In our latest jazz industry Q&A, we chatted with Jason Crane, a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for jazz. As a musician, radio host, and podcast creator, he has made significant contributions to the jazz community.
In 2007, Jason launched The Jazz Session, the pioneering jazz interview podcast, which has since featured interviews with more than 600 jazz musicians.
Jason’s dedication to showcasing the creative processes and inspirations of artists has remained consistent throughout the show’s 16-year journey.
In addition to his work on The Jazz Session, Jason is also an accomplished writer, crafting press releases, artist bios, and liner notes for musicians across various genres.
Here are some key takeaways…
- Embrace social media to connect with fans, but also prioritize your mental health. Share the process behind your music, let listeners see the human side, and consider using platforms like Bandcamp to offer a balance between streaming and direct support.
- Jazz musicians face the same challenges as many others in late-stage capitalism. Building community, supporting one another, and offering mutual aid can help navigate the difficulties and increase chances of survival. Elevate one another’s work and create opportunities collectively.
- A great tip for any musician looking to get reviewed, interviewed or otherwise featured in the press: “I book musicians whose music I enjoy and who have a story to tell.”
What inspired you to create The Jazz Session podcast, and how has it evolved over time?
I started in the jazz world as a musician (I play saxophone and cajon) and then added ‘radio host’ to the list. At one point I ran a community jazz station, during which time I also hosted the afternoon drive show and conducted interviews with jazz musicians.
When I left the station to become a stay-at-home dad, I missed interviewing musicians. So, in 2007, during the very early days of podcasting, I launched The Jazz Session. It was the first jazz interview podcast, so I had to explain to most people what a podcast was and that no, you didn’t need an iPod to listen to one.
The show is still going 16 years later. It was hosted and produced by Nicky Schrire from September 2021 through May 2022, but otherwise it’s been me at the helm for 15 of the 16 years.
I think the show has stayed true to its original design: long-form interviews with jazz musicians about their creative processes and inspirations and about making art in this challenging world in which we find ourselves.
The episodes have become a bit shorter in recent years as people’s attention spans have shortened, but otherwise an episode from 2007 sounds fairly similar to one from last week. Well, other than sonically, because recording and communications technologies have advanced a lot in the past 16 years. It’s easier to make a better-sounding show now than it was when I started.
How do you decide which artists to feature on your podcast, and what qualities do you look for in jazz musicians?
TL/DR: I book musicians whose music I enjoy and who have a story to tell.
More detail: The Jazz Session is more advocacy than journalism, so I don’t feel obliged to book everyone and everything.
I like to be able to speak positively and passionately when I’m interviewing someone. That said, I receive far more requests than I could ever accommodate, so not booking someone doesn’t automatically mean I didn’t like the record. Sometimes there just isn’t room.
As for deciding who has a story to tell, sometimes that’s very easy (because the person is well known, or at least known to me), but often I rely on the press materials I’m sent to see what’s behind the music.
I’m looking for people who are curious about the world and emotionally aware, because they make for the best guests. You can’t always get that from a press release or liner notes, but often you can.
As a host, how do you balance your personal preferences with the desire to showcase a diverse range of jazz styles and voices?
I have eclectic tastes (insert “I listen to everything” meme here 😊), both within the world of improvised music and in general, so that helps. And I try to be very conscious of making my show look like the beautifully varied world of musicians who make this music.
Sometimes that’s a long-term programming choice (I did an entire season interviewing women and non-binary folks), but usually it just means paying attention as I’m booking.
All of that said, the show reflects my personal taste, but I think it’s more indicative of my taste in people than my taste in music, as I mentioned in the previous answer. One thing I’m proud of is that The Jazz Session has featured many artists at the beginning of their careers or who play very challenging music.
How do you see the role of technology and social media evolving in the jazz industry, and what advice would you give to musicians looking to build their online presence?
Technology is such a massive topic, and the use of social media and streaming services is so multi-faceted, so I’ll say just a few things: It’s pretty useful to have a social media presence so people can find your music, but you also need to do what’s best for your mental health in terms of interacting with fans and fellow musicians.
I tend to enjoy musicians who let us see the process as well as the product. And I like seeing people’s gig footage and travel photos and all those slices of life that humanize people who can seem very distant to listeners.
But again, know your personal boundaries and stay within them. For example, you might need to hire someone to manage your social media presence for you. (Full disclosure, that’s a service I offer but I’d be saying this regardless.)
Streaming services aren’t going anywhere. I use them all the time. I think you should probably be on them because that’s where listeners are. When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, I could only dream about having the entire world of recorded music available at my fingertips, so Spotify seems like a dream come true to me.
But there are massive issues with equitable pay and so on. (And if you know me at all, you’ll know that I will take that conversation all the way to capitalism and how it’s killing us, but we can save that for another day.)
It’s far from perfect, but if the point of all this is to have people hear what you create, then I think that ship has sailed and we’re in the streaming world now. I do see a lot of folks using Bandcamp, which is a great way to allow both streaming and purchasing.
So even if you’re on the free services, sending your fans to Bandcamp offers ease of use while still making it clear that people can pay to support your work. Patreon is a great route for this, too, especially if you can give folks behind-the-scenes, process content, or exclusive music, or access to you, the artist.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing jazz musicians today, and how do you see the industry evolving in response?
The same challenges that face jazz musicians face us all: We’re in late-stage capitalism and it’s becoming extremely hard just to stay alive, to live indoors, to eat, to get medical care, to be in community with other people.
I’m not sure that “the industry” is evolving, but I certainly see many musicians trying to figure out how to work collaboratively rather than competitively, and how to offer mutual aid to one another. To me community is always the answer.
The more we all try to elevate one another and to rejoice in one another’s successes, and to support one another through difficulties, the better our chances of survival.
I know that’s not a practical answer, but I think it’s at least a useful conceptual framework in which to come up with practical answers to specific needs.
How important is collaboration and networking in the jazz industry, and what are some ways that musicians can connect with each other and build their community?
I should have read all the questions first. 😊 As I said above, I think it’s of primary importance. But I don’t mean “networking” in the business sense, although your mileage may vary.
I mean building local community networks of musicians who support one another in very real ways, down to the level of shared housing and food and other kinds of cooperative economics.
Then we can expand from there to shared performances, performance spaces, recordings and recording spaces – all the elements that create and distribute the music can be done collectively. Fully automated luxury gay space communist jazz, y’all. Now’s the time!
How do you think jazz education and training programs can better prepare musicians for the realities of the industry, and what skills do you think are most important for success?
Every institution should be preparing people for the very real struggle they’re going to have when they leave school, not least to pay off the massive debt they probably incurred by going in the first place. Beyond that? I wish more schools focused on talking about music, not just making it.
Being able to answer basic interview questions, to tell a compelling story, and to speak from the stage are all useful skills to have. You don’t have to be great at everything, but you at least should realize why telling your music’s story is important. If you can’t do it, or don’t want to, then finding people who can help is a great idea.
Finally, what are some of the most memorable interviews or experiences you’ve had as the host of The Jazz Session, and what have you learned from your guests over the years?
Again, far too large a question to fully answer after 16 years and more than 600 episodes, so I’ll just do some stream-of-consciousness highlights:
Steve Kuhn pouring me a glass of water at his kitchen table from an old Tupperware pitcher while he talked about playing with John Coltrane; sitting on a sofa in Sonny Rollins’ hotel room in Detroit; interviewing a percussionist on his bed because his room was so small that the bed took up all the space; talking with Satoko Fujii in a sailors’ hotel in Manhattan; talking to Sheila Jordan about Charlie Parker; sitting at Ron Carter’s dining room table; chatting with Jack DeJohnette while the staff of the Blue Note set the tables around us; interviewing James Shipp in his minivan outside the club because it was the only quiet space we could find; talking with Terence Blanchard in the green room at Jazz Standard about fixing up his mom’s house after Hurricane Katrina; receiving the gift of a private piano performance from George Cables, just the two of us; talking about the Ubuntu operating system at Cooper-Moore’s place; the moment where Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” started playing in a café and both Matthew Shipp and Darius Jones stopped talking to listen; interviewing Carl Allen at midnight at my parents’ kitchen table in Manhattan; and so many more.
As for what I’ve learned, I think I can sum that up in two words: Keep searching.
ABOUT JASON CRANE
Jason Crane is the host of The Jazz Session, the original jazz interview podcast, online at thejazzsession.com. He’s conducted more than 1,000 interviews with jazz musicians on the radio and on the podcast, and another thousand-plus interviews with people from all walks of life on his various other radio shows and podcasts.
Jason also writes press releases, artist bios and liner notes for jazz (and other musicians). Samples are available at https://cranewrites.com.
Connect with Jason
IG @jasondcrane & @thejazzsession
TikTok @jasondcrane & @thejazzsession
Twitter @jasondcrane & @jazzsesh
https://thejazzsession.com – The Jazz Session podcast
https://cranewrites.com – writing for musicians
https://jasoncrane.org – poetry
https://abriefchat.com – A Brief Chat, a general-interest interview podcast