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Jazz on the Net and other issues
JAZZEBEL takes you on a guided tour of the best jazz sites, and rebuts the accusation that he's encouraging piracy


Jazz legend: Louis ArmstrongSince I'm using an Internet-based medium to write about jazz, I thought it's about time I covered the availability of jazz on the Internet. There are at least three aspects to this, and some sources cover two or all three of them.

First is the question of how to find jazz recordings more easily than before the birth of cyberspace. As I assume my readership to be Indian, it is a happy coincidence that imports have been greatly liberalised in recent years, so that if you can find an album you want on the Web you might either be able to order it with a credit card or ask a good record store to import it for you. Many recording companies now have websites, such as the speciality jazz publisher Concord Records (www.concordrecords.com).

You also can check out sites run by others interested in propagating great jazz, such as www.downbeat.com, the website of one of the oldest jazz magazines, Downbeat. It has a top-class catalogue. For special emphasis on early jazz heritage, try the Smithsonian Institution's www.si.edu. Among other gems, it has an 11-volume CD/ cassette collection called simply Jazz Vol 1-11, which, I suppose, covers more thoroughly the history covered by an earlier series of 6 LPs, The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, which a friend of mine picked up two decades ago in the United States.

Some other online CD stores are operated by online radio stations. These include the sites www.jazzfm.com, www.netradio.com and www.spinner.com. I found the first of these rather pop-ish when I tried listening to it, and its catalogue, comprising several new musicians whom I've not heard of or whom I know to be pop- or rock-influenced, also disappointing. The other two play jazz across a wide spectrum of styles and periods, much of it very good, and offer links to buying the CD from which the current track is taken.

While these are purely online radio stations, there are others (specialising in jazz round the clock, mostly in the US) which have existed for a long time on the FM airwaves and are now braodcasting online. I tried two of these, KSDS San Diego CA (www.jazz88.org), and WBGO Newark NJ (www.wbgo.org). I tried two of these, KSDS San Diego CA (www.ksds-fm.org), and WBGO Newark NJ (www.wbgo.org). The former had been offline lately (it used to be on Real Player's list of jazz stations) and, although good, it wasn't as good as the latter. I did manage to tune into it as I wrote this, though.

WBGO is an institution that has a justifiable reputation, confirmed by almost anyone who has been to the US and knows about jazz, as the world's greatest jazz radio station.

I have been tuning in to WBGO for several months now, mostly in the mornings before 8 a.m. for about an hour or two each week, as well as occasionally to netradio.com and spinner.com. WBGO's sound quality varies a lot . unlike Spinner's, which is consistently good . but when it's good . mostly above 20 kbps . it's a delight to hear such great music with tremendous variety in style that is still always mainstream jazz.

At the time I usually log in, listening is mostly uninterrupted for as long as an hour or two at a stretch. I should also mention that the BBC World Service (radio), whose European stream broadcast is now available live on the Internet, has a very informative 25-minute jazz programme called Jazzmatazz on Fridays at 0935 and Sundays at 0335 IST. The reception is a great improvement on shortwave, which was formerly my only option, and I used to get it fairly regularly and sometimes without interruption. Now I get it in better audio quality, and with no phone and Internet connection charges, from WorldSpace, which carries the South Asia stream of BBC.

One can find links to other websites related to jazz on www.jazz.about.com, which tells you a lot about software, online articles on jazz, and sites with such material as MP3 downloads.

One of these sites is www.jazzpromo.com, which seems to specialise in selling CDs by new artistes and offering downloads of sample tracks from them (as some others do) in MP3. I myself lost interest in MP3 downloads after getting three CDs, one track at a time, from the site www.berklee.edu run by one of the most famous jazz teaching institutions, the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Even at 5 a.m., when line conditions are good and the chance of your losing a connection is minimal, and with a 56 kbps modem, it took me a total of 12 hours to download three hours of music. The three CDs are all very good, consisting entirely of the recent work of students of this world-famous institution.

I must stress here that all these free downloads are entirely legal, as presumably are the streaming audio stations, and mostly meant as promotion of the larger body of work from which they are taken. They are unrelated to piracy or unauthorised free distribution of copyright material on the Internet.

I have to say this because my recent article on WorldSpace radio's jazz channel prompted a complaint from a reader that I was encouraging readers to copy music in CD audio or MP3 by saying the audio quality was good enough to do so. As far as I can see, CD writers (and now MP3 players), including some sold by reputed names in the music industry, have been around long enough for the music industry not to be concerned about recording for personal use. As in the case of cassette recorders, reproduction technology worries them only when it is used for commercial gain or large-scale distribution. And if any of my readers have CD writers and/or software for conversion to MP3 or analog-to-digital audio conversion on their PCs (none of which the music industry seems to be worried about, since it is mostly being put to personal use), it is unlikely that they wouldn't have thought of digital recording without my mentioning it. Just as in earlier decades many music buffs built part of their personal collections by taping music from FM broadcasts.

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