Writing for Your Life - An Online Forum

Writing for Your Life - An Online Forum

On December 22nd you were invited to join a baker's dozen of North America's most prolific jazz journalists to discuss the craft of jazz writing.

Related Readings

Q. from James Hale in Ottawa [Dec 22 - 05:19 pm]
Welcome to the final JJA online forum for 2003.

This time out, our topic is the craft of writing about jazz, and we've assembled a stellar crew of jazz journalists who do it on a regular basis.

Just a reminder that if you're just getting started in the business and you want to learn more about the topic and have the opportunity to get your work critiqued... Paul de Barros and Dan Ouellette will be staging a three-day workshop on jazz writing at the 2004 IAJE in New York in January. Also, be sure to check out the two recommended readings related to this forum.

Back to tonight's forum. Here are the journalists who will be joining us tonight:

Bill Bennett (JazzTimes)
Larry Blumenfeld (Jazziz, Tracks)
Aaron Cohen (DownBeat, Chicago Tribune)
Paul de Barros (DownBeat, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Steve Dollar (Jazz Guide New York City, Newsday, Tracks)
Todd Jenkins (DownBeat)
Yoshi Kato (San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times)
Art Lange (Coda)
Mark Miller (Globe and Mail, Coda)
Dan Ouellette (DownBeat)
Don Palmer (Jazziz, Time Out New York)
Arnold Jay Smith (The New School, New Jersey City University)
Zan Stewart (New Jersey Times-Ledger, DownBeat)

  A. from Whit in VT [Dec 22 - 08:31 pm]
   Okay, the answer screen now actually works, and so let the discussion roll....
Q. from James Hale in Ottawa [Dec 22 - 05:30 pm]
Let's start with the question of style.

Is it important to have a distinctive voice as a jazz journalist?

Should it be something that comes naturally, or is it something a writer can consciously develop? If the latter, any tips on how to do it?

  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 08:35 pm]
   A distinctive voice. Well it seems that the music being critiqiued raises the issue if "voice" or personal statement so I would encourage writers to learn to write, not just review, music. There is much to be said for reading something that is more than merely a pr piece about the newest release or tour. Afterall, the writer should be bringing some life experience to the music. But is it important to editors/publishers. Probably not in the short term. How to develop is called reading. Do not just read other mags about music or lifestyle. There are centuries of literature from which to learn phrasing, vocabulary, concepts, etc. Otherwise it is to reduce any cultural critique to celebrity journalism. If it comes naturally, then why waste one's time writing jazz reviews? My feeling is that no it does not come naturally. It comes from work, research, engaging other ideas about the world that may not even be related to jazz per se.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 08:38 pm]
   I agree with Don -- it comes from hard work, which concentrates on what each writer individually wants to say, who he/she wants to be and be understood as being. I used to work very hard to make myself "authoritative," by which I meant trustworthy; and I did that by writing what I could say I stood behind as "fact" of what I heard, of what went down, and not extraneous or illusory verbiage. I don't know if I persuaded anyone. . . but I worked myself into that habit, and maybe it has taken, because I adhere to that as a principle today, but don't have to work so hard at it (and I hope that doesn't mean I'm less solid in what I've written).
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 08:39 pm]
   Hi, all! I had fits trying to sign on tonight. I hope I haven't missed much of the fun.

Hmmm, voice. I see the notion of voice in writing as a mixed bag. I think it's important for there to be a natural element to one's voice in print, in order to keep from sounding too derivative. On the other hand, not everyone's natural voice is of interest to readers! In that light, I certainly think it's possible to develop one's voice further, in a different direction, in order to better communicate whatever it is you wish to say.

I've found lately that my voice is characterized by a gross overuse of adverbs. That's something that I'm taking steps to address in my writing, trying to become more creative and picturesque in my descriptions without all those bloody "-ly" words. I'm frequently told that my speaking voice, in tone and manner, is quite unique but those elements don't always translate into my writing. So I've been making a more conscious effort to personalize what I write. To do this I sort of brainstorm about a piece of music into a tape recorder, then sit down and transcribe what I said. After three days or so I go back, listen to the music again, and write down my thoughts without going over them verbally. I often find that what I transcribed from the tape is usually closer to "myself" than what I put down on paper a few days later. I'm trying to close that gap, get away from the stale writing patterns I've fallen into for years, and put more of myself onto the page.

  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 08:40 pm]
   I agree with Don about working hard at the craft and reading other literature. I'd only add that a "distinctive voice" isn't something that gets put on or over what you have to say. It's simply your individual way of saying what you have to say. I think if you just focus on what you want to say, "voice" comes along. It's not something artificial.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 08:41 pm]
   Evening all. I would suggest that any/every good writer should/would have a distinctive voice, but its development cannot be forced. I suspect that most of us were jazz fans before we were writers, and that we learned as we went along, developing a style/voice in the process. And that voice can change; I know mine certainly has, as I've grown tired of certain approaches — the Balliett metaphor (mine not his), for example — and looked for alternatives.
  A. from Dan Ouellette in New York City [Dec 22 - 08:43 pm]
   Just like a jazz musician, style comes eventually--after emulation, then writing a million words, finding a rhythm and then eventually discovering your own voice. It may not be apparent (like a listening Blindfold Test), but I always know when an editor has tampered with the rhythms in my phrases or thrown in words that I don't usually use. I think style develops over time as a result of a lot of writing. Again, just like a musician who finds his or her voice only by playing a lot. Writing is a passion and a commitment.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 08:45 pm]
   Don, Paul and Howard have pretty much hit it on the head: read, work hard, strive for individuality (what sounds like you), work hard, read. Your voice should emerge. Of course, having a voice is a primary concern, as is the accuracy of what is said.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 08:46 pm]
   Speaking of voice... One thing I do not do, except in situations like this, is write in the first person. That's my hard and fast rule, but not one that I would insist on for anyone else. But the absence of the "I" is part of whatever voice I've developed as a writer. Style can also change according to context; the way I write a review for the newspaper as a critic is not the way I write history as an author.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 08:47 pm]
   I think that a distinctive voice comes from establishing a credible persona and writing effectively. Credibility becomes evident in your writing if you've done your research, display evidence of knowing your subject, describe what you have experienced clearly and in depth, and exhibit a fair perspective that has examined both the positive and negative sides of the issue at hand. Judgement is less important than a clear and full description. At least that's a good place to start. Learning to write effectively, like learning about your subject, is a lifelong quest, but the basics involve being direct, focused, to the point, and as colorful and engaging as possible without distracting from or doing damage to your subject. I've always felt that one way to learn to be a better critic is to read as much criticism by other writers (and I mean famous writers, not merely one's peers) as possible and learning to discern what is good criticism and how they manage to do it. Recognizing what is successful in other writers is a good step towards being able to do it yourself.
  A. from Dan Ouellette in New York City [Dec 22 - 08:48 pm]
   It's a funny thing. After just having read Zan's posting, it sounds so much like his real voice. Interesting. I also just thoiught of Kevin Whitehead, a writer I really admire. When I was editor of Schwann Inside, I read his pieces and I heard him as if he were doing one of his reviews on Fresh Air. there was something so distinctive about his voice.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 08:50 pm]
   Hi Everyone, sorry I'm a bit late here. I agree with my colleagues. It is important to have a distinctive voice because many readers (including myself) respond to writers who convey a personality. If readers don't feel this individual, personal, connection, they're not going to stick around and be informed. That being said, I find a writer has to keep one's ego constantly in check---after all, we're here to promote music, not ourselves. As far as developing a voice, I agree that reading is the best way to go about it, but there are many experiences that shape a writer's distinctive voice---travel, for one. I don't know about everyone else, but for me, it's going to be a life-long struggle.
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 08:50 pm]
   I think there have been some good and eloquent responses to this one. And yes, if you want to know about music, listen to musicians (or to the music of nonmusicians, or the hum of the air conditioner, if that is compelling to you). And if you want to know about writing, read what great writers have written - or not-so-great writers or folks who hang out in bus stations and scrawl on walls. But I want to address something else: criticism. There is a long history of criticism within and without Western civ. Even if you'd rather write interview-based features and essays than reviews (as I would), if you're focuing on music and you have something to say, you're doing criticism. Find critical writing that means somethign to you and soak it in. I find some of my best inspiration from criticism written about visual art and about automobiles. I find a disturbing trend these days in that the role, the authority, the beauty of the critic's role is being degraded or eliminated altogether. And I think that's tied to the genreal impulse to consdier things like music consumer goods. If we do what we do well, it's art and history and culture. And that can only be expressed by a writer who is artful, has some sense of history and who is immersed in some - any -culture.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 08:50 pm]
   I'm impressed with what Todd is doing, hard discipline to get away from the habits of typing/writing, as opposed to talking/thinking. I think it's harder to avoid bad habits today, with the ease of re-writing from computer programs, than back in the ol' days, when to hand in clean looking copy I'd typewrite a review over and over, revising as I went, each time I made a typo or smudge. That forced me to look at those phrases and see what was extraneous, gratuitous. Of course, having short assignments helps, if you're intent on packing all the interesting and relevant stuff in. As for Mark's decision never to write in the first person, I've begun lately to sometimes write in the first person, but I avoided it for a long long time. When I do it, I try to make sure there's a really good reason. And I'm self-conscious about putting in too many "I"s, because some of my least favorite reviewers do that.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 08:57 pm]
   not to hog the answers, but reading over everyone's after I just posted, I want to commend Art, because he sounds SO much like himself, not just in style but in content, too. And Larry also makes excellent points about the denegration of criticism for consumer reports (that are presumed to be positive, or else why bother?). But I want to make a point about steering clear of criticism that's supposed to be classic, and "voice." I spent some time once (ok, maybe I should do so again) reading GB Shaw's music criticism, and he had voice, alright, but I could never find him relevant, descriptive to anyone not already very familiar with the material, or informative as to basic elements of music. He didn't make me want to listen to what he was hearing. Maybe he's a great playwrite (I find what I've read or seen dated, but again, I may be wrong). Aristotle doesn't date in the same way.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 08:57 pm]
   Whoever added travel to this trail, thank you. It's real important to engage that which is unfamiliar. Scents, rhythms, tastes, behaviours. You do not ahve to like any of it, but it can make one a better writer, hoepfully, and definitly a better person.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 08:59 pm]
   Mark's point about context is , er, critical: it brings the audience into the equation. Seems to me there are three primary components in the style of a piece: what the writer brings to the blank sheet of paper; his or her subject; and finally the audience most likely to be reading the piece. This also gets to some of the key issues behind problems in writing for general interest publications: the general audience needs a different kind of hook than purchasers of Mosaic arcana -- and the editor has to believe in that hook.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:03 pm]
   Experience is the best teacher. I think it does take time to make mistakes and learn not to repeat them. And at the risk of offering a simplistic classroom device, if you want to learn what your "voice" is -- that is, what your reviews sound like -- read them out loud. I believe ear training is as important in writing as it is in music.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 09:06 pm]
   Many good points scored here. There are a number of critics whose work we all ought to have read, in my view -- including, much as it pains me to say it, S. Crouch (perhaps in counterpoint to Giddins). I think it is also useful to read non-critics writing about music -- Vance Bourjaily, to name one, has done some fine work in his novels on jazz and other genres.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:14 pm]
   See the previous JJA forum on Jazz & Fiction. Re Crouch: He's done great work in the past, but we shouldn't be afraid to point to egregious work by critics, either. And he's done some of that, I dare say.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:22 pm]
   I find Stanley to be unreadable these days. Liked "Hanging Judge," though.

Not much to add, because the replies are so adroit. But, it's good to spend a few hours focused on writing something every single day (even if you don't have an assignment, even if you throw it away, even if it's shit). And it's good to suck up as much of everything possible that you can throw into your writing (subway scrawls can do nicely, yes, Larry). If you work and cultivate, you'll have a voice -- it's not something to be consciously worried over (at least, not until you're aware of what it is as a natural force -- then you can tweak it any whichway). You don't have to "find" it, if you're focused and busy, it will find you.

And, yes, it's essential if you want to be noticed and enjoyed by those who read you.

  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:34 pm]
   I recommend reading storytellers. Patrick Chamicoise (sp) from Martinique. Michael Onatdje (sp) even Gerald Early. Of course there is Ellison and Albert Murray's Guitar Trainwhistle. Hey Mark Twain, it's Americana. Voice, rhythm, etc. The revered critics read more than their peers and predecessors. Now a weird sleeper is a bok called Cities of the Dead. Unreadable in many ways but intriguing.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 23 - 12:03 am]
   Just to answer my own question.... a couple of points I'd like to amplify from the rich trove of answers above. Howard made a great point about the importance of revision and what we've lost in moving away from the typewriter. Like him, I used to be fanatical about clean copy and found that the revision process taught me to clean up a lot of excess in my prose. Today, to substitute for that, I almost always take a hard copy away from my desk and read it soto-voce with pen in hand. I'd encourage you to read that Pierre Berton speech about the importance of revising. Read it as your potential reader will, just as when you do radio you try to speak to just one listener.
Q. from James Hale in Ottawa [Dec 22 - 05:36 pm]
What are your best recommendations for keeping your writing fresh and avoiding falling into predictable ruts?
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 08:40 pm]
   Check out the theatre, dance (modern or post modern over ballet would be my preference), and as I already mentioned reading other writers who work with language. Afterall the purpose is to convey information, sensations, vibations, an experience that the musician is attempting, for better or worse, to channel through their instrument. Try and meet them maybe half way to see if whatever misguided effort may succeed partially. If it is an artistic attempt it may well fail, but...
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 08:46 pm]
   Keep listening. Study music. Read in your field, outside it. Read your own work, see where it needs work. Pray you find a good editor.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 08:49 pm]
   For one thing, READ and absorb from it. There should be variety in what you read, listen to and write about. Read authors you like and figure out what it is about their style appeals to you. Read authors you hate (Hemingway is my bone of contention) and nail down what you hate about their styles. And pick up books by people you've never heard of before, just to see what's out there you might be missing. Whatever you find that strikes you as fresh and applicable to your muse, try and adapt it.

Right now I'm juggling two books in my nighttime reading: Barry McRae's "The Jazz Cataclysm" (1967), about the post-bop revolutions in jazz, and Paul Williams' "Outlaw Blues" (1969), about the rock scene in that era. Two radically different writers, writing on loosely connected subjects, and both equally skilled at communicating to their target audiences. McRae wrote like a jazzhead intent on defending the new wave, Williams like a die-cast hippie DJ layin' it out for the masses.

As for ruts (in which I am the chief of sinners at times), I find it handy to go back and read a group of articles or reviews that I've done in the recent past, compare them and see if any boring patterns have developed. If so, I might sit down and rewrite a couple of the reviews in a different manner, deliberately avoiding what I see as the offending pattern. If it works well, then I'll try to keep away from said pattern and apply something of what I did differently.

  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 08:55 pm]
   One other thing: read your own work out loud. That can bring out a lot of flaws that reading silently will not.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 08:57 pm]
   As one who frequently feels that he's in a rut when he sits down to write a review, I'm probably not the best one to answer this one. Perhaps the best way to avoid falling into a serious rut is to just take considerable time away from writing reviews/music journalism and concentrate on something related, but different. For me, that was attending graduate school for most of the past year. I could go on and on about that experience, but what I should say here is that it did make me step back and rethink why I write music journalism and what I hope to accomplish by continuing to do so.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:16 pm]
   For my part, I try to avoid falling into a rut by limiting what I write about. It's important to me to be able to call my shots carefully, and to only write about something when I feel that I have something helpful to say...that is, helpful to the potential audience, either through introduction, description, or providing a context that might enhance their experience.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 09:23 pm]
   Oh my god Zan. read oout loud to myself. Proofreading is bad enough. Thank you Mr gates and spell check. But no really it can help, painfully so, to let Aunt Esther or other disinterested friends let you know when you are plagerizing yourself. I had a friend ban me from "avant-gutbucket" many years ago. My wife tried to get me to not identify any musician or music by race or ethnicity as a way to ferret out another way to communicate. Tricks? Maybe so, but...
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:47 pm]
   Another big help is the thesaurus. It can be a writer's best friend when it comes to getting away from the same old words, but it also helps to know what the alternate words specifically mean. Don't just use the word processor's on-board thesaurus indiscriminately without understanding the subtle differences between options. Have a dictionary on hand to help you along.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 09:58 pm]
   Read a lot of really good fiction. That usually does more to fire me up than anything else I can think of, and, as others suggest, try and forget about whatever it is you have to produce and go take in something entirely other for an afternoon. A little crosstalk always helps.
Q. from Tom in White Plains, NY [Dec 22 - 08:14 pm]
As a reviewer for mostly jazz, I find myself inundated with releases. How can I effectively make the rounds for live reviews, listen to CD releases and stay current with what's going on in the jazz and ultimately other genre scenes effectively?
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 08:36 pm]
   I don't think you can stay current with jazz and "other genres." There's just too much stuff out there. I do think you can stay current in one field, such as jazz, and also keep a healthy interest in other genres, though. As far as the inundation, yes, I suppose everyone arrives at their own system -- listening to some CDs "blind," some on recommendations, others simply because they "must" be written about because of reader interest. One strategy is to pick a time of day that's devoted simply to "auditioning" discs -- to see if you're going to listen all the way through. Often, you can tell pretty quick. But I have no real solutions. At the end of every year, it seems like I take armloads of unplayed sics down down to the basement.

  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 08:38 pm]
   Tom: What publications or type of publications do you write for? It would be daunting-to-impossible to give a fair listen to everything. And the key is the word fair: What good are you if you listen to every single thing and try to go hear everyone as if it's doing laundry and it all must get done. I say: work backward from your list - stay current first. Bsed on that, make informed - INFORMED - decisions about what to listen to and where to go out. Let 2 things guide you: your own tastes and inclinations, and what you presume your readers and publishers expect you to know about/cover. Those with truly big ears and worldly needs, will absorb lots of breadth. Those with narrower tastes and less social inclinations will be more sheltered. But in both cases, you can aspire to be good and authoritative. Nobody expects you to cover it all. That's what the All-Music Guide is for 9and it's suitably shallow on all fronts). LB
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 08:43 pm]
   oh, those unplayed "sics." And some of them are real treasures. I was talking to someone earlier in the week about how jazz criticism has changed since it was initiated. At first, there were record fans reviewing for each other, and relatively so few cds that the assiduous reviewer could hear most, if not all, of them. Now it's impossible. But still, we may "try." I follow certain artists, but not others. I don't try to be an expert on all of jazz -- I'm more interested in being expert about segments or aspects of other art forms (movies, books) than being thorough, say, about things that are easy to pick up on, if need be, like "smooth jazz." I don't look for assignments about that stuff, but if I happen to get one, I can do a quick study without fear that I don't understand what's happening in a given disc or a given band. There's an Esquire editor who's trying to read Encyclopedia Brittanica cover to cover, but that's silly to think, then, you "know" everything. Or maybe anything.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 08:44 pm]
   Another key here, I think, is using the network of critics effectivelyt: You know, in all likelihood, whose work you trust, and can take leads from that. I also use msuciains of mya cquaintance as barometers: Ask ;'em what's hip, what's in their current rotation, that kind of thing.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 08:45 pm]
   Well Paul has practical and legal answers. Don't sleep, take really long car trips and listen to stuff then. Do not run of the road. Substance abuse. Hypnosis. But yes it is a terrible thing to have too much to cover and comprehend. There is no easy answer. Frankly I figure if it don't sing to you then skip it. Come back later. We live in a world with too much stimulation and the ability to create more and more. My feeling is to find one's own way on this one. I doubt that musicians are gonna stop releasing material and that the labels will stop recreating the world's best hot dog.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 08:47 pm]
   Paul nailed this one.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 08:56 pm]
   Yep, Paul's got it. The best way to cover all the bases is to quit your day job. Otherwise, try and be judicious about what and when you listen and read. I assume that the bulk of these releases are not things you've been specifically assigned to cover? I try and review everything that comes across my desk but it's often impossible. So I pick and choose, spin bits and pieces of many to see what I think might be of the most interest to the public I'm writing for, and take it from there. Don't feel obligated to review something just because it comes in the mail; you can't be all things to all musicians.
  A. from Dan Ouellette in New York City [Dec 22 - 08:59 pm]
   I actually like trying to keep abreast of other genres besides jazz--not all, but many, such as americana, some pop--stuff that I really like listening to, such as Shely Lynn or Jonatha Brooke or Fountains of Wayne. I think it helps me to know what's out there and interesting. Plus I find that most young jazz musicians are listening to some of the same kinds of music, which informs their own. For me, I can then better bridge my connection to them as a result.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:03 pm]
   Maybe it's best to synergize your listening. Since, as you said, you frequently make the rounds for live reviews, maybe start by listening to CD releases of artists who are coming through town and reflect on the recorded music vis-a-vis live performance.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 08:27 pm]
To those critics who use "we" and "you" in articles, what gives you the right to assume readers grant you that priv.??? You WHO we WHO? Know how, what I think?
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 08:33 pm]
   Interesting question. But first, a question for you: since you're asking about pronouns and identities, why are you anonymous (at least to me?). Who are you? As for "we," that's just a lazy construction or a writer who thinks adding others will fortify his/her position (except in the case of the old Esquire mag and old New Yorker, where it was used to adopt a style. As for "you", give me an example of what you're referring to... LB
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 08:34 pm]
   The "editorial (not the royal) we" is too often abused, and the second-case "you" is a kind of a cheap trick. I prefer to answer "you" directly, Shadow: I assume the readers will only grant me the privilege if my opinions are clearly stated, vividly illustrated, and cogently argued.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 08:48 pm]
   IMHO, ""you" is just bad writing -- though often the product of tight alloted space. The editorial "we" on the other hand, is a journalistic tradition, and writers may take advantage of it if it works for them. And this being jazz we're talking about., let's not take up the whole question of what tradition, whose tradition, etc. . . .
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 08:51 pm]
   Oh damn I just used "you" last night. Well at least it was not about jazz
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 08:55 pm]
   You're right. I don't think any writer should presume to speak for his/her audience by talking about what "you" should think or hear or feel...just like it drives me crazy when I read someone's opinion that "Monk would love this treatment of his music." Speak for yourself. What else can you know?
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 08:59 pm]
   Maybe "you" and "we" stem from the writer's expectation that if someone is sitting down to read what has been written, there is already a tentative relationship between the writer and reader. After all, if "you" didn't care about this review, "you" wouldn't be reading about how "we" feel about it. I think that's kind of pretentious on the writer's part, but it's an easy trap to fall into. Who doesn't want to try and connect with a reader as closely as possible?
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:06 pm]
   I'd go even further and say that a journalist has to be very careful when using the first person singular ("I"). Granted, some writers can pull it off much better than others, but a good writer should be able to make her/his presence felt in more creative ways.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 09:09 pm]
   Egad, I'm righteously busted for vagueness: I should have qualified my statement as "bad writing in the context of criticism." Good catch Don: You can edit my work anytime . . .
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 09:32 pm]
   Gee thanks Bill but when I wrote you I knew I was being lazy. I do not think the you or the one is bad writing, but can be lazy and shoudl be used properly. The we is to me unequivocally bad writing. As is the construct of a friend said, "...". Like that gives the opinion credence as though it makes it seem like part of a social agreement. Democracy.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 08:30 pm]
Um, anybody here or am I on the wrong page?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 08:31 pm]
   John... and others. We were having a few technical issues. Hopefully they've been fixed. They seem to have been.
  A. from Whit in VT [Dec 22 - 08:33 pm]
   Yup, fixed.
  A. from Whit in VT [Dec 22 - 08:44 pm]
   Well, the system time is a bit ahead. Since resetting that now would scramble the order of the forum, y'all'll just havta engage in relativity.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 08:33 pm]
Hey James, what are the two recommended readings?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 08:37 pm]
   The readings can be accessed through the main page at jazzhouse.org. One is a speech that Canadian writer Pierre Berton gave to a group of university journalism students, while the other is a piece about writing well from the Poynter Institute.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:00 pm]
   And please ignore the fact that the Berton transcription is full of hideous errors that would earn any editor a kick in the pants! :-D
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:04 pm]
   I suspect it's right off his speaking notes. It was transcribed for use on the university's Web site.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 08:35 pm]
To those critics who write for non-jazz-specific publications... ever feel like yr up against a gauntlet of editors who need CONVINCING that jazz is worthwhile to cover? ever get bogged down in spending as much energy defending the article's very existence, even in the article itself, as you do concentrating on the story you're telling? IE, advocacy for jazz in every sentence, as though each word is chosen to "convert" the editor? maybe that's exag., but something like that. how many rock critics feel the need to rally for a rock article's exist.? zero. jazz crits? many. what to do about that?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 08:41 pm]
   Writing for non-jazz publications like daily newspapers definitely brings another issue into the equation. Usually, however, you're only working with one editor, and most arts editors are as open to good ideas for jazz stories as much as they are about any other artistic endeavour. In other words, it's usually a 'battle' you only have to fight once.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 08:52 pm]
   Part of freelancer hell is having to pitch stories to people you have to convert, at least convince. Tough one. Easy to say but try to find editors who are open; try to come up with subjects that have broad reader appeal; work like a dog to make your pitch reject-proof. Have some luck.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 08:54 pm]
   I write for a daily -- the Seattle Times, (not the P-I, which it says at the top here) -- and I am lucky to have an editor who *loves* jazz, blues and world music. But this hasn't always been the case. 10-15 years ago I had an editor like the one you must have, the kind who would say, "Who's this Milt Jackson?" as he was slotting in a cover story about a third-rate metal band that would be forgotten in a month. I finally told this editor that he had hired *me* to decide if an artist was important in jazz and that it really didn't matter if he'd heard of the people I was writing about. How could he presume to be an "expert" in all the arts (a presumption many daily newspaper editors make). Did this smart-assedness cost me my job? No, it got me a weekly column. I'm not advocating that you speak to your editor like this, but broaching the subject of who knows what readers need to know -- writers or editors -- isn't a bad idea.

  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 09:03 pm]
   shadow- you're still just an anonymous shadow, which is a bit, well, dark and mysterious in a not-s-inviting way... but you raise an interesting area of discussion.

I actually PREFER to write about jazz for general audiences. Not only is the pay way better, but it forces you as a writer to communicate in a compelling way - to dovetail your music analysis and context and educative prose with just good writing. It removes the table we all lean on with one elbow when we write for folks who just can't wait to hear about X's next CD or wish they were the guy doing the interview. At its best, it - writing for non-jazz audiences - forces you to synthesize a lot of levels of commnication into one. I love that. But you also raise a practical concern: most general interest editors think jazz is a cold they don't want to expose their readers to. It IS an uphill battle getting anything but hte most well-known jazz musicians or most news-pegged jazz stories into print. That said, once you win that fight with an editor, you're missing the boat if you're doing any CONVINCING with your prose. the convincing shoudl come from the natural human and aesthetic worthiness of what you've got on paper. Anything more is foolish hand-holding that readers and editors will only end up resenting.

  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 09:04 pm]
   Like Paul, I write for a daily, The Globe and Mail, and have had a succession of editors over the past 25 years who have come to trust my sense of what's important and what's not. At the same time, I understand that jazz is not pop, or film or whatever else has broad appeal to the paper's readers, so I keep my suggestions down to a reasonable number each month, I do the things that I know the paper expects to be done, and I'm also able to do most of what is of real interest to me. The key, though, is developing that sense of trust.
Q. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 08:35 pm]
I'm late logging in: Cable modem glitch which I am determined to attribute to the earthquake. Have I missed anything?
  A. from Whit in VT [Dec 22 - 08:38 pm]
   Yeah, the earthquake musta been the reason for our own glitches. As for what's happened, the "^" button is your friend - and this is true throughout as the discussion can be nonsequential.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 08:46 pm]
I am a freelance journalist in New York. I'd like to know the panelists' thoughts about establishing national health insurance, vacation pay and pensions for freelancers.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 08:54 pm]
   You've nailed an issue that is going to be very important in the years to come. Not only are these genuine needs, but the economy is moving in a direction that will put many, many more people int he position that jazz writers find themselves in today. Orgnizations that would offer real value to jazz writers and journalists should get on the stick here, boith in toerms of providing for their members and in terms of linking up wiht other associations of independent proefessionals to generate some political leverage: there will be plenty of opportunity to use it, I believe.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 09:04 pm]
   There have been efforts in the past regarding the organizing of f'lancers, etc (start with the wobblies), but it would seem that many things will have to change before what you are mentioning will come to pass. I do not say it is unimportant, but the entire construct of consultant/f'lancer is such that your "freedom" comes at a price and a benefit to the employer. Some other lifetime.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:05 pm]
   I'm all for it, though I don't know how feasible it is for the jazz-specific press to pursue such things. The mags we write for aren't exactly on a financial par with Rolling Stone. The National Writers Union can assist with some of those issues, but I don't know how many freelancers look into memberships. I haven't yet myself.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:17 pm]
   I've been a member of the Nat'l Writers Union since its founding, and it's had ups and downs. At least for a while it was able to offer very good health insurance to freelancers, but in the past couple of years there have been terrible problems with that system. The American Society of Magazine Journalists has a health insurance program, in NYC WorkingFamilies.com is supposed to offer freelancers decent health insurance, and the NWU (which is currently afilliated with the United Auto Workers!) recently had an upset election, which may or may not make a difference in the kinds of health care coverage which will be offered again. But as far as vacation pay goes, I think we're on the vacation that we earn, and pensions -- best to think of that as "royalties."
Q. from Greg Robinson in New York, NY [Dec 22 - 08:50 pm]
Mr Palmer is also right in saying that jazz is ill-served by a celebrity-lifestyle centered journalistic approach.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:14 pm]
   But that sort of journalistic approach worked very well on one occasion: Gary Giddins' 1975 article, "Adventures of The Red Arrow," which is a compelling film-noirish piece on Red Rodney's post-War criminal activities. It's in Giddins' book, "Riding On A Blue Note."
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:50 pm]
   By "celebrity-lifestyle centered journalistic approach", do you mean writing about how the musicians live their lives instead of about the art they create?
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:02 pm]
   Greg and Aaron I just mean that celebrity style is so very tied to commerce. Are we covering lifestyle or some creative effort. Look I was told that Ornette Coleman turning 60 and playing at La Scala was not news. Does he have a new record? Salif Keita same thing. Not jazz I know but it did involve elections in Mali. Not news as he had no tour or record. No hook that was relevant. He cared deeply about the issue and did concerts in celebration.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 08:52 pm]
Anyone concerned that the SF Chronicle sent Elwood walking after 35 years w/o a replacement, that Giddins just left after 30 years (dubiously), that Baraka's not in any of the three jazz pubs, that Playboy's policy is not to cover jazz in its otherwise fine music section (except for a token Lovano review), that the New Yorker's got no one filling Balliett's shoes? And don't bother with the "jazz is marginal anyway, so editors won't cover it" answer, bc part of the reason it's marginal is bc editors won't assign beats to it. Dan O., you should move back to SF and take up a Chron column. Four new jazz clubs have opened in the past year in SF.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 08:58 pm]
   I can't speak to the situation in SF, though presumably Bill Bennett and Yoshi Kato will have some thoughts, but I feel these things go in cycles. When I started writing jazz for a daily in '91 the paper had let its coverage fall off to almost nothing... that was primarily because the critic they were using was pretty burned out. I came in with fresh energy and pushed up the amount of coverage just by pushing for lots of stories. New management eventually came in with less interest in the arts in general and assignments dropped off. Then, management changed again, and the assignments were rolling in. It seemed to have almost no relation at all to what was happening in the music itself. I suspect that may well be the case with at least some of the pubs you cite.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 09:07 pm]
   Of course it's a drag that the Chronicle/Examiner is currently not covering with a beat reporter, given its long history with jazz, being the paper where where Ralph J. Gleason rose to prominence, as well as Elwood. It's always a drag when writers are let go, or not replaced. But the full facts about such happenings are not always clearly available, so blame can be miscast. I feel jazz coverage is determined by a)editors who recognize its importance as an art form and b)by writers who push to get coverage. Case in point: when I was hired (part-time) by the Star-Ledger of Newark, taking the post vacated by George Kanzler when he retired, the paper's editor, Jim Willse, insisted on a jazz reporter despite a hiring freeze.
  A. from Dan Ouellette in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:13 pm]
   Hi Shadow, believe me I've tried to push on the Chron from 3000 miles away. When I moved to NYC I was able to keep reporting as a New York pop music correspondent. My first assigning editor (a good friend to this day but who doesn't like jazz) wanted me to cover pop, so I interviewed people like Lou Reed, David Byrne, David Gray, Laurie Anderson. Occasionally I could sneak in jazz guys. Then my next editor took the first's lead. The third guy recognized that the Comical, I mean Chroncile, has no jazz coverage, so it was just me--once every two months a profile in the Sunday Datebook (this past year folks like Osby, Moran, Marc Ribot, Charlie Hunter). Now there's a new editor, who went incommunicado on me for a couple months but after much prodding looks like it might work out ok-- again, for only once a month or every other month. Early on, I tried talking to everyone I could in the arts dept...I even suggested hiring me parttime to cover NYC jazz and hire another writer parttime to cover the Bay Area and give it the local coverage it deserved. Basically everyone took that as a joke.
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 09:15 pm]
   Again, good points. Hale was right: these things are cyclical at best and they have more to do with the particualrs and personalities at a publication than the subject matter or the writers at hand. That's unfortunate but true. My guess is that Giddins will in addition to doing more books, resurface - maybe even at The New Yorker? I have no idea about the SF Chron but a good buddy of mine there has detailed teh tatters most of that once-proud paper's depts are in. And what about the Sunday NYTimes? Ok- they ran a good Hill piece. But you used to find one or two jazz pieces - bona fide jazz pieces - in there every week or two. NO more. Whether he was right or wrong-headed, Peter Watrous used to write Sunday jazz pieces that wer about something more than a new CD or a concert at Jazz@LincolnCenter. No such action today in that space... You're right- let's forget the "jazz is marginal" trope....

But deal with this: Jazz once was a culture. It is no longer in most American cities. And the way it is portrayed in most major media, it is a group of dead guys who live on through reissues. Jazz once represented black America to many. It no longer does, and the hip-hop that has supplanted it has little focus on anything but consumable products.

10 years ago, Entertainment Weekly gave me 750 words on Terence Blanchard; 700 on Clint eastwood and jazz; 700 on Dave Brubeck; 700 on MeShell Ndegeocello.

Now, I get 75 word capsule reviews. Or when someone like Lionel Hampton dies, 300 words for their whole damn life.

  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:17 pm]
   I think the situation now is more or less the same as it's ever been. A college basketball player probably has a better chance of getting into the NBA than a college newspaper writer has of getting a decently paying staff position as an arts critic of a newspaper or magazine.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:25 pm]
   I do believe there are some activities in the offing that could challenge this problem. It's not just that jazz is marginal, obviously; dance is marginal, and the NYT has plenty of space to lend to dance reviews. Visual art has no enormous commercial audience as movies do, but the NYT covers it in enviable depth. No, I think there is some attention we can get paid to this problem, perhaps with the help of the NEA, which seems (I hope) committed under its current chairman to acknowledging the role of media, critics and journalism in supporting American arts, and in his belief in the value (including entertainment value) of jazz. Also, Paul deBarros has access to column-inch measurements of coverage of jazz in several major cities over a 5 year span (isn't that right, Paul?) and the JJA has talked about, but not yet taken up, an initiative to join with jazz-presenters in major "markets" (i.e., locales) to press for more attention.
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 09:27 pm]
   Aaron: Are you saying that we have to jump higher than guys with 39-inch vertical leaps! Yikes! But I like the fact that you say "arts critics". I am uncomfortable when people grandstand for more "jazz" writers. Let's band together with all other music writers and dance and art and theater writers and simply protect the space allotted to arts writing. And then, lket's make sure it's not simply - what to buy.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 09:34 pm]
   I'm definitely bothered about the Chronicle not covering jazz. I grew up reading Gleason and admired him very much and started listening to Phil on the KPFA when I was 14. Back then, though, jazz was considered, as the Chron used to headline it, a "lively art." It was directly connected to the cutting-edge social issue of civil rights. Today, it just doesn't have that position in the culture.

Few dailes cover jazz anymore. When we finish Reporting the Arts II at the National Arts Journalism Program (in June), we'll have some solid statistics about jazz column-inches around the country. My hunch is that the results won't be heartening.

But I think we may be in a kind of transition period. As jazz becomes accepted as a sort of American classical music, the dailies will start covering it more, though I'm puzzled at how long it's taking for this shift to happen. I also wonder if many of my colleagues, who were attracted to jazz for precisely its provocative nature, will be interested in writing about it.

  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 09:45 pm]
   Ohmigod: If "decently paying" is becoming a real parameter in assessing our collective avocation, we have more problems than the Chronicle -- and that is saying a mouthful. The economics of publishing are almost as perilous as those of writers. All of which we know. But if the issue is why jazz doesn't get any respect, a lot of that has to do with the fact that jazz hasa never been institutionalized in our cities. That is why what Wynton has done at Lincoln Center, for all its fundamental flaws, is so important. Rock has its institutions as well -- beginning with Clear Channel these days -- and the demographics to back it up. Festivals are one potential solution -- but the SF Jazz Festival, as good as any, got ZERO review in its hometown paper. If editors won't listen to culturalclout, there's not much you can do.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 09:53 pm]
   Sympathetic editors are the key, in my experience. Even though I'm not the jazz critic at Newsday, I've managed to work in jazz artists into my Sunday arts column there on several occasions. These aren't knock-down, drag-out articles -- just user-friendly advances for concerts or unique events (Lost Jazz Shrines, piano trios at Merkin Hall, Bill Frisell and silent movies at WFC). But, you know, every six weeks or so, I can slide one in there. From my pov, it just takes working closely with editors that you have ongoing relationships with, and thinking about broader angles than just the concert advance. I always try to frame pieces inside a useful theme. You gotta sell it.

Selling jazz to mainstream mags is nearly impossible, though. They have room for one piece a year, and this year it was The Bad Plus (snoooooze). Or else they have to contrive something silly. How many "Don Byron Has Dreadlocks Yet He Plays Klezmer: Believe it or not!!" stories did we have to wade through? Truth is, most glossy magazine editors HATE jazz, except as a signifier of "good taste," and just won't bite at most pitches. (Unless its James Carter and you can put him in a fashion spread, that sorta thing).

Or, unless it's some dead guy.

  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:58 pm]
   Larry: Yes, I can't imagine a free-lancer who writes about painting has an easy time making a living in Chicago.
Q. from Greg Robinson in New York, NY [Dec 22 - 08:56 pm]
My biggest gripe about writing at the computer is that staring at a monitor all the time is bad for your eyes.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:03 pm]
   Personally, I often find that change is one of the best things for your writing. I'll often take my laptop into a sunny part of the house and work on things there rather than at my desk, or even do things in longhand just for a change of pace. It goes back to the previous point about avoiding the ruts and keeping your approach fresh. But, yeah, my eye doctor tells me how bad our profession is for our eyesight.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:08 pm]
   As a stay-at-home dad who writes whenever my kids let me, I don't have much of a problem with uninterrupted staring. I'm forever having to stop in mid-paragraph to heat up a bottle, whip up a snack or wipe puke off the keyboard! But yeah, I hear it's bad for you. ;-)
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:18 pm]
   Not to mention your back. It'd be nice if one of the publications I write for would buy me one of those ergonomic chairs.
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 09:38 pm]
   Not only do eyes burn and backs ache (Aaron- I look longingly at Aeron ads and wish for that same benevolent publisher...) but also the white light and electonic hiss of the computer can suck you up. One of the greatest ironies of my old full-time gig editing Jazziz was that the more I got into the process of editing a nat'l jazz book from NY, the home of so much great jazz, the LESS connected I found myself to the music, the musicians, and those I loved to talk music to. It was me and the MAC.

It took stern discipline and a regimen of stretches to bring me back to real life.

  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:05 pm]
   At least it's not killing chickens. Believe me there are worse functions that artists have to do than staring at the computer, though it can suck.
Q. from Svirchev in Vancouver Canada [Dec 22 - 09:00 pm]
I've been reading Whitney Balliett's "Collected Works." It covers short and long articles 1954-2000. Several things jump out at me. 1)he knows the music from a technical angle and is not afraid to use words like "dimenuendo" or "fortissimo." But when he uses the language of musicology you don't need a dictionary, for the images he uses explain the terms. 2) Balliett knows the musicians, so when he writes, he writes from direct knowledge. 3) Balliett is never sectarian. He takes a catholic approach and is just as likely to write about Earl Hines as he is Cecil Taylor. 4) he doens't like something, he gives a good reason for it. These qualities allow him to tell cogent, interesting stories. He doesn't kow-tow to anyone and I always come away illuminated by what he has to say.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:05 pm]
   Balliett is certainly a master of our form, and I agree with Svirchev about the affects he gets. But curiously, Whitney worked very hard (at least throughout much of his career) to keep from "knowing the musicians." When he came to interview them, he brought great sensitivity, but it wasn't from hanging out or socializing off-duty. Personally, I enjoy knowing musicians, off-duty or on. But I know that doesn't work for everyone, for all personalities. And obviously, a good writer can bring a receptive reader quite close to a shy or reticent musician, if the writer has sufficient perceptive and descriptive skills. My favorite piece of Balliett's has to be his portrait of Betty Carter, which he opens by describing her face, her moves, and her voice as virtually equal and equally impactful elements of her art.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:10 pm]
   I admire Balliett's work. But he's a tough one to use as a model; so few of us have his vocabulary and breadth of metaphor. There's a difference between being "sectarian," however, and concentrating on a narrow range of expertise. I think a big problem with reviewing/criticism today is that a lot of writers cover styles or musicians about which they really know very little...and it shows.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:12 pm]
   Balliett is a shining star in this field. When I started writing about jazz nearly ten years ago, I read as much of Balliett as I could find. I probably need to go back to him and cram some more. There are still plenty of cogent writers in the field, but I think Giddins is probably the closest to that archetype today.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:17 pm]
   Art mentioned the problem of writing about forms of music with which one isn't very familiar, and I think that's a real bugaboo in this business. On the one hand, you can't learn about a style of music until you start listening to it, and writing about it becomes a further step towards understanding. On the other, what you have to say about Soul-Junk or Jemeel Moondoc the first time you hear them might not be worthy of publication in a magazine.

I've learned a hundred times more about fusion that I knew before I began covering it for All About Jazz. And being contracted to write a book on free jazz gave me the impetus to really dig in and appreciate that form. If I hadn't been given the opportunity to write about these forms, I don't know how much I would have explored them on my own. So I think such growth opportunities are valuable, even if your first fruits aren't so interesting to the reader.

  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 09:21 pm]
   Art (hey, Art!) makes a good point: a writer as gifted and personal as Balliett is a tough icon. His incomparable use of metaphor no doubt comes from his background as a poet. While at the LA Times, I explored using metaphors but a daily newspaper is perhaps not the appropriate medium. He's not much of a drummer but his being a player on any level helps him to hear and understand. Plus, as HM points out, he had great sensitivity as an interviewer; he is also a great listener. That is something we all could improve on.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 09:43 pm]
   Well gee. I was deeply inspired by Mr. B in my younger years. He is a great writer on his subject. But I must say hearing a radio interview during which he said that we can no longer learn or appreciate music that we did not know and appreciate at puberty gave me a different take on his writing. What that is is too complicated to explain, but lets say for those who are old enuff your friends who still swoon over little feat. You do not need to know musicians or even like them, but if you do not understand them and their motivations you be a ship without a sail. I have very good friends who I will not write about for "friendship" and others where it does not matter. It really is a hard choice and a personal choice.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:52 pm]
   Don raises a good point. Some writers have no qualms writing about musicians who are more than just acquaintances. Personally, I feel it's best to keep a professional distance, and avoid reviewing friends.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:57 pm]
   Interesting point, Art. What should we do, then, if we have a personal connection to a musician whose talent seriously deserves wider recognition? Is it okay for me to call Zan and say, "Hey, there's this sax player who...", or is that kind of stumping still off-limits in our field? Does our responsibility to promote new talent end when we shake that person's hand?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:03 pm]
   Todd, I think it's great to be a behind-the-scenes cheerleader. Nothing wrong with being a fan and talking up your favorites from a position of perhaps slightly more knowledge than the average listener. Once you sign your name to a piece of persuasive writing, however, and get paid for it, it becomes a question of conflict of interest.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 10:06 pm]
   Nice to see Don and Art raise the issue of conflicts of interest. It extends, of course, beyond writing or not writing about friends. What about reviewing CDs on labels for which you've written notes, or covering festivals that contribute to your travel/accommodation costs, or indeed employ you in some capacity – lecturer, adjudicator? Any takers on this one?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:17 pm]
   Hey Mark, it's been a while, alas. I think some of the conflict issue is avoided by the established credibility of the writer...and of the review itself, which should be able to exhibit that the author has carefully considered the successful and unsuccessful aspects of the material at hand, and is making a judgement on its singular merits. I think hack writing is obvious, and ends up undermining the author.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 10:24 pm]
   Too long, Art... I'd argue that a writer's establishd credibility is slowly eroded by reviews that have some conflict of interest attached to them. I know that my estimation of certain writers has slipped when I see them operating in these situations.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:27 pm]
   Art's take that the article itself demonstrates its degree of credibility seems to me the correct stance. Conflicts of interest don't seem to both the US Vice President, the NYT which devotes major feature space to movies that take doublepage full color ad spreads, or retired generals who lobby the Pentagon in behalf of Boeing. I'm not about to tell someone that a CD is great and a must-buy just because I'm friendly with the musician. And if I'm not going to get any more liner note assignments from some label because I didn't review, or reviewed and didn't like, some cd they *didn't* assign me to annotate, so be it. I won't review a CD I *did* annotate. But I think I should be respected to police myself, and I will try to earn that respect.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:27 pm]
   Mark mentioned reviewing CDs on labels for which one has written liner notes. When I did some liners for Summit a few years back, it was with the understanding that I am a jazz critic and would continue to review their releases with an unbiased eye. They had no problem with that. Since then I think I've done pretty well not letting that brief side relationship with Summit color my perception of their products. If something rocks, I'm confident in saying so; if it sucks pond water, I'll let the world know it. If I give them a bad review and they opt not to use my services anymore, that's on them. Plenty other fish in de sea, as they say.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 10:39 pm]
   The conflict-of-interest issue deserves a forum unto itself. I would love to see JJA actually establish some guidelines along these lines. Clearly, if you take money from someone you are reviewing -- a festival, an artist, a record company -- you have a conflict of interest. Mark -- you and I recently had an experience with a festival, where we felt we had to turn down payment for being panelists, since we were reviewing the festival while at the same time being a part of it. Others may feel that being on a panel in a festival they're reviewing is taboo in itself. Everyone seems to draw their own, quite vivid lines in the sand on this subject. (I recused myself from writing about Experience Music Project for the first year because I had curated its jazz exhibits.) Some critics won't review festivals to which they've given booking advice. Others will. To me, if you've been paid to do so, that makes sense. But if someone just asked your opinion...so what? On the other hand, I know journalists who have personally lobbied clubs to book an artist, then written favorable reviews. Is this kosher? Personally, I don't see how a critic can be involved in the music as a producer, artist representative, contracted employee or board member and maintain credibility. When I started Earshot, I resigned from the Seattle Times. There was no way I could produce concerts in a town where I also was a reviewer. However, there are many writers out there with financial interests in the music, and there always have been. Some, we trust. Others, we don't. Why is that? I'd like to see this subject really probed.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:00 pm]
   Did not mean to kick off the c of o issue, but it is real. On my day gig, I am consumed with it. Of course writers should and do know subjects. But if you cannot trash your friend, they are not a friend. You are just a vehicle. And if you feel you cannot, then... But if you take money from the institution, organization, business and then "evaluate" the product I feel that is a clear conflict and calls into question the entire endeavor of "criticism". Self policing is fine if it is above board, but who writes in a piece "By the way I wrote the liner notes, the bio, or I set up the signing." Sure the public would probably care less if it's good, or even bad. But then what's with this supposed expertise. It looks like a club and that is exactly what I though we are trying to dispel people from believing jazz is about. A secret society.
Q. from Svirchev in Vancouver Canada [Dec 22 - 09:05 pm]
James: occupational health and safety is my full time gig. If you want me to address the ergonomics and science of facing the computer I can craft a few paragraphs.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:10 pm]
   Svirchev, go for it!
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:06 pm]
I started my journalism career strictly writing about jazz. I've always had eclectic interests in the arts, so I now write about everything from music and theater to dance, comedy and photography, etc. I write for publications throughout the U.S. I am nonetheless frustrated at the lack of jazz venues outside of New York, San Francisco area, Chicago and Wahington, D.C. I live in New York. Do any of you see a decrease in jazz bookings and venues in your area? If so, why?
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 09:15 pm]
   Seattle's been pretty steady over the years, with Jazz Alley, Tula's, the New Orleans Restaurant and now the Triple Door, a variety club that books some jazz. Portland lost a major venue recently, though. I don't think we're in a particular slump right now, but these things do go up and down.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 09:17 pm]
   Limiting oneself to writing about jazz is not very practical, and I speak as someone who has done just that. Writing about other things – I would imagine – should be one way of keeping one's jazz voice fresh. As far as bookings and venues in Toronto are concerned, things have been fairly constant.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 09:25 pm]
   Frankly, I feel that writing about numerous fields is disadvantageous, although financially it may be compulsory. Like many of the people here tonight, I have made my living almost entirely writing about jazz. It is something I know a great deal about and, for me, it is essential to bring that expertise to anything else I write. But that's me.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 09:29 pm]
   Actually, I agree with Zan. Writing about too many things, even too many styles of music, has the potential to stretch one's credibility. And what do we have if we don't have that?
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:30 pm]
   I'm at a serious disadvantage here because I live in an area with absolute zero jazz cred. NOTHING happens jazzwise in the Inland Empire. Up until a few years ago I used to help the University of Redlands book major players -- Krall, Brubeck, Jimmy Smith -- but that's dried up, too. I hate having to drive 65 miles into Los Angeles for a dose of live jazz, and my family situation often prevents me from doing so. So my jazz-critiquing activities almost always involve recordings and phone or e-mail interviews.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 09:35 pm]
   I began writing about jazz as part of myriad duties as an arts staffer at daily newspapers in Rochester (NY) and then Atlanta, but mostly Atlanta, where a pre-JALC Rob Gibson built an impressive series of free public festivals and ticketed programs. It became a fun and challenging part of my beat as a pop music critic who covered every kind of music that came through town. Over some 10 years, the amount of jazz that there was to cover went through up and down cycles, but remained steady enough that -- until very recently; they finally hired a critic who likes jazz, at least -- I freelanced for the AJC out of New York.

Atlanta turns out to be a decent jazz town (even without a strong "local" scene), with a good mix of mainstream/indie and concert hall/non-profit arts space shows.

That's one part of your question. As to the other, I can't imagine ever making a living as a fulltime jazz critic. There simply aren't the jobs, and the magazines that specialize don't pay nearly enough money for freelance submissions. I've always diversified, because I can't imagine compartmentalizing myself. But it also makes you more employable.

  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 09:39 pm]
   As to Mark's comment (to Zan), I'm not sure why covering a lot of genres of music would diminish your credibility. Your credibility is established by how well you write, and how intelligently you deal with your topic. Writing POORLY about a lot of styles would be damaging.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 09:49 pm]
   Further to Steve's comment, I agree that writing poorly about a lot of styles of music would be hard on a writer's credibility, but I wonder how many style a writer can cover equally well and whether those areas in which a writer might be weaker mightn't put a strain the writer's credibility overall.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:52 pm]
   Whether to concentrate exclusively on jazz, or investigate other musical realms...that's a tough call. I write about various forms of Latin American and African music because I enjoy doing so, but also because my love of jazz introduced me to them. There are writers who have always branched into different musical genres and also cover jazz exceedingly well (Ben Ratliff, for instance). It's a funny thing, though: good film critics are expected to write about movies from all over the world, but jazz and pop critics are often expected to stay within our English-speaking musical idiom. I've always wonder why.
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 09:55 pm]
   Steve (hey!), to be more complete, my feeling is that, like it or not, writing about jazz, knowing about it, living it, playing it, breathing it, takes all my time. I don't have the hours necessary to devote myself to another form that same way. So I don't even think about it. But, like I said, that's who I am: a jazz person, and I think jazz is a full-time job. It is for many of the musicians we write about. I think I owe it to them to be as knowledgeable as possible. So even if I wrote well (by this I'm assuming you mean control of language, but you might mean depth as well) on another subject, say modern art, for which I have an affection, I would be writing poorly, or better, shallowly, because of lack of knowledge, awareness, and so on.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 09:56 pm]
   To Mark and Zan first: I cannot disagree more strongly to encourage the up and coming to limit their writing to jazz. I do not think that a writer can fully understand the scope of jazz if that is all one wants to write about any longer. We no longer need to work merely as proselitizers for the idiom. I hear jazz in Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa, Sri Lanka, on and on. If I am unable to engage those cultures ona writing level, then I think that is a diservice to jazz writing. Plus I work at a state arts council and i see how younger people have been exposed to a variety of cultural experiences. Jazz writers need to be able to connect to those experiences in something more than a cursory manner. As for venues I live in NYC so it is hard to say. I know there is jazz in Buffalo, in Toledo. It ain't world calss but it is jazz. Does all jazz need to be the imperial version foisted upon us by the cultural centers or can there still be some local versions?
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 10:03 pm]
   Don, first off, with all due respect, I didn't encourage anyone to write strictly about jazz. Someone asked a question and I simply told it like it is for me. People need to listen to what they need to listen to, not what anyone...you, me, hOward, Steve...tells them to listen to. Is there jazz in Africa? Great. I know there's a lot of jazz in America, in NYC, that gets no coverage at all. Maybe jazz doesn't need proselytes, but it damn sure needs advocates when some gigs still pay $40.
  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 10:18 pm]
   Yes, Don, it's important to know as much about everything as one can, but I don't think it's necessary to write about it all. And I wouldn't encourage anyone just to write about jazz, if only because of the practical (ie, financial ) issues. I'd just caution that it's possible to stretch one's expertise a little too thin.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:43 pm]
   Mark and Zan: Oh good a rise. My concern was or is that we limit our imaginations and powers of investigation/introspection. So I appreciate the al due respect. I probably know ou both better through your writing than you through mine. It's a financial decision. But I spend a lot of time working with "emerging" artists in a variety of disciplines and I just want to encourage jazz writers not to limit themselves prematurely. And no do not stretch oneself thin unless it is an attempt to grow.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:45 pm]
   Obviously, you write about what you can handle writing about ---when possible. But a lot of the fun (at least on the daily level) is leaping into the fray, and embracing something new. There are credible ways to cover topics as you learn about them, and then, gradually, develop more authority. Lord knows, we've all read (maybe written -- gasp! horror!) pieces that were utterly clueless. But I think it's perfectly fine for a writer to be ambitious (and honest) and write satisfyingly about music he's still learning about. Otherwise, no one would ever get started. That said, of course, it's a good idea to do a lot of homework and feel as comfortable with the topic as possible. If your calendar is jammed with jazz assignments, more power to you. My interests aren't so tidy, but then I may not know as much as Zan does, or pinpoint a particular blip on the jazz radar as accurately. But I'll do the best job I can, and try to tell a compelling story.

But, I'm with the film critic analogy. I really think music critics should have the biggest ears possible. At least, when you're on staff somewhere, you have to be prepared to deal with Bjork as smartly as Youssou N'Dour as the White Stripes as Jason Moran. And if you listen to most of the young jazz guys these days (like Jason), you'll know that they've got the same tunes digitizing on their iPods.

  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 11:12 pm]
   Steve, I agree music writers (I abore the term 'critic') should have the biggest ears possible. Does this means listening to everything from 50Cent to Celia Cruz to Bad Plus to Roy Hargrove? Yeah, I guess, though after scant auditions, some of that might prove to be little personal value. We might need to listen but we don;t to like. But I think tackling ear training in an academic sense, working on that relative pitch, might pay greater rewards.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 23 - 12:51 am]
   Listen widely, absolutely, but I can't imagine having the time to follow multiple genres of music closely enough to cover them knowledgeably as a beat.

My hat was off to Robert Palmer for being able to synthesize so much music and make sense of it for his readers. And to do it with passion and so much first-hand experience. There aren't many of us who can cover that much ground and do it so well.

Q. from Chris Kelsey [Dec 22 - 09:12 pm]
I'm curious as to what Shadow meant by saying Gary Giddins left the Voice "dubiously." Is he implying that he was forced out? Surely that's not the case.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:27 pm]
   Gary said after the panel on jazz journalism sponsored by J@Lincoln Center that he was thinking of leaving the paper -- I think after 30 years, he did what he wanted to do in that format, and did it commendably. He will certainly be writing more. He felt the crimp of shorter column inches badly. By the way, Chuck Eddy has told an unnamed source that the Voice will be taking on new writers, auditioning them, and will eventually replace Giddins out of that pool.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:29 pm]
   I don't know about the "dubious" nature of Gary Giddins leaving the Voice, but I'm looking forward to reading the longer pieces and books that he has time to write now that he is free from the burdens of producing a regular column on deadline.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 09:12 pm]
In 13, Prez brought up interviewing. A lot of my work is writing concert previews for a small daily and I always try to get an interview (though I know that these are often No. 38 on an artist's Top Five Things To Do list). Anybody have any tips for a sorry interviewer?
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:34 pm]
   Learn as much about your subject as you can before you get to the interview. That research will not only reduce the risk of asking questions they've answered eight thousand times before, it opens up many potential threads for discussion. Listen to their most recent recording(s) and brainstorm a list of questions about it, then go back and cut out the less interesting ones.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:35 pm]
   Well, rule #1 is that phoners suck. Rule #2 is that phoners are unavoidable, at least for those of us that don't live in NYC.

Know the artist's work. Do your homework. Try not to ask questions the musician has answered 100 times. Read any previous interviews you can find and pose some questions that allow the musician to expand or update.

The best interviews I've done are more like conversations... but a lot of that depends on the subject. We all have horror stories about disastrous interviews.

It doesn't hurt to see things from the artist's perspective as well; D.D. Jackson devoted one of his recent DownBeat columns to the subject. I'd check that out just to see what the artist thinks about the interview.

  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 09:35 pm]
   Somehow let the artist know you care, that even though the time may seem a waste, the published outcome will reflect positively on her/him. I often do this by thanking the artist in front for taking the time out to talk. Know your subject; do the research that helps you eliminate obvious questions that have been asked repeatedly. At the same time, don;t hesitate to ask a question that's been asked before, and answered, if you feel you can get a fresh answer. Have a list of questions at hand to help guide you. In a way, this is like writing the story before you interview. Follow up: if an answer doesn't feel complete, ask the question again. But don't be argumentative in this. I sometime apologize to someone when I ask the question a third or fourth time. Don't let a tough interviewee control the interview; you're the one that is going to write the story. Like that.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 09:45 pm]
   Ask your hippest question first. If an artist feels you've spent time with his or her work, you are more likely to get a good response. Also, for daily previews, keep it short. Remember, you're likely only going to use two quotes from the whole damn interview. And, finally, it's a privilege to have access to artists, even though we all know that interviews are done for publicity and ticket sales. So don't keep it all for yourself. Think of what your readers want to know, as well as what you want to know.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:02 pm]
   Paul is correct about an artist feeling gratified that you've spent some time familiarizing yourself with his work. Even little ephemera can help. I recently interviewed Gary Bias, the saxman for Earth, Wind and Fire. He seemed a bit reluctant to get into the interview until I mentioned that I had an LP he cut in 1977 with Bob Curnow's band at Cal State L.A. That immediately threw open the door and we had a great interview from then on.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:48 pm]
   Musicians are people too. They appreciate a personal contact, whatever that may be. I have had some totally f*** interviews where it was not even about the subject at hand. My fault. But whomever said do not let the interviewee gain total control is right. Oh and stuff a sock in the publicists mouth if he/she is tagging along.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:13 pm]
I think another important issue for freelancers is severance pay and unemployment compensation. There have been times in my career when I've written for a publication for two or three years or so. Then suddenly a new editor arrives and wants to cut back on jazz. Or the economy goes bad and freelance work is cut back. I find myself spending a lot of time searching for new clients simply as a safeguard for unexpected changes in the economy. What experiences have any of you had with these problems?
  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:27 pm]
   I've been in situations with a couple of a dailies where there's been a short- or medium-term freeze on freelance stories, typically on a budget-related order from above and usually at the end of the year. I just recovered from the last one, as it took me a good part of the year to catch up from the missing income. My advice to myself is just to be better prepared for that inevitable next time, and to continue diversify my outlets--particularly the non-jazz and even non-writing ones.
  A. from Dan Ouellette in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:36 pm]
   Well, in the past five or six years, close to 15 publications that I wrote for bit the dust (including Tower Pulse, CD Review, Business 2.0, UBO, Escape magazine, Women Who Rock, three Schwann family pubs, including Inside and Spectrum--all of which I edited--etc.). It's a killer. But I keep pushing to find new places to contribute to. It's the freelance life. When I threw my hat into this ring, I gave up my parttime job at UC Berkeley as a curriculum consultant with a complete health, dental, retirement package. I knew what I was going into. Freelancing is great because you have so much freedom, but it all comes at a cost. That's the way I look at it. I know there are no safeguards. And I'm not so sure I would know how to give a freelancer severance pay or unemployement. That seems antithetical to what freelancing is.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:36 pm]
   Yoshi is right -- the freelancer MUST diversify clients, and is wise to develop at least a couple of streams of content or profitable activity. I used to try to have a local outlet (like the Chicago Reader or the Village Voice), a nat'l outlet (Down Beat, Jazziz), and an international outlet (columns for The Wire, Swing Journal). Plus record liner notes . . . then I got into some teaching. None of these were/are truly secure, nor particularly predictable. But by having several streams, you're not high and dry if one is cut off.
  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:42 pm]
   This isn't so much an answer as an obeservation/age old complaint: When I had a day job in high tech, I noticed that those freelancers (or "consultants," to use a fancier, industry term) typically were paid what a full-time regular employee would get plus 30%, to cover the costs of benefits they'd received and an employeer would pay.

Aside from maybe the very well-known mainstream magazines, I don't know of many publications that match that pay structure with freelance journalists. Then again, the counter to that is the lifestyle flexibilty that Dan brings up.

  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:46 pm]
   Robert is asking questions that get to the heart of what we do as professionals: Is it an art? Is is a craft? Is it a trade? I do believe we think of ourselves as artists, and professionals, and craftspeople, too. And I believe that most of us in the JJA want to be treated fairly, to live a decent lifestyle, to be able to afford if not luxuries, then at least some comforts. This is a long range task for writers, a challenge that faces freelancers across the board. We shouldn't give up on making it happen, but the successful strategies aren't clear, or maybe near.
Q. from Yoshi in Silicon Valley [Dec 22 - 09:15 pm]
Somehow when I finally got signed in, I did so as a guest. So I've just got one question: How y'all doing out there?!? What? I can't hear you! (Sorry, couldn't help myself--too many rock shows this month...)
  A. from Whit in VT [Dec 22 - 09:19 pm]
   Oops, possibly confusing terms. "Guest = Panelist". In other contexts online, "guest" means "general public," but we're following radio talkshow convention in our use of the word. Welcome!
  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:22 pm]
   I think I got it. Thanks for the explanation!
Q. from Duane in San Jose, CA [Dec 22 - 09:21 pm]
Without necessarily naming names, can any of you tell us of memorable encounters you have had with any musicians after you had written a negative review of their work? Do the musicians take offense at such a review or generally shrug it off?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:27 pm]
   The one that sticks in my mind is the time a well-known trumpeter phoned me after a DownBeat review ran and took me to task for giving him a 3-1/2 star review. We actually had a pretty interesting dialogue about the process of reviewing, and how much work actually goes into determining a rating and writing the piece.

  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:30 pm]
   Okay, James. You know I'm now mentally going down a list of well-known trumpters...
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:31 pm]
   Why wouldn't they be pissed?...you're messing with their livelihood. I think it's a good safeguard against thinking we're in some ivory tower passing down judgements in absolute terms. You damn well better be able to explain any negative response in a clear, reasoned, reasonable, and thoughtful manner, or don't do it.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 09:31 pm]
   Once I wrote a negative review of a group and the leader called me up to thank me. Apparently my words were what he was trying to tell the musicians all along.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:32 pm]
   From my DB days, around 1980 the famed keyboardist of a famed fusion group was furious, FURIOUS, to have received a 2 1/2 star record review. But now, he wouldn't care. THis all depends on the centeredness of the musician. If they are doing what they believe in, they'll keep doing it anyway. Some may have their feelings hurt -- I think writers should remember musicians are people, too, not some sort of distant stars. And insults may be points scored with readers, but seldom are inciteful criticism.
  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:36 pm]
   Art, you're point is well-taken. On the flip side, I think there's also the danger of thinking that one's reviews aren't read, particularly if it's appearing in a non-jazz publication--knd of like the people who post on-line in public forums and forget that the first two "w's" in www stand for for "world wide."

So yes, it is an important reminder that we can back our work.

  A. from Mark Miller in Toronto [Dec 22 - 09:37 pm]
   I don't there's a cut-and-dried response to whether musicians take offense. Twenty-some years ago, I had a beer poured over me by one unhappy and now well-known chap (whose instrument, Yoshi, will go unidentified) and I had petition presented to the newspaper asking that I be banned from its pages. I've also had musicians compliment me on "getting it right." And most of the signatories to the petition eventually came around (after it was clear that I wasn't going anywhere, of course).
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:39 pm]
   This reminds me of the published debate in db, when Joe Zawinul countered what I seem to remember was a one-star review (not by me) by saying "Weather Report is incapable of making a one-star record." Howard, you remember this, right?
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 09:39 pm]
   If I think a recording is weak and the artist is a veteran who should have known better, I'll write a negative review without hesitation. But if an unexperienced artist sends me something I don't think is up to snuff, I'll often decline to review it and I will explain why to the artist. I try to be as gracious and specific as I can, and they almost always appreciate the input. I only ever endured one serious rant from an artist, and he was one of those types who thought his poop didn't stink. As far as I know he's never recorded anything else. Real professionals can handle criticism and grow from it; the others aren't even worth worrying about.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:39 pm]
   Musicians (some anyway) often complain to other critics they think understand them ... from those complaints I've gleaned that what hurts the most are what they consider to be gratuitously snide remarks rather than informed criticism. Otherwise it's just a difference of opinion.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:42 pm]
   Art, the directive was "without naming names." Maybe it *was* one-star. The famed keyboardist said, "Bach didn't make one-star records! Neither do we!"
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:46 pm]
   Howard, this was a published controversy, so I didn't think I was gossiping out of school.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 10:26 pm]
   Ok all the talk about monitors and ergonomics made my back hurt so I took a break to get a nice glass of port. But this talk of who got offended blah blah blah is blah blah blah. If you wrote something with a context that is onformative and helpful to the reader, so be it. Look I have written about shit I hate from the perspective of the potential consumer. If the effort fails, it fails. Too bad for the musician, club, pr people, label. What are we just their freelance shills? Of course clarify where you are coming from so folks know what you like and do not like. Hey if you just left divorce court and nothing will sound good or some nasty out of tune blues and a whisky works, then tell the audience/reader. At least they know. But this notion that pissing off a musician and the business around them is a problem, truly diminishes the notion of informed criticism. I have had musicians tell me via a finger across the thorat that I am not welcome backsatge because though what I wrote was accurate, I shoudl not have. Hmm. I have been accuse dof being white cos I must not have gotten black music. I have been savaged as in league with the jews. But I have also been told that whether I was wrong or right, I was always clear and fair. What more can you do? Journalism of this nature is not and can never be objective. It is in the ear of the beholder. Though, criticism does not mean just being critical for the sake of it. Critical meaning mean spirited.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 10:28 pm]
   Well, I have used that ploy to get dialog rolling. In one of my first major interviews, I sat down, turned on the tape deck, and asked a highly-influential keyboardist, "So, how does it feel to have sold out?" I got a lot of very colorful language about the then-current state of the music business.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:22 pm]
A lot of older, established jazz musicians that I have interviewed in recent years have complained about club owners who prefer to book younger jazz musicians because they can pay them a lower fee than established veterans. How do you think club owners can continue to book both expensive well-known acts and young artists in today's shaky economy?
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:29 pm]
   that's not a writing problem, per se. . . but it may apply to writers, too. Can a jazz mag ignore a veteran writer who wants more $, or more editorial freedom, and pay a younger, less confident writer less?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:36 pm]
   Howard, by "can" I assume you mean... is it fair? You know they do it all the time. It's like downsizing in the real world. No one actually gets into music journalism for the money, right? It's for those armloads of discs Paul doesn't have time to listen to.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:40 pm]
   Art, I don't think it's happened much. Certainly Hentoff, the senior writer currently, doesn't get paid a lot at JazzTimes, and isn't in there for the $ (but maybe for the discs, and the exposure). I doubt whoever replaces Giddins at the Voice will get whatever $ Gary was getting after 30 years there. But I doubt, also, that Balliett is no longer in the New Yorker because he wants too much $. If the writer has the reputation, and can deliver the fine articles, he/she will find the outlet that will pay what he/she wants/needs. That's my theory. Do you know of evidence otherwise? Are there heavy-weights who've been fired for asking too much?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 09:44 pm]
   Howard, yes, I know of magazines (especially one with which we are both intimately familiar) that have dropped "veteran" writers in favor of newcomers who are willing to write for less money. It's not about quality, it's about making money.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:53 pm]
   Today the NYT had a piece about what Salon is doing in terms of promo perks to attract subscribers -- the Salon editor joked that to get a subscriber, he'll make housecalls to provide massages -- and the item ended "it seems that where content was king, now it's going dirt cheap." We're in a cut-throat time, commercially. But even at the mags we both know, Art, the pay differential for a feature between a veteran (like me) and a neophyte is generally measured in the tens of bucks. So I think they drop writers they don't like for other reasons. Because the way to make $ is to sell ads, not to scrimp on editorial budgets (they've set it up not to pay us much to begin with. And I mean, no expenses, among other slights). The fact is, these publications don't know how to make $ with what they're offering. A "good" piece won't sell more subs or ads or newspaperstand copies than a mediocre one. But I don't really think the editors are told to cut that guy who's getting the A rate.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 09:30 pm]
To Paul, can you email sarahgg3@yahoo.com please? I want to glance at those column-inch stats, and to follow up with you. i know the columbia school of journalism did a nationwide arts coverage survey, but they didn't collect jazz inches. thx!!
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 09:58 pm]
   Shadow -- I'll follow up with you when I'm back in NY.

  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 10:03 pm]
   Paul or Shadow: which stats are you referring to specifically (I can't find the precedent to the question)?
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 10:44 pm]
   Statistics we'll have when we're finished with RTII at NAJP, Larry.
Q. from Duane in San Jose, CA [Dec 22 - 09:47 pm]
Care to tell us of a recording which you negatively reviewed and then maybe a few years later upgraded your opinion of it? Or perhaps the opposite -- something you raved about and then later on thought "What was I thinking?"
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:06 pm]
   I refuse to answer that question on the grounds... ;-)
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:14 pm]
   I really can't think of a disc that has grown on me so much that I would change a negative review (perhaps that's more a case of never listening to something you've dismissed) but I can't think of at least a couple of recordings that I gave high marks to that I would now score even higher. One that definitely comes to mind is Cecil Taylor's The Willisau Concert. It has definitely grown to five-star status with continued listening... I gave it 4-1/2 a year or so ago.

I think any of us who lived through fusion's heyday could think of one of two recordings that we loved then but wouldn't give any time to now.

  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 10:34 pm]
   James's point about fusion is all but inevitable with genres that get "stuck:" for example, what Grover Washington started that has now morphed into "smooth jazz" now taints a lot of what sounded pre3tty good back in the day (and may still be good background/make-out music -- haven't worked that field lately!!!?!)
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:01 pm]
   Maybe Branford Marsalis' first Buckshot LeFonque album. I was evenly torn between hating half the tracks and loving the other half. Since then I've grown to appreciate it a bit more. (Still can't stand the female vocal, though.)
Q. from JGad in Los Angeles [Dec 22 - 09:49 pm]
Is there a timeframe/guideline for writing about jazz for the indies as a 'labor of love', i.e., for no pay? How does one make the crossover to get paid for writing about jazz?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 09:54 pm]
   The tried-and-true method for 'crossing over' is to start with the weekly entertainment papers that most cities have, build your chops and your portfolio of clips.

That said, if you want to call yourself a professional you should be getting paid -- something. Sometimes on those weekly papers the 'pay' might free promo discs or books or preview tickets to films. Barter is cool, but you don't do yourself or any future freelancer any favors by doing something for nothing.

  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:57 pm]
   The longer one writes, the more clips one amasses. And hopefully the quality of work improves over time. More writing will also help in establishing relationships with artists, labels, venues, etc..

As for when to make the jump, that's a tough one. When the opportunity presents itself, perhaps?

  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 09:57 pm]
   Don't write for free unless you really want to. Ask for the funds you need and deserve, without being obnoxious about it. Carpenters don't build furniture for free, except for family. Same with plumbers. If you write for fanzines, you're a fan. If you write for professional publications, indi or not (what's not an indi?) you deserve some compensation. It helps you to maintain the professionalism of your opinions and your writing.
  A. from Yoshi in The Hey Area [Dec 22 - 09:57 pm]
   Just read Jame's response, and it's much more on target than mine...
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:10 pm]
   Ten years ago I started writing for the now-defunct Marge Hofacre's Jazz News, a tabloid-style monthly from the jazz mecca of Idyllwild, California. Marge gave me zero dollars and an invaluable outlet to write about the music I loved. I built up experience as a writer for several years and finally sent a portfolio to All About Jazz, another unpaid but higher-profile gig. The following year I got my foot in the door at DownBeat and got my first paycheck for this labor of love. I don't regret a moment of that unpaid work because the experience was worth a bundle.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 09:49 pm]
topic: black jazz critics... ready, set, go. (oops)
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:01 pm]
   The lineage of black jazz critics is long and distinguished. It includes some of the people contributing to this forum, and others whose names have been raised in passing. The JJA is holding a panel discussion at IAJE on "Racial Considerations in Jazz Criticism," with panelists including Gary Bartz, Francis Davis, Vijay Iyer, Willard Jenkins, and Tom Terrell (I'm moderating) -- not all of whom are black. Is there a question in this question?
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 10:10 pm]
   Also, there's a book coming out next year by a brilliant music professor named Travis Jackson (he recently became the first full-time jazz professor the University of Chicago has hired in its 110-year existence). I think he'll be touching on any such controversial issues in this book.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 10:42 pm]
   Howard's answer is appropriate -- but let's also distinguish black jazz critics from black writers writing on jazz as a dimension of larger cultural issues. Ellison, anyone? Albert Murray? Both are amazing in the depth of their perspective, and the sensitivity of their jazz receptors. I would probably include Baraka in this group, if only because his best stuff isn't jazz criticism. And lest the elephant in the room go unnamed, I think that may be true of Stanley Crouch, as well.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:59 pm]
   Not being in the circles that make the live jazz scene in the cities, I find it difficult to even know which critics are black or white unless they make it clear in their writing. I didn't know Willard Jenkins (no relation) was black until about a year ago, and I certainly couldn't tell you which JJA members are which color based upon most of their writing styles.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:05 pm]
   I know we have to start using ebonics. But then will not get any work.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:08 pm]
   Sorry that may have been a bit flip, but the distinction made between say an Ellison and Murray and the broader cultural realm to me represents the interests of the "black jazz critc". It may not just be records, tours, concerts but a a cultural activity reflective of a world view. Call it anthropological perhaps.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 09:56 pm]
I don't think writing about a variety of arts topics necessarily lessens one's credibility. I've always addressed my work one article at a time, one week or month of assignments at a time. As a freelancer, I find I have to cater to the needs of a particular market or publication. I may establish credibility in the comedy field by writing for various small publications, then I can step up to bigger markets and write weekly about comedy for dailies in Nashville, St. Petersburg and New York. The same holds true for the work I've done on various genres of music, photography and the other arts. Some cities have a staff jazz writer. Others need freelancers for that work. Some dailies need freelancers for dance and/or theater. Others have staff to cover those things. It's simply a question of doing one's homework and gradually building up expertise in more than one area of the arts. I think there has been a general trend in our society toward specialization over the past few decades. I'd like to see more writers with a broader knowledge of the arts. I think general knowledge really is essential in a world that has so much interplay among artists in various fields. I think specialized expertise in one field is very important for a reviewer moreso than for a features writer.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:01 pm]
   Sure, and it's very much an individual thing. Some people have interests and specialities in several areas, and the critics who influenced me most when I was learning the craft were those who could bring two or three worlds together in their criticism... Greil Marcus, for one. I always loved his music criticism because he could draw parallels to literature and vice versa. Certainly Ralph Ellison would be another fine example of this approach.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:06 pm]
   I'm totally with you. I've developed as many chops as a film critic as I have as a music critic as I have as a feature writer, partly because that's what happens to you when you work at dailies for 20 years. But also because I happen to enjoy writing about a lot of different things. And they are all related.

It serves me well as a freelancer now. Though, often, the only way to consolidate your power at a daily paper is to nail down a beat and stick with it. Often, the general assignment arts writer becomes every beat critic/staffer's utility infielder. But because papers are notoriously bad about filling vacant slots or cutting the freelance budget, even as a chief music critic I was doubling as the photo critic, and occasional desk editor.

Q. from Chris Kelsey [Dec 22 - 09:58 pm]
You all probably realize that the "established-presumably-pricier-writer versus the young-cat-who'll-write-for-free" conundrum parallels a similar situation among musicians. Mature musicians trying to make a bit of money playing second-tier NYC clubs and restaurants are up against callow New School undergrads who'll gladly play a brunch gig for tips. Just goes to show ya, gents. In the world at large, jazz writers are in the same pickle as the musicians, fighting for art world leftovers. Jazz: Love it or Leave It. :-)
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:04 pm]
   Chris is right, but again, that means the pro has to deliver something the student can't. Keeping the editors' interest, writing better, saying more, getting to the heart of the matter, provoking readers' responses -- just as the musician has to please the staff and attract a crowd.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:10 pm]
   I have to believe that any serious editor is going to give work to writers that deliver quality goods.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:43 pm]
   Sometimes clubowners shoot themselves in the foot that way. One of the very few local jazz clubs here used to book a weekly stream of unknowns, even from other states and countries, instead of saving up to book a well-known artist every month or two. People stopped coming because they got tired of hearing these low-cost emanons, and now the joint doesn't book any live music at all. If the owners had been more judicious in their bookings to begin with, they might be better off financially and better respected.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 10:03 pm]
One of the previous posts talked about established artists who "knew better" than to make a bad recording (quotes mine). I have heard some recordings where I felt clearly that an artist was, for want of a better term, faking it. But who the hell am I to call out an established artist, or to infer intent. How do the pros deal with this?
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:07 pm]
   Giddins told a story about Sarah Vaughan thanking him for taking her to task for an unworthy album (maybe "Sings the Beatles," which my precocious daughter rightly snubbed first time she heard it, too). Who are you to call out an established artist, or infer intent? Who AREN'T you? You're an honest listener, a sympathetic and eager ear! You tried to find worth in the piece, and were very disappointed. YOu've got to let the artist know. That's your professional responsibility. The task, again dear writers, is to make your objections clear, vivid, concrete, detailed. And take the lumps if you happen to hear it all wrong, which can happen, too.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 10:15 pm]
   Saying an artist is "faking it" is not the same as inferring intent, but neither is advisable, or even useful to readers. I do tire of writers presuming to know why artists did this or that on an album, particularly when it comes to the accusation of "commercialism." We cannot know why an artist made a decision, unless we ask, and even then the answer isn't always certain. And what does it mean to say an artists are "faking"? That they don't know their craft? That they're not working up to par? If you can pin down specifics, best to limit your commentary to that. The whole notion that we critics are here to "debunk" fakes is just too Menckenesque for me, and ultimately works against us in the limited marketplace where we work. News reporters are hired to debunk politicians and business people. We are not hired dto debunk artists.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:17 pm]
   Correct. The jazz critic is the one charged with weighing the merits of a disc. If you have solid reasons for disliking a record and can articulate them to the reader AND the performer, you've done your job. Boom.

That said, intent is a funny thing. How wrong was Metheny for recording "Zero Tolerance for Silence"? He did that disc because he wanted to try something new. He wasn't getting lazy; he didn't hire lesser sidemen for the sake of saving cash. He made a serious avant-garde move because he felt like playing with sound, and that was evident to me when I heard it. I didn't like the album overall, but his intentions were clear and I respected that. Sometimes the musician's intentions aren't so clear so we have to make a judgment call, and we shouldn't be afraid to do so.

  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:22 pm]
   Part of reviewing is gauging one's own response, and then justifying it; the other part is describing the experience in a way that allows readers to determine for themselves whether they'd like to experience it or not.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 10:35 pm]
   Paul: And of course, for all that Mencken accomplished, his writing on jazz was incredibly stupid.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 10:49 pm]
   Beautifully put, Art. As a writer on this music, one's effectiveness (if not necessariuly credibility) comes in some measure from the passion that I'm sure all of us engaged in this panel share. So, as long as you have a clear rationale for what you're writing, go with your gut! In some respects, there's nothing quite so satisfying as creating a touch of contgroversy with a strong, well-expressed opinion.
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 10:59 pm]
   Bill: I never asked Pat Metheny why he recorded "Zero Tolerance For Silence," but I think it's unfair to guess that it was because he "wanted to do something different," which, in the end, sounds a little trivial, as if he weren't really serious about what he was doing. Artists' intentions are murky and manifest themselves in murky, even untimely ways. When Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath," he thought he was writing a book about about human migrations. Though he was inspired by sympathy for the migrant workers he'd met in California camps, writing a book of social protest was not foremost in his mind. So much for "intentions." I think it's best to stay away from the subject and stick to the work at hand -- and its effect on you as a listener.
Q. from Tony Reif in Vancouver [Dec 22 - 10:09 pm]
Hi all, as a label owner with an academic background in English lit and film studies rather than music, I particularly enjoy critical writing that uses metaphor to evoke something about the effect of the music. But I also want to know how the music is put together (where it departs from standard procedures), what makes it distinctive, and I expect critics to use some technical language even if that means some of their readers might have to fill in a few blanks in their knowledge. So as I see it there's this pull between the subjective/creative side of critical writing and the more objective/descriptive/broadly contextual or historical, and out of that dialogue I would also expect to infer the critic's evaluation of their subject. But man, how do you get all that in a 200 word review? Or am I expecting too much? A related point: working with a French musician I get to read French reviews. It's really interesting how differently French writers approach their task. Sometimes it's ALL metaphor, but somehow verging on philosopy. In English, it sometimes seems writers are afraid of being relegated to pseud's corner (if not by their editors or readers then in their own minds) if they get too abstract or interpretive. But it seems to me that writing about avant-jazz for example would inspire if not require a different aesthetic stance (since the vocabulary to talk about the music is less developed and any historical view more open to debate). Any thoughts?
  A. from Paul de Barros in Seattle [Dec 22 - 10:20 pm]
   Wonderful contribution. I wrote for a short-lived Portuguese mag that favored the sort of "literary" jazz writing you're referring to, and it was great fun. I think this is simply a matter of tradition. In Latin America, too, there is a more porous boundary between arts writing and art-writing; our heritage is English -- hard-headed, get-the-facts-ma'am. But wouldn't it be wonderful if someone started a jazz mag in English that encouraged writers to really sail, not just sell records and concert tickets...."
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:34 pm]
   Hey, Tony. Great post. Paul's right; it would be wonderful if an English-language publication ran truly literate jazz writing. The forums are there. Coda is certainly open to that kind of thing, but writer's have to step up and use the forum. I'm as guilty as anyone. It takes time and discipline. It's certainly a common complaint I've heard from otherwise-intelligent people who shun jazz publications. When you pin down what they truly don't like about them, it often comes down to the fact that they don't find the kind of writing they find about literature or film in other specialty pubs.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:39 pm]
   Creative writing is great as long as one can still get the point across about the music that's being discussed. I hate it when I read a review and find the writer is so wrapped up in his own thought-streams he loses the entire point of the piece. Be creative all you want, as long as you still tell me about the dang music in the process!

Using art as a political platform is just as annoying as creative wordplay. I recall one ostensible review of Norah Jones' album. The writer went off on some rant about how the music industry was still marketing eye-candy instead of women of substance. Ms. Jones' name was mentioned exactly once, toward the end of what should have been a review of her CD... and not one word was said about the music. Sorry, but that writer didn't do her job. Her soapbox got in the way.

  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 10:41 pm]
   I agree with Paul, James, and Todd. But I just wish I knew enough Spanish, or Portuguese, or French, to write for one of those publications. Or just to be able to read one.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:55 pm]
   This might sound stupid, but don't foreign publications have someone on staff who can translate submissions? Especially since so many veteran jazz writers write in English, I'd think it would behoove them to be able to translate an English article to suit their audiences. That would be much easier than expecting the writer to cover his own translation before submitting an article, yes? Or are we back to the question of budget?
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 10:56 pm]
   I think that the key is making the metaphors serve more than general impressions. For example, in reviewing outside music, use metaphor to pull out structural elements that may give listeners a way into the music ("voices chattering over one another") rather than vague and high-flown ("Waves of sound crashing and receding on the beach of our media-saturated frontal lobes"). Or words to that effect . . .
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 23 - 12:16 am]
   I've written for Japanese, Brazilian and Finnish publications, enjoying what I understand to have been quite good translators. But when I write for a foreign audience, especially, I concentrate on clarity, on universality of imagery and description, and a slightly simpler sentence structure (my first drafts tend to be a little, uh, ornate). I come down on this with Todd (and Hemingway!) -- give me the facts. The high-flown, "literary" way of critiquing I find fairly useless. No, it doesn't talk about the music, it talks about the writer's abstract conceits. Certainly when I'm commissioned to write a column such as my "Real Village Voice" in Swing Journal, they want an American style and point of view. That's all I could give 'em, anyway.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 23 - 01:02 am]
   There *is* a good market in foreign pubs... Howard has certainly mined that, as has Marc Chenard in Montreal. The trick is to make those contacts. As with English-speaking editors, putting a face to a byline can go a long way, and obviously that's a lot harder when you don't have a language in common.
Q. from Duane in San Jose, CA [Dec 22 - 10:11 pm]
Which writers, fiction or nonfiction, not necessarily even music related, do you most admire and/or attempt to emulate?
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 10:33 pm]
   The writers who I most admire, I could never emulate. But it would be cool to visit all the places that novelist Graham Greene did. Anyway, when I started getting more interested in Latin America, I began reading Alma Guillermoprieto, who has become one of my favorite non-fiction writers on the scene today. If you're interested in the Americas, check out her two books: "Looking For History" and "The Heart That Bleads." There are so many music writers who I admire, I can't even begin to say how much their work has influenced mine in the space of this post.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:34 pm]
   Besides Giddins and Balliett in this field, I've always had a strong attraction to Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. I know both of them are pretty archaic in this day and age, but I've loved their use of language since I read them in high school in the 80s. Perelman forced me to sit with his books in one hand and a dictionary in the other, so I could learn the meaning of oddball words like "spalpeen" and "churchwarden". I've never used those two words in a conversation, mind you, but Perelman expanded my vocabulary and taught me more about the magic of language than any professor. I'll also confess to appreciating Stephen King (no flames, please) for his fearless toying with language and structure.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:36 pm]
   Elmore Leonard for concision and suspense. Benchley for casual humor. Octavia Butler for originality of premise, and follow-through. Lately, the greatly under-rated Gerald Kersh for devastating sentences. Hammett for tough, trim characterization. Hemmingway for direct impact, too (sorry Todd, we've got to talk about this -- I mean the short stories and Death in the Afternoon). Lawrence Block's Scudder series for humility and moral authority of the first person narrator. Balliett for grace of language, Hentoff for empathy with topic. Dickens for cinematic movement, Twain for dialog and slyness. Alan Furst for panoramic vision and weaving of threads. The aforementioned Kevin Whitehead for incisiveness. Vonnegut. Bukowski. Henry Miller. Nathanial Hawthorne (short stories). Frank Loesser. Ira Gershwin. Those are a few of my favorites.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:42 pm]
   Literary critics such as Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport; art critics Dore Ashton and Arthur C. Danto among others; among music critics there's Paul Rosenfeld, Virgil Thomson, Paul Griffiths...these are just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, we all know who the best jazz writers are, so no need mentioning them (except a special plug for the very underrated Max Harrison). I think the point is you can learn something from any critic..good things from the good ones, things to avoid from the bad ones. And there are authors I enjoy reading though I wouldn't or couldn't emulate them... like Balliett and Alfred Appel, whose books I find exhilarating to read, though you've got to be careful about his opinions. Poetry is good for the ear, too.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:53 pm]
   No dice, Howard. "The Old Man and the Sea" killed Hemingway for me forever. All that old fart did was sleep, and all his little bratty friend did was cry. This is Art? ;-)
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:53 pm]
   Oh, I forgot the best fiction writer I know who writes from and about a jazz perspective, Nathaniel Mackey...his three novels really get inside post-Coltrane jazz from spiritual and emotional viewpoints (conflict of interest disclaimer: I co-edited an anthology of jazz poetry and prose with Nate).
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:13 pm]
   Yes Howard Butler is good. Faulkner, and in an above message I mentioned a few. Hey Zadie Smith White Teeth is quite good. Walter Mosley and Ishmael Reed have their positives. Shakespeare works. Coetzee. Leonard is good for certain things. But the list is long. Book stores are full of potential good writers for at last one book.
Q. from JGad in Los Angeles [Dec 22 - 10:15 pm]
Hey Zan, we miss you in L.A.! All we get is Heck, and an occasional scrap from the Trib. Where's Bill Kolhasse?Hope NJ treats you well. Janna
  A. from zan stewart in nj [Dec 22 - 11:20 pm]
   Janna, thanks, NJ is cool. I know that the coverage of LA scene leaves a little to be desired. BK's in Montana, studying something on the environment.
Q. from Chris Kelsey [Dec 22 - 10:15 pm]
I've experienced the "young cat/old cat" thing as both a musician and writer, and I honestly think that in publishing it's much less of a problem.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:19 pm]
   Excuse me, Chris, but in publishing, are you still a young cat? Ageism gets to the point where a publisher would rather hire a young editor than an older one, perhaps because the older really needs better payment, or because the younger one is considered more on the cutting edge of what highly desirable younger readers want. That's my challenge to stay au courant -- to listen to what's new and not retreat into my age-old (old age) biases.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 10:19 pm]
I do enjoy the flexibility and freedom of freelancing, but increasingly I'm thinking that I need the security of a staff job. Unfortunately, there are few staff openings at dailies in today's economy. As a freelancer though, there are days when I think we freelancers are exploited much like black musicians were by music publishers in the early part of the 20th century. Freelancers are generally paid half as much as staff writers. Staff writers enjoy expense accounts, benefits, vacation pay, severance pay and pensions. Publications obviously have a need for freelancers and they value our work. Otherwise, they would not employ us regularly. Yet, freelancers are often treated like second-class citizens. Sometimes, it just takes one testy conversation with an editor to sever a relationship that has lasted for years. Publications also make extra money from our work by selling it to other p[ublications and by using it on the Internet. Yet, freelancers are not paid any additional fee for that usage. In today's economy, there's very little freelancers can do about it. I think freelance journalists need to form a strong union to address these issues. Let's face it many of us will be 65 in about 15 years or less. One has to think about money for retirement. I feel comfortable about my future, but I'm sure there are a lot of freelancers who do not enjoy the regualr work that I get each month and who do not have investment for their future.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:25 pm]
   Unfortunately, the same thing is true for part-time college instructors. Columbia College, where I teach, was the first in the U.S. to create a part-time faculty union. It raised my salary a bit, though it has not solved all the problems.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:27 pm]
   Having been both a staff writer and freelancer, employer and employee, I'd have to say that both sides have pros and cons. Overall, the freedom of freelancing wins out for me (and I speak as someone with all the trappings of mortgage, college-age kids, etc.) because it gives you more control over your destiny. In the high-tech business I've seen long-employed people lose their retirement plans when the stocks they sacrificed other pension-plan investments for plummet. There is no security anymore except for that which you make for yourself.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:28 pm]
   Freelancers are basically screwed. As I discover constantly. I mean, I never want to work in an office again, but am eager to find a middle path that would ensure a little more stability. There are always options, you just have to dig for 'em.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:47 pm]
   The Nat'l Writers Union did have a victory about << Publications also make extra money from our work by selling it to other p[ublications and by using it on the Internet. Yet, freelancers are not paid any additional fee for that usage.>> This was deemed by the Supreme Court to be illegal by Tasini vs. NYT, and though the Times and Boston Globe and other papers have tried to fight back by floating all-rights contracts, freelancers can adopt the stance of NOT TAKING THOSE CONTRACTS. NOT DOING THOSE PIECES FOR THOSE EMPLOYERS. It's a tough stance, but if you've got the story, you can sell it elsewhere. Just don't give it up to unfair publishers' practices. Negotiate with your editors, and if they won't negotiate, figure out how much those stories are *really* worth to you. I've had the idea of publishing them elsewhere before the contractee can use them for other purposes, anyway: Let them take us to court for contract infringement, and explain why the pittance we got for secondary usage was not worth their paying us to begin with. Know what I mean? Intellectual property, my eye!
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 10:21 pm]
To Larry: I'm referring to how many column-inches editors devote to jazz in mainstream publications. writing an article on the stuff and need the ammunition.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:26 pm]
   In my recent experience, 25-40 inches for a daily's Sunday feature section with prominent play. About 17-20 for a piece that sits at the "back of the book." About 10-15 inches for a concert review. Same ballpark for a concert advance in a Friday entertainment tab.
  A. from Larry Blumenfeld in NY [Dec 22 - 10:28 pm]
   oh, the NAJP-sponsored Columbia study prob does not break things down that specifically but it will prb give good background to compare to other disciplines and styles.
Q. from Chris Kelsey [Dec 22 - 10:35 pm]
Howard, I'm gettin' to be an old cat in every sense, I'm afraid! :-)

I've only had one steady editing gig--at a rock magazine, interestingly--and you make a valid (and scary) point. But in terms of being a working writer, that episode taught me an important fact: editors are usually overworked, and they will embrace anyoine who can make their job a little easier. That means they will gladly pay a little more for a good writer, because a good writer makes lives at least slighly less complicated. (Of course I don't need to tell you that!) The "keeping up with the jones's" thing hasn't been much of an issue for me; why, I'm not exactly sure.

  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:40 pm]
   In teaching, I face students who know a different musical cosmos than I do, and I've got to relate. No one's probably gonna hire me to review R. Kelly or D'Angelo or Missy Elliott, but I do dig them, and it's enhanced my current thinking about jazz to realize I miss that soulful element. Gee, maybe if I listen carefully I *could* do a review or interview with some of those artists. Wouldn't hurt me at all. Say Chris, don't we old cats know how to learn new tricks?
Q. from Svirchev in Vancouver Canada [Dec 22 - 10:39 pm]
An earlier correspondent said he was bothered by eye fatigue from the computer monitor. Here's why, and here's some suggestions.

This may beg the question but “to ameliorate eye fatigue, don’t stare at the screen 1000% of the time.”

Lesson 1. Your eyes are controlled by muscles. When your constant focal point is the screen, your eye-muscles become locked into a static position. Try curling your arm holding a major-league baseball. You can do it almost indefinitely until boredom kicks in. Now hold that ball at arm’s length in a static position. It won’t be long before your arm shakes from the fatigue of the static position. The tension is released when you come out of the static position and go into kinetic motion. Chronic staring at the screen leads to accelerated eye muscle fatigue and chronic eye-muscle fatigue leads to deterioration of vision. Remedy: teach yourself to periodically look away from the screen and stare into the distance. Or get up and stretch your entire body. Don’t read or look at anything that is the same or less distancethan the computer screen.

Lesson 2. Screen placement. There are two common mistakes for screen placement. If your screen is close to the wall, your eye's focal length does not change appreciably when you look up or away; and your eye-muscles do not relax much from the static position. That is why reading immediately after working on the computer does not contribute significantly to reducing eye fatigue (but it does provide psychological relief from working at the computer). The second mistake is to put the computer screen in between yourself and a window. Now you have the opposite affect of static position: you have involuntary wandering of the eyes. The contrast between screen and open light is too much.

You have to put thought into computer screen placement to reduce eye fatigue.

  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:42 pm]
   Thanks, Laurence. Interesting stuff.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 10:43 pm]
Ever get so entrenched in reviewing albums (i.e. examining your response to music in a critical language, then penning it) that you become desensitized to your response? Worried that could happen? I am. Clearly, going into clubs w/ assignments is different from going in off-duty. The journalist's ear works differently than the enthusiast's ear, though one can be BOTH journalist and enthusiast, and that's the goal, huh. My worry is, the joy might become thinned, frail, jeopardized, and I'd like to know how you all keep your identities as fans intact.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:47 pm]
   Listen for enjoyment. If I ever find myself getting jaded or my ears feel 'tired' it's time for A LOVE SUPREME or JACK JOHNSON or ELECTRIC LADYLAND or....

The worst thing you can do in this business is lose touch with the joy of hearing great music in whatever genre.

  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:47 pm]
   I quit my day job.
  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:49 pm]
   Also, I try to keep my assignments varied from week to week (easier as a freelancer, obviously).
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 10:50 pm]
   I haven't found this to be a problem because there's always such a vast variety of music coming across the desk. Being able to listen to Fred Fried now, switch over to Madeline Eastman, and then slap on the Yellowjackets Christmas album keeps me from being too desensitized because they're like apples, oranges and bananas. I throw in some zydeco, blues and CCM now and then for variety, but my enthusiasm never dwindles for any of them.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 10:45 pm]
Somewhere on the Web, I ran across a very troubling little essay the thesis of which was something like this: Jazz criticism as it's found in the major pubs is deadly dull. Why has jazz never developed the kind of lively, fearless criticism that one routinely finds in writing about film? Well, guilty as charged. Is it because Dustin Hoffman made millions on a bomb like "Ishtar" and no one is getting rich making jazz? Is the community too small? Who is our Pauline Kael, anyway?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:55 pm]
   I think we have several Kael's on tonight's panel. The problem lies not so much with the writers as with the vehicles. Would that newspapers give half the column inches to jazz that they give on any given Thursday or Friday to film critics. I'd love to see any number of those on our panel tonight have as much leeway in print as a film critic.

Have a go at the jazz writing anthologies edited by Bill Kirchner or Robert Gottlieb and you'll find plenty of examples of lively, fearless jazz criticism.

  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 10:55 pm]
   It's about 70 per cent easier to write about films than music -- as the responses to that particular piece of writing claimed (sorry, I can't state the author either). In film, write about the story, the evident visuals, the actors, the dialog. It's all there. In music, evoke the intent, the mood, the structure, the interaction, the mystery -- it's all invisible. I don't think jazz journalism is dull: read Milkowski, Whitehead, Tesser, Ratliff, Tate, Corbett, Zwerin, reuben jackson, just for instances, and there are sparks, charges. Not to mention, obviously, our present company.
  A. from Aaron in Chicago [Dec 22 - 10:57 pm]
   I was wondering about this, too. Ultimately, I think it's unfair to compare film criticism to jazz criticism. It boils down to sheer numbers: films have always been released all over the world and watched all over the world by billions of people. Therefore, a whole lot of people around the world are going to want to write about films. On the other hand, a far smaller number of people in far less countries produce, and listen to, jazz. Therefore, the number of people who wind up writing about jazz would be much smaller. As far as the "Who is our Pauline Kael?" question, isn't Francis Davis trying for that title?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 11:01 pm]
   If lively and fearless are being equated with writing negative reviews and slaughtering sacred cows or pointing out the transparency of the Emperor's New Clothes, well there certainly is a place for that, but one difficulty is that since there are so few outlets, some of us prefer to write about things we're enthusiastic about.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:04 pm]
   I think there's a self-limiting thing that goes on with young critics, too. Film criticism students grow up knowing about the great models in the craft so they emulate them. Even when they're not writing about hugely popular films seen 'round the world they pour out the words and insights. Budding jazz critics coming up today are hit right away with the limits that they face, so they lower their sights. We need some young iconoclasts -- who know their stuff -- to blow onto the scene.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:12 pm]
   Howard's response reminded me of a quote from Frank Zappa: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." It's an intensely difficult task to do well, and many people simply don't see the point of it. Those who do are the ones we write for.

I see that opinion of jazz criticism voiced now and then by people who haven't actually bothered to read a major jazz magazine for some time. Jason Koransky has his critics, but I know a number of people who have embraced DownBeat again since they finally picked up an issue and saw what's going on with the magazine now. I haven't read Jazziz in about five years (it's not available anywhere in this area and I can't afford another sub) so I'm not qualified to judge its present content, but there seem to be plenty of people who wouldn't let that bit of ignorance stop them.

  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:25 pm]
   As one dissillusioned with the quality of writing about music, not just jazz, (and I am guilty too) I think that the marketplace and the product does not promote daring. Slaughtering cows is not the answer but we live in a time when I would say most want to protect the small gains that have occured. And the Pauline Kael of jazz. Hmm those who could claim that post are good but hardly inspiring.
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 10:48 pm]
I've been watching a lot of shows on forensics on Cout TV in recent weeks. One show indicated that specialists can actually now identify criminals from their writing style. I guess I'm getting back to that issue of how journalists establish their own voice here. I wonder how much of one's writing style is innate, a product of one's genes and personality and how much of one's writing style is a product of studying other writers, reading literature and other cultural experiences. I think a lot of journalists' writing styles are informed by the critical apparatus they learned in college, too. As an undergraduate, I was instructed by professors of English who came out of the Formalism school at Vanderbilt and L.S.U. In my graduate studies, I was exposed to Marxism and Structuralism. All three, I think, have influenced by writing at different stages in my life. I was also influenced a lot by the Chicago critics who spoke a lot about reliable and unreliable narrators in fiction. Some of my jazz journalism colleagues have told me they'be been influenced a lot by film critics or theater critics. Any thoughts?
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 10:56 pm]
   Who knows what is innate? I think the best critics are the most continuously curious ones. I've certainly been influenced --in terms of style and approach-- by art and literary critics. (See previous responses to admired writers question.)
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:42 pm]
   This is corny -- but everything that's come my way, that I appreciated, has influenced me. Dryden's theory of criticism. Edmund Wilson's, too. Phenomenology. The precepts of journalism, as I was introduced to them, and the impulse of anarchy (or at least, anti-authoritarianism) of the Marx Brothers. Also the Civil Rights movement, and the honesty of the Chicago blues. My parents, my child. What I studied of psychology, sociology and anthropology, sure -- but then, I've rejected a fair amount of things I studied, too (political science seemed fraudulent, economics was not very clear to me or persuasive, physics and calculus left me cold -- my faults, not the subjects'). All the literature I've enjoyed has influenced what I'd like to do in writing, as have movies and radio and tv shows, and certainly my favorite musicians -- Miles, Ornette, Cecil Taylor, Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Jelly Roll, James P Johnson, Fats Waller, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Dolphy, Betty Carter, Elvin Jones, the Blue Note leaders, including Andrew Hill. The impulse I have is to try to understand the world and my place in it, and the context people of our time and place are experiencing, our reactions and our best impulses. Theater and performance artists, visual artists, their critics, film directors, movie critics? Sure. Script writers, cab drivers, sandwich makers, editors, smart pals, photographers, dancers, sculptors -- them too. No, I don't write like Kevin, who I count as a friend, but he's influenced me directly, as have many jazz journalists. They're more immediate and probably more important to me than John Locke, Jefferson, Veblen, Mozart, but those humans have had pretty major influence on the human race and I probably have picked up traces of them. How can we NOT be influenced?
Q. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 10:49 pm]
Before we run out of time tonight, I'd like to ask a question on behalf of those young/new writers who want to get help or advice and can't make it to IAJE this year.

What can they do to seek mentors in our business? How do they improve beyond simply doing more writing? Who can they talk to about industry issues?

  A. from steve dollar in nyc (but tallahassee right this sec) [Dec 22 - 10:56 pm]
   Sources, whether solid publicists (like Don Lucoff, who has always been great), promoters, label folks, musicians, and so on -- well, whoever you interview you can learn from, particularly on the local level. I used to call people up all the time to talk (on the newspaper's dime) when I started covering jazz, and often took time to keep talking well AFTER the interview was done, just to fill in the gaps (vast and yawning chasms, really). I'd come up for the Knitting Factory fests in the mid-'90s and just dog people sometimes. Hell, I still do. And try to find good, smart editors to work with, or at least spirited and open-minded colleagues. Wild-eyed enthusiasts who just wanna spin discs for you and gab for hours in trivial detail? They're GREAT -- especially if you're just getting started. Any great DJs around town? A college music prof who knows stuff? You have a lot of options.
  A. from Svirchev in Vancouver Canada [Dec 22 - 11:02 pm]
   I recall the first time I timidly approached a stage to take a photo. In 1988. Dummy me was so ignorant that I was shooting 100 ISO film. I nailed the "musical moment" but the photo was a blur because my technique was so poor. There was a pro next to me at that same stage and after the gig I asked if I could ask a few questions. His name is Chris Cameron and he said something I'll never forget: "Photography is a lonely craft, but I love photography and I love to talk about it. So wadda ya wanna know?" I don't think jazz writing is any different than jazz photography from that point of view. Find a professional whose work you admire and ask them your questions. Some pros will even critque your work. My credo is I'll help any honest soul. But if they are acting with dishonest motive or with hijacking my work in mind, watch out!
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:07 pm]
   Just go ahead and ask. If someone is reluctant or rude, move on to another potential mentor. I wasn't shy about bombarding Howard with questions right after I joined the JJA, and he was very gracious with his answers and suggestions. There are all manner of folks in this grand profession who would be happy to extend a helping hand or ear, thankfully. We're a brother- (and sister)hood.
Q. from Duane in San Jose, CA [Dec 22 - 10:57 pm]
There have been some musicians who have dabbled in writing as well -- D. D. Jackson was mentioned earlier, but there was also Art Hodes, Marian McPartland, Art Taylor among others. Just out of curiosity, do any of you play a msuical instrument?
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:04 pm]
   I'm a saxophonist and electric bassist, mostly working in rock and contemporary worship settings instead of jazz. I probably tend to favor good bassists, but I try to not let that skew my objectivity. ;-)
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:06 pm]
   JJA members played Zorn's Cobra at the Knitting Factory 11 years ago -- Milkowski and Tate on guitars, me and Gitler on reeds, Suzanne McElfresh and Annie Gottlieb on keyboards, Macnie on voice (along with M. Dody, who eventually was a principal in the band Soul Coughing), Whitehead on drums. Then, too, we had a Critics Band in Chgo, which has Art Lange on electric bass, me and Tesser on reeds, Tim Schneckloth and Charlie Doherty (both of Down Beat, at the time) on guitar and drums, respectively, and Jim Baker (he of the very critical mind) on keyboards. John McDonough sat in with us at least once on clarinet. But as Whitehead said, when challenged by a musician about "Who are *your* music teachers?" -- "Jelly Roll Morton to Muhal Richard Abrams -- everyone I ever listened to." Or words to that effect.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 11:07 pm]
   I play bass, and actually make more money doing that (jamband gigs, for the most part) than from writing on jazz. But speaking of it, I think that (the occasional bandstand epiphany) is an important means of keeping my ears fresh and staying out of ruts.
Q. from Philip Booth in Tampa [Dec 22 - 11:06 pm]
I'm late signing on because of my other freelance gig (movie reviewing), and I don't think this has been covered .. For the panelists: What's your personal philosophy regarding the friendships you make with jazz musicians, in terms of when it is and isn't okay to write about those friends? On one hand, you don't want to use your forum as simply a way to promote friends (as seemed to be the case with one recently fired famous jazz critic). On the other hand, you don't want to avoid friendships with musicians just because you're afraid that it might lead to a conflict-of-interest situation. I know the general idea is to take each situation on a case-by-case basis, but do you have any guiding principles related to this subject?
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:11 pm]
   Philip, welcome -- and see above. No, don't promote friends -- promote great music! Don't avoid friendships -- that's life, and a *good* thing. Besides, how do we learn about music if we don't talk to musicians? Do you have to test a friendship by putting someone down? Learn to criticize constructively, not meanly or bluntly. As you crit a real friend.
  A. from Svirchev in Vancouver Canada [Dec 22 - 11:19 pm]
   There's no 'conflict of interest' if your musical opinions are astute, valid, and defensible. But if you are so enamoured with their work that your words glitter like PR, then consider backing off writing about them, or become their agent.
Q. from John Chacona in Erie-By-Gawd, PA [Dec 22 - 11:08 pm]
I'd like to turn Duane's question on it's head: Are any of you not musicians? And for those who aren't, has that fact diminished your credibility with musicians, especially in writing reviews?
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:17 pm]
   I've never worked as a musician, although I've played on and off over the years for my own pleasure and discovery.

Funnily enough, the only time NOT being a musician affected my credibility with an artist was when I was running a jazz festival not working as a critic. The first thing Ornette Coleman asked me when he got off the airplane was "Do you play?" I didn't think my amateur drumming counted (Damn, I'd heard Denardo, what was I thinking?) so I said, No. His attitude chilled immediately.

  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:18 pm]
   Not a musician. Credibility. They like what I say then cool, do not like then who are you. If I had time I could relate a long story about reviewing bands live. A drunken nightmare.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 11:31 pm]
   I think this interest in knowing which critics can play is based upon the notion that if you can't do it you shouldn't write about it. Certainly a lot of musicians feel that way. But instrumental ability is not the same as musical knowledge. And what these musicians don't seem to take into account is that if their music is intended to be understood and enjoyed only by other musicians, then they have a point. But if they want general listeners to enjoy what they do, then who better to gauge how successful they are in that attempt than a knowledgeable, experienced, articulate general listener? We are their audience.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:39 pm]
   Wait Art. Critics are the audience? That's scary. But I did take a course with Armah, that Ghanain writer, and he all sorts of issues about the commericial construct of interpreter for the true audience. Though he could totally buy into that construct. Otherwise I agree with you. Or Jazz could become poetry, pre hip-hop.
  A. from art lange in chicago [Dec 22 - 11:42 pm]
   Everyone's a critic, Don. That's the problem, and why no one pays attention to us (he said, tongue-in-cheek).
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:45 pm]
   Perhaps too true Art, but now I must sleep.
Q. from jay in Seattle [Dec 22 - 11:14 pm]
Hi Guys, I am obsessed with jazz and I love storys and writing.I'm interested in how many of you guys have a background in jazz from a performing perspective. If not, how you got hooked on jazz enough to specialize in writing about it.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 11:18 pm]
   I think it was the drugs.
  A. from Bill Bennett in CA [Dec 22 - 11:21 pm]
   Seriously, I have always had a bit of the performer's perspedctive on things. But Jazz liberated me from rock and roll (thereby allowing me to love rock again) and engaged my intellect as no other music has. And that came out of a conscious decision to find out what jazz was all about. Damn good decision, in retrospect.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:21 pm]
   I grew up with my father's big band jazz collection (as well as my older brothers' late-'50s rockabilly and early-'60s folk). Heard Miles about the time I discovered Hendrix... the rest is history. Drew those links from electric Miles back to my pop's Ellington and Basie, and went from there. It was also a good time for jazz journalism... Robert Palmer, Ralph J. Gleason, Dan Morgenstern. Reading and listening... nothing much has changed.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:26 pm]
   Jazz seems incredibly important to me, and has drawn me close to it from childhood. It has impressed me over and over as an unparalleled esthetic experience, due to its immediacy, its expressionism, its fluid structure, its unbound possibilities, its ability to tell stories, to critique and mirror contemporary society, to bring people together, to appeal at unconscious and highly conscious levels. It's a meritocracy, cosmopolitan and urbane to the nth degree. Creative, collective speach, realized in real time. Unlike any other art form that way -- like sports, perhaps, as an activity, but leaving a legacy that other people, much later, can derive insight and satisfaction from. And open to everybody, embracing audiences as participants almost as closely as it embraces its players. There's so much to say about jazz! It's ideals are beautiful, and not imposed by any one authority, but agreed to communally, over time.
  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:28 pm]
   My dad was the drummer in an Atlanta swing band, so I grew up listening to live and recorded jazz and swing in a time when it wasn't hip: the early 1970s. Dizzy and Wingy beat the pants off the Bee Gees and Starland Vocal Band then, and I've never wavered in my love for this form of music. It's been my principal listening choice for 35 years and nothing else has ever close. So when I became interested in writing in college, writing about jazz seemed the most natural thing in the world.
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:32 pm]
   Howard.... that was a beautiful solo.
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:33 pm]
   My father took me to concerts. he had ornette coleman records and told me that if i liked the rolling stones i would get into jazz. go figure. he was also a choir director and doctor who saw charlie parker in philadelphia. what can i say an accident. no performing background unless you consider piano as a kid. badly i will admit. i hold that you do not have to be a musician to be a writer. you do not have to be a dictator to be a historian.
Q. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:27 pm]
We're past 11 in the east but carrying on as long as there's interest.

That said, let me thank all our panelists tonight. It's a busy time of the year for everyone (and I know at least a couple worked this in around travel plans). Thanks to all.

Remember, if you're in NYC in January and want to learn more about the craft, check out the JJA workshop on jazz writing. If you're not in NYC and a budding jazz journalist, consider a JJA membership (see our homepage for details). Listen, read, write... have fun.

  A. from Todd S. Jenkins in San Bernardino, CA [Dec 22 - 11:34 pm]
   Thanks for the invite, James and Howard. This was fun and highly informative. Gotta go give my three-year-old a bath now and spin the "new" Andrew Hill some more. Happy holidays to all!
  A. from Don Palmer in NYC [Dec 22 - 11:43 pm]
   Ah thanks for the fun, but I too must go. I have an piss poor story sitting in email that my editor would love for me to read the revisions over and approve by the morning. So good night to all. Invite me again and I will try to be more lucid. Thanks and I hope something I wrote is useful to someone.


Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 11:28 pm]
I'd like to address both John and Phillip's questions. I personally do not play an instrument, though I did take piano lessons in my youth. As a result, it's been important for me to know jazz musicians. I've learned a lot from them and it's made my jazz journalism better and more insightful. I tend to steer away from writing reviews though. I feel more comfortable writing previews and features. Ironically, even with a M.A. in English literature and years of experience going to theaters, I've had a harder time establishing credibility as a theater critic than as a music critic over the years. I've got freinds in many areas of the arts and I think I have credibility with all of them. I simply think of myself as a writer, not as a specialist in jazz or theater. I don't think I have to be an actor to understand theater, nor do I need to be a musician to write about music.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:48 pm]
   Robert, why aren't you a JJA member?
Q. from Robert in New York City [Dec 22 - 11:40 pm]
Hi Jay, I'm not a panelist, but I've written about jazz for over 15 years. I grew up on country music and bluegrass and blues in upper East Tennessee. I came to jazz fairly late compared to some of the other writers here. My introduction was Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. I tried to listen to as much electric Miles as I could and took a liking to Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Those listening habit eventually led me to the AACM in Chicago and the Black Artists Group in St. Louis. I gradually worked my way back through jazz history to Louis Armstrong. I think my tastes in jazz were informed by all the people around me who liked classical music, too. My mom loved Chopin and Bach. A girlfriend in high school introduced me to Telemann and Pachelbel. A professor turned me on to Mozart. And I fell in love with Debussy, Satie and Schoenberg on my own. Today, I listen to all kinds of music and I write about all genres of music.

  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:49 pm]
   Thanks, Robert.
Q. from Shadow of Act [Dec 22 - 11:41 pm]
Thanks JJA
  A. from James Hale [Dec 22 - 11:46 pm]
   Thanks for participating, mystery-man/woman. And thanks to everyone else who tuned in.
  A. from Howard in village office [Dec 22 - 11:54 pm]
   Remember, folks, the panelists/guests/hosts may depart, but the forum will remain active for comments (probably not a lot of crosstalk) as long as Jazzhouse is up. Take a look at some of our other Interactiview forums, on Pops, Duke, Fiction, Trad jazz, Latin jazz -- and check out the Critics Clinics run by Paul deBarros and Dan Ouellette at IAJE in January. This was a lively and intelligent forum -- thanks to everybody. Signing off . . . Howard

C o m m e n t s

David W. 1 of 1
Writing for one's life
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October 16, 04

I'm so late weighing in on this topic that I'm sure no one is going to see (or care) what I write here... but I'm preparing a panel on blues criticism and journalism for the upcoming LIVNG BLUES symposium at Ole Miss (Feb. '05), and some of the things I've been thinking for that panel about are also pertinent, I think, for this broader discussion about jazz writing.

In terms of the music not being taken seriously, I think we're in kind of a double bind. At least from what I see, much music criticism has increasingly taken on a tone that makes the music, "qua" music, secondary to cool backstories, intellectual post-modernist noodling (e.g., Madonna "scholarship"), or, most egregious of all, a not-so-subtley implied pose, on the part of the reviewer, that he or she is really too hip to take this stuff seriously, even if the musicians themselves (to say nothing of the benighted readers who aren't in on the joke) may not be.

That's what sells papers to the twenty-something/thirty-something demographic (which is what the advertisers want to attract); that, then, is what many publishers and editors will encourage. Moreover, that's pretty much what passes for "serious" intellectual discourse in the cynism-driven, nothing-has-intrinsic-value-so-fuck-it-anyway postmodern world of letters.

Without mentioning any names, I personally know some very esteemed jazz critics (internationally published authorities, many of whom have several important books to their credit) who have had articles turned down by Chicago's "independent" weekly because they weren't "edgy" or "alternative" enough (i.e., these writers had the audacity to approach jazz criticism as if the music spoke for itself, and didn't need any pomo/hipster posing to make it "sell").

It's not that I don't think there's a place for interesting backstories, or even self-indulgent pyrotechnic displays on the part of writers, if they're done with panace and with (hey, I LOVE Lester Bangs and vintage-era Richard Meltzer!); and, of course, there's always been an unfortunate "hipper-than-thou" pose to SOME music writing, writing, so in a way this may be a variation on an old theme. Nonetheless, it seems to me as if this situation is more serious now than it has been in the past. Anyone care to comment?

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