Self-Publication and Other Dilemmas

It’s been over two weeks since my last post.  As the time has ticked by, I have remained aware of my non-posting but unable to muster the energy to do anything about it, mostly because moving into my new apartment has been completely exhausting.  I have managed to keep up with my internet jazz reading, though, and have seen some interesting discussions emerge.  I know that two weeks is like years and years in internet time, but now that I’m back in the saddle I’d like to help you understand where I sit in these recent conversations.

Patrick Jarenwattananon, at the cool new NPR site A Blog Supreme, made some interesting observations about “Grade Inflation” among jazz critics, to which Peter Hum responded thoughtfully.  I have thought about reviewing music and concerts at this site (more on that soon to come,) and these posts made me consider the nature of my own writing about specific jazz works.  Coincidentally, one of my favorite Portland Trail Blazers bloggers, Dave from Blazersedge, posted a wonderful manifesto on his own approach to criticism towards the team, in response to some posters’ complaints that he never offered any negative feedback in his analysis.  This response goes beyond basketball, though, and applies as well to the topic of jazz criticism:

I think today’s world with its vast wellspring of words–most cheap and rushed–encourages people to shortcut the process.  If you can apply a label to somebody’s work you can assume what they say without actually considering it.  We cruise through 60 stories in a 30-minute newscast, each reduced to a supposedly crucial sound-bite.  We attempt to get through as many customers in a day as possible, employing so many assumptions about what they’re going to tell us that our interaction can be reduced to, “If you’re this person, press 1.  If you’re that person, press 2.”  We identify more and more strongly with parties and organizations and stances that seemingly mean (and do) less and less, choosing our sides by label more than action.

Personally I think the world would be a better place if we each reduced the number of word-sources we gave credence to but engaged more deeply and passionately with those we did choose to hearken to.  How much richer would our lives be, for instance, if we cut out 80,000 words a day we heard from a Rush Limbaugh-type program and spent that time considering words to share with our spouses or teachers?  (That’s not to impugn Rush.  I imagine many people would choose his program as one of their desired sources.  It’s just an example.)  I believe most interactions should be unique, treasured, and meaningful…even if in a lighthearted or escapist way.  That’s pretty much how I approach this blog.  That’s what I strive for.  I don’t have time to do a ton of other things besides this, my family, my day job, and some good friendships.  But hopefully I do those well.

I’ve always had trouble with the term “music critic”, because the nature of the definition is negative.  Critics, one might assume, criticize their subject material.  Of course, this is not usually the case, as the critics usually give credit where credit is due and tend to offer more praise than criticism for the work they review.  Still, I believe that some critics writing about jazz today relish too much their role as gatekeepers and purveyors of negative feedback. I hope to be, rather than a critic, a “celebratic” — that is, in my writing about jazz, I hope to highlight and celebrate what is great about the music today rather than act as a self-proclaimed arbiter of taste.  Jazz doesn’t need gatekeepers, it needs people to welcome new sounds and listeners.  Howard Mandel pointed out awhile ago that women, for example, don’t always feel comfortable or welcome in the jazz community.  An inclination towards curmudgeonly elitism will certainly not help to alleviate that problem.  In that context, the idea of “grades” itself seems rather silly, and so you won’t be seeing any of that here — same goes for “desert island” or “top 10” lists.

The way that jazz is being represented, both in writing and in performance context, is changing rapidly.  Much of the buzz this week has been about the sputtering at Jazz Times magazine, which Alden at Jazz Beyond Jazz reports could be the beginning of the end there.  He also speculates that this could be partially due to the recent cancellation of the JVC Jazz Festival, part of a larger trend of festival cancellations that is also being reported elsewhere.  Although some are bemoaning the current state of jazz, I am excited to see what will emerge from this and am encouraged by the work being done by many fellow bloggers.  I look forward to staying involved in the emerging conversations and will do my best to stay current with my commentary.

Keep your eyes out for new posts on jazz and basketball, on not practicing, and maybe even the site’s first interview!

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
This entry was posted in Jazz Journalism, Resisting Definition and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Self-Publication and Other Dilemmas

  1. Alan Kurtz says:

    Alex, you are obviously a master of the cheap shot. I refer to your hyperlink above to my writings at jazz.com, purportedly to illustrate an exception to your rule that “critics always give credit where credit is due” and “tend to offer more praise than criticism.” Obviously you have not done your homework. I have written over 600 track reviews for jazz.com, and the overwhelming majority are full of praise—including my review of “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” by your favorite Jack Teagarden, published in November 2007, and equally favorable reviews of tracks by such other trombonists as Juan Tizol (on Duke Ellington’s first “Caravan”), Bill Harris (on Woody Herman’s “Everywhere,” “Bijou” and “Apple Honey”), J.J. Johnson (on Miles Davis’s “Deception,” and J.J.’s own “Turnpike” and “What’s New?”), Frank Rosolino (“Frank ‘n Earnest”), The Trombones Inc. (“Lassus Trombone,” “Old Devil Moon”), Bob Brookmeyer (on Gerry Mulligan’s “You Took Advantage of Me”), and Willie Dennis (on Gerry Mulligan’s “Blueport”). By contrast, my occasional blogs in the role of jazz.com’s Resident Curmudgeon number fewer than 20. You write, “I hope to highlight and celebrate what is great about the music today rather than act as a self-proclaimed arbiter of taste.” I suggest you stick to doing that, Alex, instead of advertising your ignorance of the work of your fellow writers.

    • arodjazz says:

      Mr. Kurtz,
      You are absolutely right to take issue with my cursory link to your work at jazz.com, and I have edited my post to remove that aside which you rightfully pointed out was a bit of a cheap shot, for which I apologize. Your well-reasoned response has given me a chance to reflect on my new foray into blogging and underscores the danger that comes along with ease of self-publication: that if I’m not careful I can publish things that are misleading, confusing or hurtful.
      I was moved to single you out for two reasons: first, because your voice at the jazz.com blog (as opposed to track reviews) is consistently negative as you have taken on the role of “Jazz Curmudgeon” there. Furthermore, you are often quick to criticize others’ works in the comments (as is evidenced by your attack of Ted Gioia in his recent post “How I Learned I was a Jazz Fan.”) Finally, I was responding to what I see as an unnecessarily narrow view of what makes jazz good, in particular your cheap shot at Tommy Dorsey’s trombone playing on “Song of India.” Your characterizations of Dorsey’s solo as “fixed and phony” and “not real jazz” are the exact kind of reductive, negative descriptions that create barriers for nuanced representation and interesting discourse about jazz today.
      That said, my off-the-cuff linking to your work at jazz.com was not an appropriate way to make my point. As you point out, balancing the needs of making an argument against the jazz community’s need for positivity is indeed difficult, and I believe that my revision better reflects that.
      Please accept my apology and edits to the post. I hope that you understand my explanation behind the link. If you have any other comments, I’d be happy to continue the conversation by e-mail.
      -Alex

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