[Dixielandjazz] Jazz Reviews - Critics
Stephen G Barbone
barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 3 10:47:54 PDT 2008
Here's my 2 cents.
It is not easy to succeed as a jazz musician or a critic.
Dave Brubeck wrote:
"The critics will help you when you're coming up. I had all the help
in the world coming up. John Hammond was writing glowing things about
me when I was an unknown. But get to the top and see what happens. The
same structure that helped you up is gonna turn that wheel on you and
try to put you down. Almost everybody does a full 180-degree turn. The
guys that didn't like you start liking you, and the ones that
discovered you say you've gone commercial. Why have you gone
commercial? Your records are selling. You haven't changed..."
Oscar Peterson wrote:
"I'm a musician, and just as the critics are sometimes hard on me, I'm
hard on the critics. I don't believe what the critics say, because
often I sit down at a concert beside them and they ask me what the
musicians on stage are doing. And they're supposed to know that kind
of thing . . . (e.g.) at a certain moment the music changed tempo by
design, but very quickly came back to the original tempo, and the
critics said to me that the rhythm section wasn't right,"
IMO people like Brubeck or Peterson or Coltrane suffered in some
critical reviews because the critics did not understand the vocabulary
that these virtuosos used. They, were often excoriated for "playing
two many notes". But what that means to me is that the critic doesn't
have the ears to hear the total line. He expects only to hear certain
notes and is unable to process the rest. Peterson often used the
analogy of a child waving a sparkler. What the eye sees is a tracery
of line. When he, (or Tatum, or Trane) produced a rapid stream of
notes, the sensitive ear hears not the succession of notes, but the
stream they leave behind. The vocabulary is note the individual notes,
but the stream that endures. (from Gene Lees' biography of Peterson)
Brubeck was often accused by critics of being too bombastic to which
he replied: "Bombastic? Dammit when I am bombastic, I want to be
Point being that some of us humans listen and some of us hear. There
is, IMO, a big difference. For example, how do we listen to a
performance. Do we just pick out the lead instrument, or do we listen
to the entire group? Do we hear the bass line? Do we know if the
drummer is using sticks or brushes? Do we hear the chord changes and/
or substitutes/inversions. Do we hear the interplay among the
musicians? Do we hear the challenges they throw out to each other? And
how these challenges are met?
Personally, I do not think some critics (or fans) hear. They know what
they like and they know some things they dislike. And when you read a
negative review, often it is because the critic didn't like, or didn't
understand what you said.
Music is a very personal conversation. Some use a vocabulary that
others don't understand. And IMO, when critics don't understand the
musical conversation, they should not write about it.
It was very personal for me when Jonathan Russell burst on the scene
at age 7 or 8. He caught all kinds of flak from people who were
critical of bow technique, his tone, his intonation etc. They were
comparing him with much older violinists. What they did not hear was
the music this kid was playing. Pure, improvisational jazz, that many
older players today still cannot accomplish.
Others "heard" his genius. Like Svend Asmussen, Regina Carter and now
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