK jazz. Debbie liked the idea so we worked together - me doing the writing and research, which was an incredible journey. Debbie edited and 'Gender Disparity in the UK 'was published in 2020. Again, the reaction was amazing and the book was placed on academic study lists for students, cited in research papers, used by a Parliamentary Committee and well received. Last year, when the pandemic was impacting so many musicians I decided to try to give them a voice. I interviewed 18 top notch musicians and 'Pause, Play, Repeat' was published in 2021. The book is about how musicians coped during lockdowns, the loss of income and the knock on effects. It features musicians including Tony Kofi, Ivo Perelman, Tara Minton, Emm Gryner, Collette Cooper, Ray Gelato, all with tales to tell.
Connecting with fellow JJA members often proves very worthwhile. I edited a piece for photographer Luciano Rossetti and when I told him I found getting pictures for use in publications hard ( and costly), he offered me several for free. Having the kudos of pictures by one of the best photographers in the world is incredible - and I have found a use for them too. I have just signed to Hamilcar Publications and we are working on a book. I shall be proud to include Luciano's pictures.
One of the best things about writing is how suddenly your opinion matters. Of course, I have always had opinions - I have often heard a musician and wondered why more people have not heard their music for example - but now, I have, for want of a better word, the power to help and it feels amazing. I have played a small but hopefully significant part in giving many musicians and writers exposure on platforms with good reputations and encouraging their journalistic skills as well as gaining them attention. I reviewed Kim Cypher's debut album and interviewed her for two of my books. With encouragement, she got a piece published on JJANews and is enjoying great success - not just as a result of this of course; she is a very talented musician, but since the piece was published she has written for other publications. I invited Fiona Ross to play at a mini-festival in 2017, reviewed her album and recommended her to write some articles for Jazz In Europe, the on-line magazine whilst I was away in Ecuador for a year. This resulted in her becoming Senior Editor there and she has since run her own series focussing on women in jazz. I reviewed Marco Marconi and Graham J and interviewed each of them. They met each other after an introduction and played a sell out gig in London. They now have more projects in the pipeline as a duo. I also reviewed and interviewed Wendy Kirkland and recommended her to Pianist Magazine as a contributor. So, the value of articles is clear and they can make a real difference and contribute in small but important ways to the success of others. The idea of now being able to encourage other journalists is appealing.
Over time, my contact list has grown exponentially and I am grateful that I have a network of contacts in many countries so, after Howard and I discussed the way forward, it was to these I first went to ask if anyone would be interested in writing for the JJA. Turns out they were - and did.
I joined the Jazz Journalist Association in 2016 because I felt, finally, I could call myself a jazz journalist. I looked at several organisation and felt the JJA offered great networking opportunities, as well as good ethics because they work hard to uphold the standards of journalism and offer support to fellow journalists. The reach was wide with members in many countries. Also appealing was the fact you could get advice from different people, from how to negotiate pay and approach publications to how to nurture relationships with other journalists and who to connect with. For USD 95 a year, it seemed good value.
However, due to other commitments with work and writing I did not make good use of the connectivity available and whilst my relationship with the JJA was good and I found articles on the site interesting, there was a sense of it being very US biased and also, dare I say this, slightly male dominated - in fact mostly male dominated.
When my renewal came around the third year, I did nothing. I was contacted by Howard Mandel politely asking my reasons for not doing so. I very cheekily commented that I felt, for me, the JJA was too US orientated and too 'male'. To my surprise, Howard agreed and asked if I had any ideas on how to change things. Diversity has become a driving aspect of the JJA organisation and to this end they are seeking writers from across the globe. With a pandemic on our hands, it seemed a good idea to have a series of articles written by people who had not previously written for JJA, finding out about the different scenes and how they were dealing with the pandemic. Howard put a link to two articles written by me and published on Jazz Views and in the way of all good relationships, we talked more.
Suddenly, I was full of ideas and knew people I wanted to bring in. Howard fully supported this and the next thing to consider was how to give people a contact base which was separate from the main site of the JJA and from my own writing platforms. So, we decided to set up an International Editor email for the JJA and it looked like I was to be the International Editor.
The prospect was daunting but I decided to give it a try.
The JJA proved more than willing to provide a platform (and a free annual membership to contributors) for musicians, photographers and anyone involved in jazz to take the opportunity to report on their scene. Each writer worked with me and I edited first pass, with Howard providing further editorial input, ideas and thoughts on how to improve the pieces if necessary to make them stand out. Soon we had new JJA contributors Matty Bannond, Kim Cypher, Luciano Rossetti, Bob Salmeiri, Jeroen de Valk and Paul Acquaro with published pieces on the JJA site. The pieces were well written and widely read.
The future of the JJA is assured but there is now a desire to diversify and broaden their work to include more female journalists and international writers. Getting your first piece published is a way to connect with other journalists, readers and also provides a high standard piece to cite as an example of your work.
To this end, I and the JJA would welcome more international writers to come forward with ideas, outlines and some pictures for a piece. You can contact via the international editor email below. If you have a great idea, can work to the high standards of the JJA (we can help with that) and want to become an accredited JJA writer - and get free membership for a year, then please connect.
Membership allows you to participate in many activities including voting in the JJA Jazz Awards and presenting Jazz Hero celebrations in their locales. You can promote yourself through the JJA's monthly Members Updates and with professional profiles posted in a Members Directory at JJANews.org. Of course, you can also write articles for JJANews that are disseminated via JJA social media platforms and feeds.
The best thing is you are part of supportive and collaborative community which is seeking to become more diverse, embrace the international cohort of jazz journalists and maintain the high standards of jazz journalism established over the years. There are many other benefits including membership cards, you can post your year-end Best Of lists, get discounts on JJA ticketed events and more. As a JJA member, you are united rather than in competition with other journalists and you definitely find support.
For anyone wanting to break into jazz journalism, I would say go for it. Always do the research on the review subject, whether that is the band, individual members or the solo artist. Check you have permissions to use pictures and quotes too. If you can, find a mentor - someone already in journalism willing to help you - most of us have people under our wing who are keen to write but are learning the skills and it is wonderful when they get their first piece out there.
New Book out November-
I have created this new book investigating gender disparity in UK jazz. UK jazz has its quintessential scene but I wanted to prove both qualitatively and quantitatively that gender disparity exists - or prove it doesn't. I spoke to universities, heads of jazz, festival organisers, venue managers, musicians, educators and researchers. I counted male, female and mixed acts on dozens of festivals, checked pay gap research and the book contains the findings after a lot of discussions with people in the business of music and jazz. In the book there are also positive steps, initiatives and ways ahead.
Women in Jazz - their own words - is coming out in October with 8th House publishing. It is 21 in depth interviews with stellar jazz women who tell their stories of their journeys in jazz. Gerogia Mancio, Sheila Jordan, Selena Albright, Arema Arega, Jane Bunnett and many more delight in their narrative and tell many interesting, contrasting and delightful tales.
Reviews - I have reviewed 'Flow' by Maria Chiara Argiro and Jamie Leeming for Jazz Views and Champian Fulton's 'Birdsong' for Something Else Reviews
Interviews - Mats Gustasfsson and I got together and wrote a piece about Mats's experiences during COVID 19. We discuss new collaborations, the changes in jazz, his vinyl collection and much much more.