[Dixielandjazz] Jazz Reviews - Critics

Marek Boym marekboym at gmail.com
Wed Sep 3 14:41:12 PDT 2008

I remember reading, when still a kid, a description of a literary
critic as someone who reads into the text meanings that would have
never come to the mind of an averagely intelligent author" (free
translation from Polish).  I guess it is, with some adjustments,
applicable to any art criticism.  And the great late Johnny Frigo had
a wonderful poem about critics, albeit not of music but of paintings,
which ends with the painter saying someting something like "Is that
what I've painted..." just 'before (or as) he fainted."

On 03/09/2008, Stephen G Barbone <barbonestreet at earthlink.net> wrote:
> 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 bombastic".
> 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 Wynton
> Marsalis.
> Cheers,
> Steve Barbone
> www.myspace.com/barbonestreetjazzband
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