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Monday, August 22, 2011

To Play or Not To Play?

Recently I took part in a very interesting discussion as to whether jazz critics should be able to play jazz or not. I came down on the side of 'yes - someone writing about the music should have some knowledge of how it works on a technical level'.

I think jazz has suffered very often at the hands of critics who have no idea of how the music works and come up with some extraordinarily half-baked ideas when writing about the music. I remember seeing Chick Corea being referred to in Downbeat as a 'chops-meister', and seeing Monk's 'Little Rootie Tootie' being referred to as 'Little Tutti Frutti' by a jazz 'critic' in Jazz Times, etc. etc. Of course this is just ignorance and bad journalism rather than a misunderstanding of a technical detail, but a musician with a working knowledge of the music would never make either of those statements. And I've always enjoyed reading musicians writing about music, and I think they should do it more often, rather than leaving the field only for the writers. I wrote extensively about this subject a while ago

But many great jazz critics responded to this question in this article, some pro the idea of being able to play in order to write, and some con - all make cogent points and it's a fascinating read for anyone interested in how the music is written about.


  1. Thanks for the link to an interesting set of viewpoints. I think there is no need for a critic to be a musician, as long as the critic does not judge the technical aspects of the music specifically. One might distinguish two broad styles of criticism: "how do I hear the aesthetic effects of this music" vs. "how is the music constructed technically, and how well do the musicians perform technically." Clearly a non-musician critic has no business going too far into the second kind, but for a non-specialist audience, the first kind is more important anyway. In any case, it is hard to be a good critic, musician or not. Musicians can say as much shite about music as any non-musician, even if they will be more technically accurate, and the best non-musician critics have valuable insights. Seasoned fans learn to develop their own taste and take any and all critics with a considerable handful of salt.

  2. Kurt elaborated slightly on his Facebook page. Not sure what to make of it.

    "Trane never sucked, because he always cared. period. anyone who really cares about his own music is gonna be fine. im not talking about odd meter players, etc. im talking about musicians who think its enough to just blow and not listen to the people they are playing with, people who think its enough to have one rehearsal or no rehearsals for a record date that includes complicated original music, or a gig for that matter. i mean sometimes you have to work within the framework of peoples schedules etc, and you get cats that can handle it.Im not saying be innovative, im saying just please make sure your own music doesnt suck, thats all. thats an admonishment to CARE MORE. and im saying: if you dont CARE, then do something else, because i see alot of musicians in Jazz who think that the littlest bit is enough, and they go in front of people and play in bands that sound like crap because people are trying to impress and arent listening, or people are writing music that makes no sense and doesnt sound good, etc. im sorry if i sounded negative, but i did get your attention and i agree with Mike Boone that sometimes you gotta call it like you see it and make a statement that might get people riled up but in the end people are talking about important stuff. im just saying to everyone, us all, myself included just a reminder: Care about your music and make sure it doesnt suck. I made an album on Criss-Cross that i did think sucked and guess what- i didnt put it out. i will never put out anything that i think is not the highest quality that i can do, and not only that but that i feel is actually worth putting out, to bring some good music into the world. im not trying to say you suck or this guy sucks, or that im better than this guy, bla bla bla. im saying to all of US: CARE MORE, and my tone was strong because i was thinking about how many times i see musicians who are representing jazz to audiences and "the world" who arent taking care of business, and sometimes these are even older very famous people too who dont seem to care enough anymore to even tune their instruments. its not just young people or students."