Jazz On The Web: Standards, Standbys, Up-And-Comers At JazzSteps.com 

If you spend as much time as I do at a computer keyboard, you know how welcome it is to tune into SkyJazz and add a soundtrack to the task at hand. I bought Angus, my computer, nearly three years ago and, except during an occasional trip away from home, I make a daily point of looking around the Internet in a frank orgy of indulgence. Even work seems recreational.

Jazz occupies a lot of my time, and I'm always on the lookout for web sites to which I can direct people who come to me with questions about how to get started in appreciating our music. My only criterion is diversity, because I believe that jazz is not contained by any particular style, nor are its possibilities exhausted by any particular artist.

This week caught me idly clicking through links from a variety of web sites until I landed at JazzSteps, located at www.jazzsteps.com, where the fare is bountiful and the background information is a genuinely helpful guide for someone with the time and inclination to do some preliminary research in a fascinating subject.

Like just about all the music sites I stumble across these days, JazzSteps is commercially supported, primarily with links for the purchase of music, but it is attractive to me because the philosophy behind it is the one we follow here at SkyJazz. The motive is pleasure and education, a pair of nouns that travel hand-in-hand on the best of jazz sites. And JazzSteps is a very fine portal into the jazz cathedral.
The founder of the Seattle, Washington-based site, Todd Williamson, has included a very useful "Help" section which explains not only the various features of the site but also outlines its raison d'etre, which includes the donation of a portion of its profits to jazz scholarships and grants.

Jazz history, new releases, radio and downloads occupy special pages of the site, and there is a very interesting page entitled simply "Scene" that carries links and information on jazz festivals and other events throughout the United States and Canada.

A search engine enables the visitor to comb the site by artist, album title or song title, and there are special sections devoted to the various sub-genres of jazz: acid jazz, bop, smooth, Latin, cool and the like.

But my favorite feature is "History," potentially the most useful to the jazz newcomer and an easy-to-use refresher course for those longer-in-the-tooth fans who may not be up on the growth in innovation and variation that is the constant feature of jazz. A simple click on any decade of the 20th century will provide the surfer with the major events and recordings, by year, that has brought us to our present promontory on this mountain of music.

Links will take the earnest surfer to a variety of essays on musicians and movements, and it is possible, with cross-referencing, to get a pretty clear idea of how blues led to classic jazz, which led to bop, which led to cool, which led to smooth, which led to free, which led to fusion -- well, you get the idea. I've found it fun to choose a topic and then see how far the links lead me, and so far its been satisfactory in providing useful outlines of these topics.

As is true with all web sites, JazzSteps is user-friendly and it is a simple matter to take it at one's own speed and linger over the more savory morsels without sacrificing the big picture.

The site is growing and, therefore, has some gaps -- the "Radio" section, for example is not up and running, and some of the links, of necessity, are cursory. Still, the site is worth a visit if only for a few hours of recreation. A quick list of popular artists greets you on the home page and can take you from Louis Armstrong through John Zorn, so it's plain that the operators are aiming at comprehensiveness.
And their acknowledgement of All-Music Guide -- a valuable resource in itself -- is evidence of serious treatment of a serious subject. Thoughtful consideration also is given to new names in the jazz world, a policy we follow here at SkyJazz with our "Discovery" program because of our belief that the music will continue to grow only if it doesn't get stuck. And that puts a burden on fans as well as performers to broaden the musical horizons.

In summary, JazzSteps is a welcome newcomer to my "Favorites" list, a list much longer than is practical, but, what the hell, I'll get around to all of it someday.

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Do you have a favorite jazz site on the Web? If so, let me know and I'll take a look at it.