07 July 2009

How Not To Write Jazz Criticism

I'm a bit late to the party, but perhaps you've heard about this review of the Maria Schneider Orchestra's recent performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. It has everything jazz critics should avoid: including blatant misogyny, focusing on the histrionics of the performance instead of the actual music, and disdain for other members of the audience. Needless to say, it sparked a good deal of criticism from commenters at the Montreal Gazette (who published the review) and jazz bloggers.

James Hale said it best: "So, on behalf of professional jazz journalists everywhere: Thanks, Jeff. You just set back our cause beyond measure." At Rifftides, Doug Ramsey adds:
As jazz magazines go out of business and coverage budgets at general circulation publications dry up, one part of conventional journalism wisdom is that the web, specifically bloggers on the web, will take up the slack. Please don't let it disturb you if I point out that most bloggers work for nothing more than the challenge, the thrill, the contacts or the loss-leading benefits of using their blogs as adjuncts to whatever they do for a living. It would be a mistake to count on them (us) to provide the standards and oversight that print publishers are unwilling or unable to observe and practice. In journalism as in the rest of life, generally you get what you pay for.
I can't say I totally share Doug's pessimism. Bloggers (especially in the realms of sports and politics) have become notorious for their reputations as curmudgeonly spewers of invective and poor (and often absent) fact-checking (whether or not they deserve these reputations is another argument altogether that I will avoid here). However, being that jazz occupies a niche space in our culture, it seems to me that most jazz bloggers write mostly out of their love for the music. While this does not guarantee that dreck such as this Heinrich review will not appear from time to time, I like to think (perhaps too optimistically) that these bloggers-cum-enthusiasts will tend to govern themselves according to the standards of civility to which conventional journalists are held by their editors.

Meanwhile, this criticism of big band jazz made the rounds last week. I'll defer to Darcy James Argue and Ian of Villes Ville on their rebuttals to the piece; they defend big band jazz with passion and more effectively than I could hope to. Besides, I mention it here not to criticize Matt Rubin, the writer of the post, but rather point out that while his argument is critical, he does not resort to the nastiness of Heinrich's piece. He keeps a level head and stays focused on the music, in the way that I think most jazz bloggers (who actually care about jazz) would.

Lastly, I beg of you, my readers: please do not hesitate to put me in my place if I ever write something so terrible as Heinrich's takedown of Maria Schneider.

Now, in order for us all to cool off, let's watch a YouTube of Charles Lloyd with John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, and Billy Hart.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Thank you, David for your very generous comments about my piece on big bands.

I share absolutely your optimisim about the state of blogging in jazz. The many jazz blogs I enjoy reading - and certainly those in the links at my own - seem to me - at the risk of sounding pompous - to make no small contribution to civility and civilisation. Long may they continue!