Saturday, August 27, 2011

Critics playing jazz

Roanna Forman at the Boston Jazz Blog kicked off a very interesting discussion by asking several prominent jazz critics the question "Do Jazz Critics Need to Know How to Play Jazz?" She got a lot of thoughtful responses from a wide range of well known jazz writers that ran the gamut in their answers. After this article appeared it opened up a wide range of discussion and commentary, particularly from Hank Shteamer who had some absolutely stellar comments like:
"I tend to avoid the word "critic" in favor of "thinker-about-music" or similar,"
and
"If someone were to ask me what qualifies me to write about jazz, I would simply have to answer, "I love it.""
Patrick Jarenwattananon at A Blog Supreme, had a very nice post, which enticed quite a bit of commentary.

This is something that I have wrestled with myself for a long time. I originally called this blog "Jazz and Blues Music Reviews," but changed it to "Music and More" a few years ago because I wasn't comfortable with being a "reviewer" or God-forbid a "critic." I have no technical knowledge of music whatsoever, so if you catch me using musical terms in the wrong context please forgive me. Music, for me, is a purely emotional response, and I use this blog as a musical diary, to write about the music I listen to and enthuse about the music I like.

I remember one time several years ago when I was dramatically enthusing about a particular saxophonist to a friend who happened to *be* a professional musician, saxophonist and teacher. He went on a deep explanation of why he didn't care for this particular musician using a lot of technical terms that I'm sure were correct, but might just as well have been a foreign language to me. After that, all I could sheepishly respond with was "But he's so exciting!" It's funny now in retrospect, but I felt like a bit of a dope at the time.

I do not feel qualified to post any negative thoughts about a particular album, because there is a very good chance that the album was successful and with my limited knowledge, I may have missed the point entirely. So I think I'm really with Hank Shteamer on this one, I have a deep abiding love for music, especially jazz, and while I do not play an instrument or know a lick (bad pun) of technical music, I think a blog is a perfect format for me to express my enthusiasm about the music that moves me. Most people take blogs, especially those not associated with a professional news organization, with a grain of salt, its understood that like the zine culture of old, the writer is in most cases more of an enthusiast than a professional critic.

So in the end, I'm sure that it is helpful for a paid critic to have an understanding of at least the rudiments of the music, but I think the most important thing to have is an open mind and a deep love for the music: past, present and future.

Send comments to Tim.