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The 1959 Project

This year I’ve been enjoying following The 1959 Project by Natalie Weiner, which has daily posts, with YouTube and Spotify links, about events in the world of jazz, throughout that year, mostly in New York.

In 2019 it’s amazing that we can listen to so many pieces of music at very little cost but this does sometimes mean everything blurs together — you have to go to some effort to put a piece of music from decades ago into some kind of context. I mean, this was just as true when buying CDs and records, but now that you can hear anything from any time instantly, and then immediately try something completely different, everything seems so much blurrier.

So being able to focus on a single genre, in a single year, mostly from a single place, is a nice change. I don’t know a lot about jazz and I’d have a hard time placing most jazz music in much context. I’d be hard pushed to place a lot of jazz in the correct decade. But a few months into 1959 and that era has come into focus a bit more — the people who were around, the places they played, the sounds they were making, the sounds that were unusually new… I’ve been adding albums to this large Spotify playlist so I can stick the sounds of 1959 American jazz on shuffle every so often.

It helps that the site includes contemporary reviews of gigs and records, partly because they help place sounds in more context but also because the way they’re written add to the sense of time and place — records described as “waxings”, and recommendations for “jazz buffs” and “hard bop fanciers”. Nice.

If I had one criticism of the site it would be the format. It’s a Tumblr with a single continuous scrolling page that demands a lot of my laptop’s processor if I try to scroll down a few months. So good luck finding a particular date, never mind all the posts referring to a particular person. A more traditional blog format with dated, discoverable URLs, and tags on every post, would be great. That would make the site a more interesting and useful resource over the long term. On the other hand, it does have RSS so you can read it without having to cope with the site itself.

Anyway, it’s an enjoyable education and generally a great format. I’m hoping other people start doing something similar for other genres, places and years. Hippies in 1967? Punk in 1977? Hip hop in 1988? Acid house in 1988-89? It wouldn’t even have to be a particularly notable year to be interesting.

Look, basically I’m angling for someone to do one of these for UK indie music, full of scans of NME and Melody Maker news and reviews, so I can get unhealthily nostalgic, so if you wouldn’t mind? Late 80s/early 90s would be great, personally. The Scene That Celebrates Itself? Or 1986 if you’re a bit older? Ta.

Of course, there’s no reason any of these would have to be limited to a single year…

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