relyles

Minimum Qualifications for Jazz Writer?

121 posts in this topic

Excuse me Mr. Clementine. I am new to this board and it may not be appropriate to ask a question such as this one. What is the writing style that you are using? It is unusual. Is there a name for this specific style?

hello debra and welcome to the board. clem's writing style is one of the great mysteries of the board. i know that he is very smart and that he has a lot to say but i for one can never figure it out. it is frustrating because i know that i can learn from him. i wish someone would shadow his comments and translate them for me.

and yes english is my first language - doesn't help.

:mellow:

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Excuse me Mr. Clementine. I am new to this board and it may not be appropriate to ask a question such as this one. What is the writing style that you are using? It is unusual. Is there a name for this specific style?

Cryptic.

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Excuse me Mr. Clementine. I am new to this board and it may not be appropriate to ask a question such as this one. What is the writing style that you are using? It is unusual. Is there a name for this specific style?

You get used to it, I find. That one is pretty well transparently clear after you've been reading him a couple of years :)

It's also good to poke fun at from time to time. Though I'm never sure if he notices...

MG

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actually, I think the style is Times Roman -

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EDC,

Remind me to tell you a strange and somewhat chilling story about George V. Higgins. Not tonight, not enough time -- maybe tomorrow. In any case, I would say that a much better example, in a related area, would be Donald Westlake when he's writing as Richard Stark.

Larry, I think you told that story on some other thread (forget where, but it's buried inside an ulta-long thread). IIRC, it concerned Higgins submitting a book review when he had clearly not read the book in question. A nasty exchange ensued.

You're right, T.D., I did tell that story a while ago, though I don't recall on what thread. Probably there's not much left in my brain that I haven't posted here by now.

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Clem's style is original and full of flair--if one wanted to trace precedents (I won't presume to say "influences," since I'm not sure I've ever seen him invoke these writers), I've always said it's Richard Meltzer by way of Allen Ginsberg. But it's ultimately, indubitably his own. (And bro, so sorry about NPR... but we can't please everyone! Not to say some quarters aren't trying... but I'm still grateful for Lazaro's Roscoe Mitchell show, Chicago Public Radio's interviewing Larry Kart, and my own station giving me a little piece of ground. Love and kisses anyway :wub: )

Relyles, some very good advice already posted here from several quarters; I'd only add that if you haven't done so already, read Larry's book (JAZZ IN SEARCH OF ITSELF). I'd also agree that one shouldn't get too hung up on the technical aspect of things, but I also think that the best writers do give you a sense of how the music is working, or not working, and that they also talk about such things in an accessible manner. (Again, Larry is very good at this.) You might try giving Barry Kernfeld's WHAT TO LISTEN FOR IN JAZZ a go as well (others here may have better recs in this regard). Plus you already hang around this joint--reading Larry, Jim Sangrey, and Clem's posts, among others, is always educational for me. Great topic...it's something I'm still working on myself. Easy to hack it, hard to be really good and honest, but that's the case with all writing.

Another book that I haven't read yet, but which gets high marks from some of the cognoscenti here, is Max Harrison's ESSENTIAL JAZZ RECORDS (co-authored by Eric Thacker and Charles Fox).

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Larry, I think you posted this before, but my initial search didn't turn it up--any recs on Westlake-as-Stark titles?

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Larry, I think you posted this before, but my initial search didn't turn it up--any recs on Westlake-as-Stark titles?

Here they all are:

The Hunter

The Man With the Getaway Face

The Outfit

The Mourner

The Score

The Jugger

The Seventh

The Handle

The Rare Coin Score

The Green Eagle Score

The Black Ice Score

The Sour Lemon Score

Deadly Edge

Slayground

Plunder Squad

Butcher's Moon

Comeback

Backflash

Flashfire

Firebreak

Breakout

Nobody Runs Forever

Ask the Parrot

I've read every damn one (all about a very professional and very convincing professional criminal named Parker -- no first name) and liked them all, found many astonishing. The main thing is that Westlake took a long break between "Butcher's Moon" (1974) and "Comeback" (1997). The later Parkers are at best almost fiendish in their writerly intensity, as though Westlake-Stark were setting traps for himself and Parker to see if they could be wriggled out of. In "Ask The Parrot," for example, there is a chapter that is quite convincingly told from the point of view of the bird. Also, Parker's world in the later books is of course not quite the same world of the earlier books; society changes, and a pro like Parker has to adjust. This is done quite convincingly, though a nagging little voice tells me that the Parker of "The Hunter" (I believe it's said in passing that he's a young World War II vet) would be too old by the time of the later books to do what he does in them. The first two Parkers, and probably the next one, are essentially books that set Parker into place and get him up and running -- without them, there are important things about him that you won't have experienced directly (though they will be alluded to), but later books in the first bunch probably are better. "The Seventh" IIRC is particularly brilliant, as are "Slayground" and "Butcher's Moon" (which are linked IIRC). All of the second bunch are topnotch. Among the things I love about the Stark books is that much of the "poetry" is in the plotting. Time and again, you're about 10 or so pages from the end and you can't believe this is going to be wrapped up, and yet that's what happens. Interestingly, perhaps, Michael Connolly does just the opposite; you're maybe 60 or even 90 pages from the end, and it all seems to be over, but it isn't. I like Connolly, but Westlake-Stark is the better writer by a large margain IMO. On the other hand, I don't care for most of the stuff that Westlake does under his own name. Crime plus humor and/or whimsy is not my thing.

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You're right, I did tell that story a while ago, though I don't recall on what thread. Probably there's not much left in my brain that I haven't posted here by now.

It was on an old thread about becoming an AAJ critic. I remembered it because it goes back to my early days on this forum, and the post made a big impression.

Having trouble linking directly, so here's a copy/paste:

Oct 25 2006, 09:35 AM

Post #71

Master of the Groove!

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Clem -- I vaguely recall enjoying Higgins' "The Friends of Eddie Coyle." What I recall much more clearly was an episode I had with him in 1989, when I was in second in command of the Chicago Tribune books section. John Le Carre's "The Russia House" was about to come out, and it was a so-called "embargoed" book -- which meant that only one copy per newspaper would be sent out to the reviewer you had designated, and this would be done at the last minute. Higgins was our man, the book would get to him from Random House on Friday, he'd read it over the weekend and fax us a copy of his review (things weren't fully computerized and wired-up then) on Monday morning so we could get it into the paper the following Sunday, on the cover of the book section. The review comes in on time, I read it, and see that it's rather short and oddly circulaqr and inconclusive -- as though Higgins were merely stating and re-stating what seems to me like it might be like the initial premise of the book (that the Soviet missile defense system is a sham, and that a noble Soviet scientist wants to relay this news to the West in the hopes that a lessening of tensions and eventual peace might follow). Now I have no way to be sure about this, because we don't yet have a copy of the book (our only copy is in Higgins' hands), but my gut tells me that something's wrong here -- that Higgins probably has read only the first 50 or 100 pages of "The Russia House," then stopped or was stopped for some reason (booze? drugs? fear?), and is trying to fake his way through this. (In fact, it eventually became quite clear that Higgins hadn't read the whole book, because his review didn't even mention the book's main male character, Barley Blair, the guy Sean Connery plays in the film version, or the main female character either.) So I called Higgins on Monday, without yet knowing for sure what he had done or failed to do, and tried to talk around this -- saying that the review was a bit short and we'd like another page or so, hoping that he might have finished the book in the meantime, if that's what the problem was. He agreed to write more, rather testily, and what arrived in a hour or two was just more of the same, and even more lame. I tried one more time, saying that the Random House catalogue implied that the book was about something more and a good bit other than what he was saying in the review At this Higgins became furious, saying that he had read the book and I hadn't, that I was mortally insulting him, etc. So the book editor and I put our heads together and decided that by this point (our literal deadline for sending copy down the hopper now just a short time away) we had no choice but to run the review as written. As I said, it was our cover review that week, with a nice piece of art locked in place there, which made the deadline tighter and our eventual embarrassment greater, because Higgins had in fact read only a bit of the book -- with the review and the book in hand, you could see on what page he'd stopped. As to why this happened, I'm pretty sure it was personal craziness amplified or in league with booze or drugs. "The Russia House" is not a long book, and it would have been just as easy -- if you weren't loco or blotto -- to keep reading and then write the review, even if that tightened your own deadline, rather than to stop and try to fake the damn thing. On the other hand, now that I think of it, in the realm of personal goofiness there are some people who are drawn to the idea of faking things -- that there's a sick thrill for them in it when it works and another kind of sick thrill when it doesn't.

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From that chapter in Stark's "Ask the Parrot":

"The parrot saw things in black and white. He knew about this place of his, that it was very strong, and that he was very strong within it, and that whenever he thought he might be hungry, there was food in his tray....

"There wasn't much in this world, but not much was needed. With his strong talons and his strong beak, gripping to the metal bars, a taste like inside your brain on his tongue from the bars, he could move around and control everything he needed....

"Sometimes the parrot slept. He slept on the swinging bar, talons gripping tight, large button eyes closed, coarse green feathers slightly ruffled upward and forward. Whe he woke, he always knew he had been sleeping, and that, now he was awake, it was time to eat and shit, drink and piss, so he did.

"Now it was now...."

To come to write that last sentence -- mmm.

Toward the end of this chapter, the parrot, never having spoken before because his owner doesn't speak much, encounters a stranger who does speak:

"The parrot had never spoken. The parrot had never been in a social situation where it seemed the right thing to do was speak. The main Creature who lived with him, in his cage outside the cage, almost never spoke. It had never occurred to the parrot to speak.

"But now this Creature, some unknown foreign Creature, was yelling the same sounds over and over again, and it came to the parrot that he could make these sounds himself. It might be satisfying to make these sounds. He and the Creature could make these sounds together."

He does, or they do, and stuff happens. Also, I really like "in a social situation."

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Clem's style is original and full of flair--if one wanted to trace precedents (I won't presume to say "influences," since I'm not sure I've ever seen him invoke these writers), I've always said it's Richard Meltzer by way of Allen Ginsberg.

Byron Coley is much more accurate (although he's probably indebted to Meltzer in turn), Meltzer never loved music (or never showed that he loved music in his work) anywhere near as much as Clem.

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Minimum qualification (though many practice without): ability to spell 'Thelonious'.

I thought of this sweet lil comment last night when a friend said her little sister asked her if she was a fan of "The Lonliest Monk's" music.

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Minimum qualification (though many practice without): ability to spell 'Thelonious'.

I thought of this sweet lil comment last night when a friend said her little sister asked her if she was a fan of "The Lonliest Monk's" music.

I think that's been said, in all seriousness, by an adult on national TV...IIRC, Bill Clinton was being interviewed by MTV's Tabitha Soren, and when asked what music he liked, said "jazz" and mentioned Thelonious Monk among others. Ms. Soren (who I believe is now married to author Michael Lewis of Liar's Poker and Moneyball fame), got confused and asked "Who's The Loneliest Monk"?

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I know I've mentioned this story before, but our college newspaper once identified him as "Felonious Monk."

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The late Peter Clayton, who presented BBC Jazz Record Requests, said he'd had requests for replays of discs by The Loneliest Monk and Fat Swallow.

Edited by BillF

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I'm always puzzled when a liner note writer takes the information provided by the artist or label without question, which makes for embarrassing results when the song titles or composers are incorrect (or incomplete), along with forgetting to list some of the instruments.

One recent gaffe by a well known liner note writer on a European release: Thelonious Monk was credited with writing John Coltrane's "Locomotion." Monk's piece is, of course, entitled "Locomotive." Evidently this unnamed writer didn't know either composition well enough to catch the huge differences between them.

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Not to mention the fact that I haven't come across a single review of Elliott Sharp's Monk album on Clean Feed that notices that two tracks are in the wrong order (you'd think people could tell "Epistrophy" apart from a blues......).

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I may have brought this up in an earlier thread, but when Will Calhoun's Live at the Blue Note was first issued, the final track was listed as Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." I'm sure that most Organissimo Forum contributors, if they have heard this CD, recognized it as McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," which hardly sounds anything like Herbie's piece. But the JazzTimes reviewer evidently didn't have much depth to his jazz knowledge and commended the performance of "Dolphin Dance." I was surprised when my sarcastic letter to the editor was printed.

One of many reasons I eventually cancelled my JT subscription.

Edited by Ken Dryden

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I know I've mentioned this story before, but our college newspaper once identified him as "Felonious Monk."

:rofl:

And that reminds me... I'll have to play that ultra-cool Bob Moses tune "Felonious Thunk" from Time Stood Still on the radio show soon.

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I know I've mentioned this story before, but our college newspaper once identified him as "Felonious Monk."

Technically correct, even if it was a set-up.

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during the last Clinton inaugeral they did some jazz things which included TS Monk; at one point one of the clueless MTV-ites (it might have been Kennedy) was heard to ask (in all seriousness), "Who is 'the lonliest monk'?"

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I may have brought this up in an earlier thread, but when Will Calhoun's Live at the Blue Note was first issued, the final track was listed as Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." I'm sure that most Organissimo Forum contributors, if they have heard this CD, recognized it as McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," which hardly sounds anything like Herbie's piece. But the JazzTimes reviewer evidently didn't have much depth to his jazz knowledge and commended the performance of "Dolphin Dance." I was surprised when my sarcastic letter to the editor was printed.

One of many reasons I eventually cancelled my JT subscription.

Sounds like another reason to add to the list of why I never had a subscription in the first place.

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Truthfully, though it's easy to compile lists of silly goofs from reviews, everyone has off-days.... most of my jazz books have accumulated annotations of mistakes I've spotted, & I know that I've certainly committed the odd screwup to print or the web.

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