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Coda Magazine

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I am a long time fan of Coda, a canadian magazine devoted to jazz and improvised music.

Here is the story on some gloomy changes going on at Coda. I have most copies going back into the late 60s (thanks to finding them in a used magazine bin at a bookstore for 10cents each)!

I tried to find them again a few years ago, trying everything I could to find them (they have no internet presense and are not on any stands in Tucson), and gave them up for gone when Jamey Aebersold gave me Bill Smith's email, telling me that Coda was indeed still in print. Finally i found them after a lot of work. But now that I have been subscribed for a year I hear this story:

From the Globe and Mail:

IT'S HELLO KRALL, GOODBYE BLONK

By JAMES ADAMS

Saturday, February 5, 2005, Page R3

If the Canadian jazz scene were a chunk of real estate, it would occupy the size of two 49-cent postage stamps. Yet as if to illustrate Freud's notion of "the narcissism of small differences," this turf has been mightily contested over the decades, with all sorts of spats flaring up between and among musicians, critics, record labels, DJs, club owners and the like. Another one is looming over the expected changes this spring at Toronto-based Coda magazine, "the journal of jazz and improvised music."

Coda has been around for 47 years, an astonishing feat for a Canadian periodical, the brainchild of a British expatriate named John Norris (who is 71 this year) who later pulled another Brit, Bill Smith (he's 66), into his orbit as, variously, art director, co-editor and co-publisher. These guys put out this labour of love until five or six years ago, when it was sold to Warwick Communications. Coda's worldwide readership in any given year has probably never exceeded 5,000, but it's been a devoted one, not least because the mag's focus has been relentlessly, almost charmingly, on the obscure and the cultish. In the Coda universe, guys and gals with names like Han Bennink, Peter Brotzmann, Famoudou Don Moye, Susie Ibarra and John Stetch are very big deals indeed.

But not, it seems, for very much longer. Last fall, as total paid circulation slipped to about 2,000, Coda was put up for sale by Warwick, which resulted in the magazine's publisher, James Williamson, forming a partnership with Peter Black, a former Telemedia executive. Beginning with the May/June issue (No. 321), they, along with incoming editor--current sales manager Daryl Angier--and new art director Noel Fenn, will be taking Coda "in a more mainstream direciton to widen its appeal to a larger audience." This means, among many other things, a new logo, full colour throughout its glossy pages, shorter articles and stories "on acts that are a little more widely accessible."

There already is talk of making the revamped bimonthly an insert in The Globe and Mail, a la Toro magazine, as well as a "stand-alone item in Starbucks stores." Another possibility is some sort of association with Jazz FM91, Toronto's jazz radio outlet.

Interviewed earlier this week, Angier said he doesn't "want to get away from the avant-garde base entirely," but he's determined to "make it look more like a magazine than an academic journal." Meanwhile, some contributors already have heard that the new Coda team wants "an attractive female artist" on the cover of its re-launch issue. In other words, hello Diana Krall (or Sophie Millman, or Coral Egan, or Melissa Stylianou, or Carol Welsman), goodbye Keshavan Maslak, Paul Plimley and Jaap Blonk.

One reader who's upset by the shift is Bill Smith. Contact at his home on B.C.'s Hornby Island, Smth said he's "disappointed" the new direction will "exclude the avant garde and the European music that [Norris and I] carefully nurtured over the years. I cannot really see the point of producing a magazine that does not have a specific focus and that will not expand the thinking of the readers."

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Having written a few things for Coda over the years (prior to the Warwick purchase), I'll say it was nice to have an outlet for straight-ahead pieces on less-than-famous players. Bill Smith was always good to me and was supportive of things I wanted to do.

I have not paid much attention to Coda since Warwick when Smith stepped down as editor. What I did see seemed to be of lesser quality (and quantity). No offense to Stuart Kremsky, who is another good guy - but it appeared to be a pretty drastic change.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Coda had coverage that surpassed any other jazz magazine. There were reports - detailed reports - coming in from all across North America. Looking back now, it's a researcher's dream. Down Beat never devoted the space to local scenes like Coda did.

Mike

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I've started reading Coda only recently; the Albert Ayler cover caught my eye and that was the first issue I picked up. The latest issue has a nice article on bassist/cellist Oscar Pettiford. Too bad the mag. is taking a turn toward smooth jazz.

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I am shamefully ignorant about Coda - how is Stuart Kremsky involved? I know he is currently Fantasy's Archivist.

Bertrand.

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I dunno - according to the guys on another thread this is all according to the law of supply and demand -

Edited by AllenLowe

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Coda had perhaps the only at-lenght/in-depth interview w/James Clay.

They had lots of other good stuff, too.

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I am shamefully ignorant about Coda - how is Stuart Kremsky involved? I know he is currently Fantasy's Archivist.

Bertrand.

I'm sure Mike meant Stuart Broomer.

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Coda covered everything from very straight ahead jazz, to more obscure players.

This was not a supply and demand issue. Like I said, it took me great effort to even find this magazine-basically someone who KNEW Bill smith gave me his email, and then Bill gave me Stuarts email, then I subscribed. I am not the only story like this. How can a magazine survive like that? It can be found on few stands across the nation. Yet even with all that lack of marketting, it still hung in there, purely out of reputation amongst music freaks.

I think it could do just as well as The Wire or any other magazine of its ilk.

But you have to at least have a way for people to find you. It's like having a sale without telling anyone. Who is going to show up?

The content of Coda is exactly what kept it alive all this time for half a century. Pretty impressive for a magazine, especially one that had almost no promotion.

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I do wonder sometimes if things like Coda have a death wish - good little magazine, but in my brief experience they never returned numerous emails or phone calls - I know there were only a few people doing a lot of work, but I've had this experience before with organizations that are so dependent upon the support of a dedicated few and yet who can't seem to get the basics together -

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Yet as if to illustrate Freud's notion of "the narcissism of small differences," this turf has been mightily contested over the decades, with all sorts of spats flaring up between and among musicians, critics, record labels, DJs, club owners and the like.

I love that quote. Explains a lot abouat the jazz community. Anyone know which work of Freud it's from.

I've been reading Coda almost since its inception. Once helped John and Bill move their office. What this article doesn't make clear is that they covered classic jazz as well as the avant-garde. I agree that if their circulataion fell after the sale it's at least partialy because of incompetence on the part of the publishers. I tried to subscribe via phone and e-mail and never got a reply. In this day and age anyone can find a 14 year old who will build a web-site for you. And if you only sell 5000 copies you should be able to reply to your readers easily. Bill and John always did.

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John Norris and I became good friends during the years I lived in Toronto (1960-1970) ... and remained so ... I did the odd record review on occasion. I remember visiting John's apartment on several occasions and just being in awe of that immense collection of albums, which he filed by Catalog Number! I bought a lot of vinyl from John and Bill Smith during their years at various record shops, and then with their own place ... John was more receptive to all kinds of jazz, while Bill was much more into free jazz (both playing and talking about) even during that early period. I distinctly remember a somewhat heated discussion that Bill and I had about the merits of Art Pepper, when Bill in exasperation finally exclaimed .."all he does is play the damned changes!" ... How could I top that?

I hate to see Coda become a Canadian version of Jazz Times!

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I love that quote.  Explains a lot abouat the jazz community.  Anyone know  which work of  Freud it's  from.

"Civilization and Its Discontents"

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I've never seen an issue of Coda -- and apparently never will -- but wonder if Coda is required to fill its pages with a certain percentage of Canadian content. Anyone know?

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Canadian content--it's a sticky subject. Part of the reason the magazine went downhill & got sold in the past year is because in the past year they lost their funding from the Canadian Magazine Fund, which has a minimum CanCon requirement (roughly 80%, if I'm not mistaken). That's 80% Canadian contributors, mind you, not the artists reviewed/features. (Stuart, when I talked to him, was exasperated at this because Warwick had failed to tell him that he needed to keep to a minimum CanCon quotient until after the funding had been lost.) -- He had always been careful to include a certain amount of Canadian content in terms of artists featured (even on the cover--e.g. Mike Murley, Brad Turner), though I get the impression his heart was most strongly in the European coverage.

The absence of a website, the impossibility of subscribing without making an enormous effort, & the general lack of correspondence have been massively frustrating. I stopped writing more than the occasional piece for the magazine in the past couple of years because it was such an enormous effort to get review copies (often 3-4 months would go by till you got them....), & then once you had them in hand Stuart often virtually requested you not to turn anything in anytime soon ("I already have enough for the next 6 months") & then if you sent it in you never got an acknowledgment of receipt or a "Thanks!"........ I enormously admire Stuart as a person & as a writer (I never think he gets enough of his due as one of the smartest jazz critics on the scene: a collected-reviews volume is LONG overdue), & I know that the editorship of the magazine came at a period of great difficulty for him (& that he often found Warwick exasperating to work with), but I did find it often frustrating writing for the magazine.

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I got my Jan/Feb 2005 issue in the mail.

To subscribe, contact:

Coda Magazine, 161 Frederick Street, Toronto, ON M5A 4P3

Telephone (416) 596-1480*333 Fax (416) 596-9793

Subscription rates, 1 year:

U.S. $28.00

International $35.00

Canada $30.00

Subscription rates, 2 years:

U.S. $52.00

International $65.00

Canada $58.00

For payment, they accept personal checks, international money orders,

bank drafts, or Visa and Mastercard.

Edited by 47 West 63rd N.Y.C.

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I've been a Coda reader for years. It's isn't so good since Warwick took over but it is still essential reading as it cover things you don't read abot elsewhere and the writing is pretty intelligent.

Things went wrong with my subscription on my last two renewals leaving me more than a bit pissed, nevertheless I hope it doesn't disappear.

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Again, I agree with that. And I have issues of Coda going back to the 60s.

But many of the contributors to Coda are severely worried about the magazine, many deciding they are not going to contribute to the new magazine.

I will wait and see but to be honest I think my subscription ran out this month. (BTW I had a lot of problems getting them to launch my subscrip. too)

I don't want to keep my subscrip if the magazine is another jazziz or whatever.

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I never once saw a copy of Coda during my time actually living in Canada. The only time I have seen them for sale (other than in Mole Jazz) is at the Bath Festival. I stocked up on a whole pile of old copies from the 1990s and there was great stuff in there such as an article by Mike F. on Gigi Gryce and reviews of new-release (at the time) Mosaic sets such as the Tristano/Konitz/Marsh, Giuffre, McLean and others. Great range as has been pointed out - from early jazz right through to the most esoteric avant-garde. Too bad that 'Can-Con' strikes again.. ;)

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That's interesting that you never saw them on newstands in Canada, sidewinder. Most decent bookstores have CODA displayed along with other jazz periodicals, at least in Winnipeg. Can't really comment on other Canadian cities. Where abouts did you live in Canada?

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Never saw it in either Toronto or Edmonton (my places of residence those years) or in other places such as Calgary and Montreal. Never saw a copy in Vancouver either. Admittedly though I wasn't looking specifically for it - only really became aware of Coda when I saw that nice pile of magazines for sale at the Bath Fest at 50p a copy. I then made up for lost time !

Edited by sidewinder

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Used to see (and buy) it regularly at better U.S. newstands up until the early/mid 1990s or so.

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Used to see (and buy) it regularly at better U.S. newstands up until the early/mid 1990s or so.

In Texas!!??

I'm impressed.

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That's interesting that you never saw them on newstands in Canada, sidewinder.  Most decent bookstores have CODA displayed along with other jazz periodicals, at least in Winnipeg.  Can't really comment on other Canadian cities. 

I too, am surprised at sidewinder's comments. I have lived in the Canadian cities of Toronto, Halifax, and Mississauga. No problem is getting Coda in any of these cities, as long as you know where to look, mainly bookstores and newsstands with large magazine sections (not your average corner store, for sure). I had subscription problems 25 years ago (they stopped sending me renewal notices), so I just started to buy it at the newsstands. I really enjoyed the magazine when John and Bill were in charge. You could somehow sense the "labor of love" aspect of the magazine and you had to enjoy it just for that. But there were also excellent articles and reviews covering a broad range of "jazz" (which I am interested in), and "improvised" music (not really my cup of tea). But there was generally enough to satisfy fans of both genres. I must admit that I rather lost interest after Warwick took after. I felt that even then it started to take on a "glossy" look, though it's content didn't change all that much.

I suspect that the government support for Coda (from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council - freely acknowledged by the magazine on its index page) was both blessing and curse. Those grants probably kept the magazine alive for years, in spite of its relatively low circulation, but perhaps allowed the magazine to get a bit sloppy in terms of administration and customer relations. I'm sure that the loss of government funding is at the crux of the magazine's current problems. Whether or not tax dollars should be used to support "The Journal of Jazz and Improvised Music" is a rather controversial matter, of course. But it was good for us while it lasted.

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Used to see (and buy) it regularly at better U.S. newstands up until the early/mid 1990s or so.

In Texas!!??

I'm impressed.

And New Mexico, too!

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