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History of jazz in Buffalo is now available online at UB

Logo for Buffalo Jazz Report.

Buffalo Jazz Report, which chronicled the Queen City’s jazz scene in the ’70s, is available via the University at Buffalo Libraries

By: Ern Teck Chua

Release Date: April 9, 2013

“We felt it was a good, community-based digital project.”
Scott Hollander, UB Libraries web manager

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The University at Buffalo Libraries has digitized the complete 58-issue run of Buffalo Jazz Report, the personal project of a passionate jazz fan and musician whose publication documents the history of jazz in Buffalo.

Thirty-five years after its last issue was published, the magazine survives online and is accessible through the Digital Collections’ website at http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Individual issues are catalogued and available for personal use or educational purposes at no charge.

The online archive, which chronicles Buffalo’s rich jazz history, gives jazz fans an up-close-and-personal ticket to the parade of jazz greats who passed through the city.

Founded by Bill Wahl, Buffalo Jazz Report was a free magazine published monthly from March 1974 to December 1978. The first issue declared “Jazz is not dead” and set out on a solitary mission to chronicle the Queen City’s jazz scene.

Wahl and his team of writers reviewed jazz concerts and albums, profiled local and visiting jazz musicians and promoted live music through the magazine’s calendar listings of performances throughout the region. The sixth issue, for example, reviewed a Miles Davis performance at the newly opened Artpark in Lewiston, which 1,000 people attended.

The effort to digitize it came about following a request from Craig Steger, who was coordinating the opening of the Colored Musicians Club’s museum in Buffalo. Steger contacted UB’s music library last May about the project.

“Craig was going to ask the publisher for copies of the Buffalo Jazz Report that could be digitized for inclusion in the museum,” says Scott Hollander, web manager of UB Libraries and interim coordinator of Digital Collections. “But since we already have the entire run of the Buffalo Jazz Report, the UB libraries offered to scan it instead.”

“We felt it was a good, community-based digital project,” Hollander says.

Born and raised in Buffalo, Wahl did not grow up listening to jazz. He caught the bug on a serendipitous encounter one night at a club in Toronto, watching and listening to a performance by the Elvin Jones quintet.

“My wife and I sat there absorbing the powerful music all night long. On one break, for a reason still unknown to me, I introduced myself to Elvin and told him I was a drummer,” says Wahl, who was in a rock band at the time. “I told him I wanted to start a free jazz magazine.”

When Jones said that a magazine would be perfect for the jazz community, it inspired Wahl, who was then working at his father’s printing company on Main Street, to start the Buffalo Jazz Report using the machines and facilities available to him.

“The first issue in March 1974 was just one legal size sheet folded in half. The mission was to increase awareness of jazz, as well as have a publication for the existing jazz community in Buffalo – wherever they were hiding,” Wahl says. “The idea was to be able to get enough advertising to be able to keep producing it on a monthly basis and perhaps even make a little money as well.”

Publishing the magazine was a one-man operation during the early days.

“I printed it and then folded it on the folding machine and it was ready to go,” Wahl says. “When it started needing more pages, I bought a case or two of beer and invited some of my friends to the shop and we all sat around collating the pages and stapling the magazines. My wife Paula helped me a great deal as well.”

What started out as a bootstrapping operation quickly started to flourish.

“We started getting advertising rather quickly, as well as complimentary copies of record albums to review,” Wahl says. “After a few years we were getting so much advertising from record companies, stereo dealers and the like that I had to have it printed at an outside printing company.”

More magazines were printed due to increasing demand, and Buffalo Jazz Report grew from a being a four-page spread to a 24-page publication to accommodate the increased advertising, music reviews and news content.

At the height of the magazine’s popularity, it co-sponsored a popular Jazz Report Concert Series with the Tralfamadore Café, inviting national acts to come and perform in Buffalo. It was even able to expand and publish a spin-off edition in Cleveland, where a bigger jazz market drew more advertising dollars.

In the meantime, Wahl, who went from being a printer-musician to being a publisher-writer-editor-turned-club-promoter-booking-agent, also managed to add radio to his multi-hyphenated career, hosting the weekly “Jazz Contours” program on WBFO-FM 88.7.

The good times did not last long. The manufacturing industry in Buffalo, which was already hurting, suffered another blow as more steel mills began shutting down, triggering a population exodus in search of other economic opportunities, devastating the previously vibrant jazz scene, Wahl said.

“The jazz scene in Buffalo, as far as advertising for the magazine and live jazz at clubs, was beginning to decline,” Wahl says. “The Cleveland issue was doing quite well, so rather than losing money to try to keep the Buffalo edition going, I had no choice but to move to Cleveland.”

The decline was so swift that even Wahl did not anticipate the writing on the wall, which explains why the last issue quietly went out of print, without any mentions of its demise. However, Wahl is not convinced that issue 58 was the last one, and is appealing to anyone who has knowledge or copies of issues beyond the 58th volume to contact UB Libraries’ Digital Collections.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland edition was rechristened as the Jazz & Blues Report in 1987 and the magazine went online in 2003. After the economy went into recession in 2007, when the print version in Cleveland was no longer sustainable, Wahl moved to San Diego and worked on expanding the online issue to give it a broader, global appeal. The online edition now runs previews of jazz and blues festivals around the world.

Borne out of one man’s labor of love, Buffalo Jazz Report, now a proper historical document digitally stored at UB Libraries’ Digital Collections, is like a time-travel portal, a paean to jazz, evoking in older residents a nostalgic remembrance for a time past while allowing newer members of the community a glimpse of Buffalo’s storied jazz heritage.

"UB is an integral part of the Buffalo community,” Hollander says. “We are proud that the libraries' digital collections' team is able to play a part in strengthening the cultural ties between university and community."

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