For the second consecutive issue, the venerable Coda magazine – now billing itself as "Jazz Understood" – is mining the legends of obscure Canadian musicians. The veins run deep, too.
Issue 340 – which was festooned with a garish American flag motif – featured no fewer than 18,000 words (!) by Jack Chambers on the subject of Calvin Jackson. Who? You may well ask. I'm all in favour of long-form journalism and shining a light on underrated and/or misunderstood musicians, but Chambers' sprawling examination of Jackson was an excess of excess.
Issue 341's cover story on Claude Ranger runs a mere 10 of the magazine's 44 editorial pages, and it's a virtual re-hash of a radio piece produced by the same contributor (Carole Warren). It even includes a paragraph outlining how she sold the story to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Now, Ranger was a superb drummer and an important figure on the Canadian scene, where he mentored a number of better-known players, but his story has been told with more insight by Mark Miller, to say nothing of Warren's own radio documentary. So, strange that editor Andrew Scott believes Ranger – presumed dead since 2000 – deserves the cover and almost a quarter of his editorial space.
These odd editorial choices mask the fact that Coda seems to be running on auxiliary power lately. Missing from its pages is the informed, entertaining writing of contributors like Mike Chamberlain, Marc Chenard, Ken Waxman, Nate Dorward and numerous others; instead, the number of editorial "voices" has dwindled to a pale chorus. Increasingly, the magazine seems to rely on features like "In The First," which invites musicians to write about themselves. Hmmm, I was under the impression this was why news releases, websites and MySpace pages were invented.
Timing is another problem. The "November" issue, which reached me in January, contains reportage on events from as far past as last April. Kurt Gottschalk's "New York Is Now" column reports – without irony – on an event from June. There are a whole lot of New York minutes between June and January.
On the positive side, the look of the magazine continues to maintain the standard set when Darryl Angier was editor – a fact that Scott feels compelled to trumpet with a couple of readers' letters.
As a long-time Coda reader, former Coda contributor, big supporter of Canadian magazines – hell, on so many levels – Coda's direction pains me. With exciting new voices like Mary Halvorson, Darcy James Argue, Harris Eisenstadt, Tyshawn Sorey, Rudresh Mahanthappa in the air – all artists who would've graced the cover in Coda's better days – why does Coda increasingly look like it's going in reverse?
Jazz understood? It's open for debate.