relyles

Minimum Qualifications for Jazz Writer?

121 posts in this topic

Skimming a CD, book or DVD before reviewing is unfair to the artist/author/filmmaker's work. I agree with Allen Lowe, such sloppiness will often show (I probably mentioned the JT writer who didn't know the difference between Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" and McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance" when the latter was labeled as the former on a CD). But when I recently heard fellow writers talking about listening to a CD numerous times before reviewing it, I chuckled to myself. Are they getting paid that well to write a CD review?

Liner notes, on the other hand, take a good bit more hearings, unless it is a compilation of previously issued material that is very familiar to me, or in one case, a previously unreleased concert that I had recorded off NPR some 20+ years prior to getting the assignment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I review books, I always read them from cove to cover, armed with little post-it notes. Then I go back, having marked the places that requires closer scrutiny. Audio albums? well, I agree with Allen, one listen is not enough in most cases. In fact, even when I had to come up with 12 - 15 reviews a month, I did not limit my listening to the album at hand--it helped to listen to related material, the artist's previous releasefor example.

BN, you claim to have written a few hundred reviews--where can we read them?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

...Audio albums? well, I agree with Allen, one listen is not enough in most cases. In fact, even when I had to come up with 12 - 15 reviews a month, I did not limit my listening to the album at hand--it helped to listen to related material, the artist's previous releasefor example...

This is a good point, Chris. I've read a few reviews that seem to have been written in a vacuum.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

BN, you claim to have written a few hundred reviews--where can we read them?

I'd also be interested to know this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I, too, write alot of reviews. I've written around 200 of them, but let me preface that writing a review is an opinion, it should always be about what you really think. I've written alot of bad reviews and the reason I write more bad ones then I do good ones is because it gives people a chance to read a different perspective. If all I did was write good reviews, then there would be something wrong, then you're writing wouldn't be taken so seriously, because the reader will think "Oh, here we go again...." that's certainly not the mentality you want people to have when they read your reviews.

Really? One of my jobs is to write reviews for Chicago Jazz Magazine. And we have an agreement: if something is bad, or it just rubs ME the wrong way, I don't write a review. Why? Because what's the sense in slamming an artist for putting out what they thought was their best effort? Aren't we all, as musicians, just trying to get ahead, play gigs, shoot our artistic wads, make a statement and hopefully a little scratch in the process? What good does it do to say, "artist "x" put out a shitty record"?

Sometimes, if you really want to say something sucks is to not say anything at all. No press = no alerting the public to a mediocre release.

But you seem to get off on telling people that they suck. Even when they don't. I reckon that that's just one of many, many, many differences between us.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend not to take John McDonough seriously.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend not to take John McDonough seriously.

Met him in 1966 and have had the same opinion since then. <_<

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whole lot of worthy stuff between the two examples you mention. I have problems with Gleason and Schuller.

One needs to read as much as possible and develop a personal opinion.

FWIW, Schuller's Swing Era has many more "iffy" opinions than the earlier book.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you know Early Jazz? Have to admit I haven't read the Swing Era in its entirity since it was issued, but dip into it from time to time. From memory, I think he gives way too much credit to "limited" white big band arrangers and seems to undervalue a number of small group soloists. Not unexpected from someone from his background. Thank some god for Gunther Schuller, but he is not perfect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From your edit (while I was responding) I see you haven't digested the book. Not fair. :mellow:

Edit to add: Talk to me about this when you have finished the book, understand and listen to allt he music discussed.

Edited by Chuck Nessa

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To be continued...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

BN, you claim to have written a few hundred reviews--where can we read them?

I'd also be interested to know this.

Me too...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend not to take John McDonough seriously.

He's definitely on my "if he hates it I'll probably love it" and vice versa list. And that can sometimes be just as helpful as the writers one tends to agree with.

There are two types of writers I think.

There is the Ralph Gleason type who is essentially an enthusiast and who is successful in evangelizing a particular style or artist to the general masses.

And then there are writers like Gunther Schuller, who have a strong expertise in the art of music theory, composition, and arranging and who have a strong, encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. I far prefer the later. I'm currently making my way through Schuller's "The Swing Era", an 800 page treatise on the music from 1930-1945, and his examination of music of someone like Ellington just really can't be approached by someone with out a strong musical background. For instance, his examination of a piece like Reminiscing in Tempo is a masterpiece in itself and his deconstruction of the harmonic structure of Ellington's work has added a tremendous insight into my appreciation of Ellington's genius.

Well, I'd say there are way more than two types/styles/approaches. Whitney Balliett has been maligned here on the board on more than one occasion but I've always been a fan of his impressionistic approach to reviews. He is missed. Some folks conveniently forget that he was one of the first writers to seriously appreciate and analyze Cecil Taylor, for instance.

Whole lot of worthy stuff between the two examples you mention. I have problems with Gleason and Schuller.

One needs to read as much as possible and develop a personal opinion.

FWIW, Schuller's Swing Era has many more "iffy" opinions than the earlier book.

I'd tend to agree with this assessment in general. Early Jazz is a superior book to The Swing Era in my opinion. I'll always be grateful to Mr. Schuller, by the way, for turning me on to the remarkable arranging talents of John Nesbitt, who had pretty much been ignored in earlier jazz histories, with Don Redman getting all the "press."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read and reread this thread and come away feeling like a post or two of mine has been deleted.

Maybe it's because I find myself with quite a few things to say - both in response to the original question and to some of the subsequent posts - but a bit of trouble putting them into words. I just don't know where to start. It's sort of like trying to review the New York Art Quartet ESP reissue in 450 words, or any other "classic" side for that matter.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Vol 3 and 4 will not happen. Tons of material gathered but no time or energy to complete.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just don't know where to start. It's sort of like trying to review the New York Art Quartet ESP reissue in 450 words, or any other "classic" side for that matter.

I don't know about that. "It's a classic. Get it."

There you go - five words, not even 450.

:g

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Vol 3 and 4 will not happen. Tons of material gathered but no time or energy to complete. "

That is a shame...

Yes, indeed a shame. Let's hope that all of the material gets passed on to someone who has the time and talent to do something with it!

When I interviewed Mr. Schuller at some length a little over a decade ago he was still planning to move forward with the next volumes, so this is sad news.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"I tend not to take John McDonough seriously."

I have never taken his writing seriously. Then, again, I rarely take my own writing seriously. By that I mean that I have always been aware of my limitations and the lowly position I held in the bigger scheme of things. My Bessie biography makes up for some of that, I hope.

I consider myself fortunate to have managed to stay in the business for this length of time while rarely exceeding the minimum requirements, but at least I never Goursed or Yanowed the music I love.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just don't know where to start. It's sort of like trying to review the New York Art Quartet ESP reissue in 450 words, or any other "classic" side for that matter.

I don't know about that. "It's a classic. Get it."

There you go - five words, not even 450.

:g

450 words is too few - that's my problem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Vol 3 and 4 will not happen. Tons of material gathered but no time or energy to complete. "

I have heard the same.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"I tend not to take John McDonough seriously."

I have never taken his writing seriously. Then, again, I rarely take my own writing seriously. By that I mean that I have always been aware of my limitations and the lowly position I held in the bigger scheme of things. My Bessie biography makes up for some of that, I hope.

I consider myself fortunate to have managed to stay in the business for this length of time while rarely exceeding the minimum requirements, but at least I never Goursed or Yanowed the music I love.

That first paragraph sums it up and should be words to live by for all of us. A little humility goes a long way in writing as well as in life. And your Bessie bio more than makes up for anything you wrote that doesn't quite meet your own standards.

Wow, new words... "Goursed" and "Yanowed" can now join "Googled" in the modern lexicon. They're perfect! We (or at least I) know exactly what you mean!!!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Schuller is brilliant but sometimes misses the forest for the trees - let us say that he sometimes misses the emotional element, or even the entertainment side of jazz - I think of his homophobic comments, in The Swing Era, about Pha Terrel and the use of the falsetto in African American singing, as though it is some sort of aberration when in reality it is one of the essential elements of that tradition; also, I remember the notes he did to the Buster Smith/Atlantic recording, in which he spent most of his time bemoaning the fact that Smith had been relegated to working in bar bands - though there was an element of truth to his lament, he also clearly had no understanding of the cultural implications of Smith's current way of making a living and tha fact that it may not have been so terribly tragic to Smith himself -

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just to clarify, my comment about McDonough was in answer to bluenote82's assertion that if he doesn't write negative reviews, no one will take him seriously. I'm sure that was obvious, but now the quote is jumping pages out of that context. It can stand alone, however. -_-

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

there is some problem, ironically or not, with Schuller's level of technical knowledge, I think, and his ability to write histories - I talk about this, I think, somewhere in my own book but basically I think certain levels of technical knowledge sometimes overwhelm less empirical values like taste and critical instinct - for all my respect for Schuller, if I want a second opinion on a musician or a performance I will more likely turn to non-musician/critics like Larry kart or Giddins or Francis Davis or Bob Blumenthal, whom I believe have a combination of writing skill, personal taste, historical perpective, and just plain smarts. The problem is that some non-technical writers get themselves into trouble, and Giddins is the best example of this; whenever he tries to show off with some personal citation about harmony or other chord-change issue, he invariabley comes off as half-assed if not mistaken. Martin Williams had a problem in this area, and Dick Katz told me Williams would never acknowledge a technical mistake. So one has to come to all of this having read a lot of the backgtound material and having listened to too much music (trust me, it's a burnout process) -

though I've never asked him about it, I think Larry kart clearly has some musical background - Loren Schoenberg is one who has vast technical knowledge and good aesthetic judgement - Chris Albertson not only knows the music but he knows the musicians and has learned the music in the best possible way, by being in the middle of it all - unlike most academics -

on the social end, as I have said before, I believe one needs to know the social context but not let it overwhelm aesthetic judgement; I often cite my unofficial mentor, the late Richard Gilman, to the effect that good art creates an alternative history, a narrative that is outside the socially verifiable - and though I have tried to read a lot of academic writing on music it ultimately tends to suffer from a convoluted kind sociological rationale, which neccesitates a writing style that is at once both impermeable (read: intellectual rationalization) and opaque (read: WE NEED TENURE!) -

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think we should shy away from negative reviews, if they are written without spleen and with clear attention to the material at hand; otherwise the whole idea of critcisim is negated. On the other hand I can see that sometimes it is better to just leave a small independent musician alone -

the problem for me is that even in the better jazz journals everybody likes everything; I won't mention any names but I was removed, about 10-12 years ago, from the reviewing staff of a good and independent magazine because there was too much stuff I did not like (I wrote one review, in which I lamented the need for all musicians to write all of their own material even when they were compositionally limited, and I called it "Why Does Bad Music Happen to Good Musicians?")

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.