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How To Be A Jazz Critic


Thinking about a career in jazz journalism? Jazz writing is a lot like jazz playing: You’ll need to be talented, hard-working, passionate, and disdainful of material reward.

If those are your gifts, we’re here to ease your burden. Just memorize the handy phrases below, and plug them into your stories as needed. You’ll save years of training, and write just like the real, professional jazz critics! Be sure all your reviews include plenty of references to yourself; readers need to be reminded who they’re really reading about.

Sound good? Now repeat after me:

Their music is so much more than the sum of its parts. They are team players: they think as one, phrase as one, play as one. Their music is an intimate conversation, a shared secret. They are joined at the hip, they are of a mind; telepathic. They don’t hit you over the head, they have nothing to prove. They can turn on a dime. Three cheers!

America’s indigenous artform, America’s classical music, our national treasure. The sound of surprise, bright moments. It’s a gourmet meal in a McDonald’s culture. It’s a fine wine, a literary masterpiece, gumbo. It’s the blues, gospel, sadness and joy. It’s unacknowledged, tragic, disowned, downplayed, suppressed. An ugly stepsister, bastard child, shoeless orphan. It dies poor, no health insurance, alone in a Brooklyn apartment. The greedy record company releases a compilation of embarrassing out-takes. Touche!

The leader is a double threat, a triple threat, a quadruple threat, multi-talented, multi-faceted, a musician’s musician, an unsung hero. His songs are tomorrow’s standards. Here is the next Gershwin, Porter, Kern. He has that rare gift of melody. His eponymous debut release shows surprising maturity. He continues to improve. He is at the peak of his form. He’s had a long and storied career. Bravo!

Don’t be fooled. Don’t think you already know, have already heard. Don’t be too quick to. Don’t be surprised if. Ignore the skeptics. You have to consider, you need to check out, you owe it to yourself. Listen!

His harmon mute brings to mind; he has the lyricism of; he’s athletic, muscular, agile, facile, always lands on his feet. He effortlessly spins out melodies, sheets of sound. He sings through his horn. His fingers dance on the keys. His voice-like quality, his stylings. His gargantuan chops. He pounds out, hammers, articulates, coaxes, crafts. This titan, this speed demon, this racehorse, freight train, Olympic hurdler. Bird lives!

In this era of Nora Jones, Diana Krall, Jane Monheit. In this era of Kenny G. In this era of racial division. In this era of marketing hype. In this era of eroding CD sales. Label support. Radio support. Audience support. Where is the black audience? Where are the students, the Gen-exers? Where is the next Trane, Duke, Miles? What can we, how can we, when will we? Young lions, seasoned veterans, a cross-generational assemblage. Hearkening back to the tradition. Drawing from a long line of, the latest incarnation of, bringing back to life. Long live…!

I used to play this music, that instrument. For my girlfriend, in my apartment, low-rent, ill-lit, among stacks of records lovingly collected, carefully filed. I was this, that. I heard this group before they. I was the first to. I knew them when no one else. I was having a bad day until. Just when I thought I’d never find anything like. My initial reaction was. Normally, I’m not one to, but. I kicked back with a glass of. I sat on my favorite, listened with all my. I was never a fan of. But this, until I heard this, I have to admit. Now I’m. It’s records like this that make me. I want, I hope, I have to, I never; I, always. I.


Copyright 2004, Bill Anschell


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