Chris Robinson @crmusicwriter

mostly music, sometimes books


Jazziz Magazine’s Awesome Idea: “Personal Taste”

Ask any jazz critic, or jazz fan for that manner if they’re biased.  If they say no they’re straight up bullshitting you.  Even my man Leonard Feather (if I had a dime for every time someone asked me “so when are you going to write that Feather bio?” I’d be a rich man) had biases, oh good Lord did he have biases, no matter how impartial he tried to present himself as.  And unless you’re Immanuel Kant, it’s impossible to judge anything disinterestedly.

So that’s why I like Jazziz‘s short “Personal Taste” boxes that they include in some of their pieces.  It lets the reader know right where the writer is coming from so that you might be able to see the writer’s taste and how that may affect their writing.  For example, take the Traditions section by Bob Weinberg on drummer Han Bennink in the Spring 2010 issue, which is the first time I’ve read Jazziz, btw.  In terms of instrumentalists, Weinberg has somewhat Catholic tastes.  His short list of albums range from Clifford Brown/Max Roach, to Lockjaw, to Art Pepper, Mostly Other People do the Killing, and William Parker/Giorgio Dini.  Two pages later, Jonathan Widran lists Harry Connick Jr., Linda Eder, and Ramsey Lewis among his current favorites; quite a different group of folks.  These are neat features that gives insight into the diverse taste of two of the magazines writers, and it’s something that I wish the magazine incorporated into their feature stories as well. 

It would great to have a similar list next to the names of each critic who writes for any jazz magazine.  One reason is that every once in a while it’s pretty obvious that the critic has absolutely no knowledge of a particular style or for whatever reason just doesn’t like it, and the musician being reviewed suffers for it.  That’s not a knock of the critic, because I’ve certainly been assigned reviews of discs that I had a hard time reviewing, but the inclusion of some kind of list that runs off what critic’s are into would add further transparency in jazz criticism. 

Critics are biased just like everybody else, and although it would be hard to justify the added room in magazines to accomodate such a list, especially given the tough economic situation for print music magazines, it would, I think, be beneficial for the particular magazine, their writers, the musicians they review, the magazine’s readers and jazz discourse in general.

2 responses to “Jazziz Magazine’s Awesome Idea: “Personal Taste””

  1. Yo yo – I found your blog and now you’re in for it!

    You say, “I’ve certainly been assigned reviews of discs that I had a hard time reviewing.” Why not just state that in the review? For instance, you could say “No matter how hard I sincerely try, and no matter how much research I do to understand hi valid contributions, I just don’t get Wayne Shorter.”

    Why do critics, and I guess their editors, have such a hard time just plain spillin’ it straight? “I don’t like ____, but if you do, then you might like this CD.” Critics’ cultural authority is based on vapors and whims so I guess critics are afraid to pull out from underneath them the only thing they have to stand, their pedestal of hot air.

    Also, would listing favorites really help? I mean, with me I like an impossibly wide range of music that, according to the dominant mode of aesthetic known as criticism-by-ideology, makes no sense. Then again, as I implicitly suggest, most critics are not like me…

    1. Yo D, there’s been once or twice that I’ve said something like “if you dig x, you’ll like this,” etc. Or I’ve also said this isn’t my bag, etc etc. Part of the problem, especially when it’s for a magazine like Downbeat, or something with a strict word count limit – as opposed to a blog, is that you’ve got to get all you can into 250-300 words. And for me one of the most important things is trying to describe what hte music sounds like. If there’s an obvious connection to something else it sounds like the reader could get, then I’ll hit that, but if it’s something completely new to me and I can’t really make comparisons – which does happen – then I generally spend most of my words on the description piece.

      Now as far as the “criticism-by-ideology” thing you mention; I don’t think that works for anybody. People like a wide range of music that doesn’t make “sense,” whatever sense means, even if they don’t know it. And just because you or me or anybody likes a wide range of music doesn’t mean that there might not be an underlying trend or aesthetic ideology, if you want to call it that, behind that. So maybe I just contradicted myself in trying to work out a response. Whatever. For example, a lot of the reasons why I like certain pop music and hip hop groups/producers is the same reason I like forward thinking/avant garde jazz – or even traditional jazz that has new (in historical context of course) wrinkles: because I like shit that pushes the envelope. That could apply to anything: Schoenberg, King Tubby, whatever.

      And my brain just stopped because I just got up from a nap. Later dude.

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