Jazz and Writing: A Unified Theory?

In my Sunday afternoon jazz internet perusal, I found a couple of interesting links that are worth sharing.  They’re both related to my own personal search for self-expression both through music and writing.

First was this insightful manifesto from Chris Kelsey (from whom I borrowed the awesome image to your right.)  Chris offers a definition of true artistry:

The great­est play­ers don’t play out as a socio-political state­ment; they don’t play in as a way of mak­ing debat­ing points. The most rad­i­cal thing an artist can do is to for­get about who or what he’s up against, and just con­cen­trate on being him­self. That’s the only real source of power.

After digesting Chris’s piece, I found myself reading through this thorough examination of the music journalism world at popmatters.com (via Jazz Chronicles.)  There, Jason Gross offers a balanced but optimistic recap of the ups and downs of 2009.  It offers some measured suggestions for how music journalists should move forward, most notably:

… lots of writers are finding themselves in the same situation where they’re doing all of the right things in terms of social media and adding interactive components to their articles, but sometimes finding that it’s still not good enough. The answer to that is not to give up on these new Internet wrinkles, but to keep embracing them and trying them out in different places and in different ways—not just because editors expect it, but also because it really is the best way to engage with online readers today and tomorrow. Readers are roaming around these sites looking for interesting things, and unless you’re there as well, showing off your writing goods, many of them won’t care about or know about what you’re doing.

Taking these two pieces together, I realized that in a certain sense, the plight of music writers and musicians in the current media climate is very similar.  Furthermore, the technological landscape is causing them to actually combine in many interesting ways, leading to excellent musician-bloggers as well as blogger-musicians.  The two compliment each other well: text is the primary mode through which we gather information online, and the music is the reason why we seek it out.  I take this as an encouraging sign, considering that I have struggled for many years with the difficulty of living with both of those crafts at the heart of who I am.

All this has led me to rethink the role that music is playing in my life right now.  During most of December and January, I barely played any trombone.  A recent workshop with the fantastic meditation and music teacher Madeline Bruser (my review of her book, The Art of Practicing, will be up soon) left me feeling much more confident about expressing myself through music rather than putting it off completely to focus on my writing/academic ambitions.  I’m not sure what form this new musical inspiration will take just yet, but at least it has me spending more quality time with my horn.

So we’ll see where this leads me, but in the meantime do check out those articles and let me know in the comments: do you see the same trend towards combining music and writing online?  And do you share my optimism that this will benefit the musicians and writers involved?

About arodjazz

An aspiring academic and jazz trombonist exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
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One Response to Jazz and Writing: A Unified Theory?

  1. jazzmandel says:

    Just got to this post, Alex — interesting point, which you no doubt have amended in the five years (!) since writing this —

    but I doubt writers who turn to playing would meet the kind of acceptance, respect and high regard that musicians who have turned to writing would. Pace the late Richard Sudhalter and very much with us Alyn Shipton, I can’t think of any professional writers who’ve succeeded in the slightest presenting themselves as professional players. I’ve enjoyed playing with sounds (making music?) banging on the piano since I was a tyke, even before I could read or write, then had piano lessons, flute and alto sax lessons, in college and after studied electronic music. But I realized early on I didn’t have the patience for practicing to match the concentration I could bring to writing. This does not make me a “frustrated musician” — I still like to play, mostly for my own pleasure. But if I were to try to get gigs, even if I had the chops, I can’t quite imagine audiences’ or artists’ acceptance the way musicians who’ve already developed audiences have been able to cross them over to their blogs (or in a couple of cases, books). Also it’s interesting that the jazz magazines in particular have hastened to feature the writing of musicians — no record labels are running to put out the music of writers. Which is probably just as well.

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