Tuesday, May 17, 2005
It was, to be honest, a bit of a fluke. I was 20 years old, had just finished my junior year at Johns Hopkins University, and was convinced that I could do a better job writing about jazz than the stringer the Sun had been using. So I took a bus down to the Sun’s offices, found the features editor and made my pitch — which, if memory serves, wasn’t much more sophisticated than, “That guy you have reviewing jazz? I can do better than him.”
I had a sheaf of clips from the Hopkins student paper, but I doubt the editor had any intention of reading them. Instead, he asked when I was next going to see a jazz concert, and I replied that I had arranged to see Milt Jackson that very evening. Fine, he said; if I wrote it up, they’d take a look at it. He wanted 450 words the next morning, and 450 words by 10:00 a.m. they got.
It ran as filed the following day.
From what I can tell, this may as well be a Cinderella story by today’s standards. For one thing, at most major dailies you couldn’t simply walk in off the street and collar an editor; there are security guards at the door, and people who expect you to have an appointment outside the editor’s door. And forget about hearing, “Sure, kid, we’ll give you a try” — unless you have references and clips attesting to others who’ve already tried and tested your work, you won’t get the time of day.
Internships, which seem a prerequisite these days, barely existed back then, and surely didn’t apply where music criticism was concerned. The expectation was that aspiring journos would learn by doing — and getting paid to master my trade was a lot more appealing than forking over tuition to some J-School.
Not that the pay was all that good (and no, the irony of celebrating 28 years of professional journalism on a blog has not escaped me). But even at its worst, it’s still the best job I could imagine having. So here’s to the late Charlie Flowers, who gave me that first break, and to all the editors who followed. Thanks, and cheers!