Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Little Bit of Business

I'm going to change the focus of this blog just a little bit, and before I do that I've got to post this little exchange between myself and Scott Yanow. Basically, it regards a comment he made on my last post, and I'll reproduce that comment here:

Scott Yanow said...

Hi Bob,

I just read your very intriguing analysis of an unknown reviewer and his or her lack of comprehension of classic jazz. Your ideas and assumptions are fascinating, but it is a pity that they are completely inaccurate.

I am the reviewer of the Yves Francois CD. I have nothing against spontaneity. Coleman Hawkins once said that it can't be jazz if there are no mistakes. I love early jazz, whether it is called dixieland, New Orleans or classic jazz. In fact, I wrote a book by the latter name. I have been listening to, writing about, and even playing in that idiom of music for 35 years.

Whether I know anything about jazz is of course open to one's opinion. Critics are not above being criticized. But I do prefer that criticism (whether of critics or of musicians) include at least a little bit of reality.

Yves Francois is a fine trumpeter and his playing always has the chancetaking spirit of the best jazz. However the CD in question includes some performances that are more important historically than they are musically. There are obvious mistakes and lost moments heard along the way, not just an occasional missed note, and a few of the selections probably should not have been released. The music is fun and has its enjoyable moments, but it is full of flaws.

Yves has since told me that he likes my writing and my understanding of early jazz. That is good enough for me.

In the future, when you criticize a review, do a little bit of research first. Perhaps you should actually listen to the music in question before criticizing the critic.


Scott Yanow

I replied that basically I would stand by my comments, although I would certainly back away from my strong language that he didn't know anything about jazz. Because he says that he's part of the jazz establishment and has been so for a long time, he has watched the slow and painful demise of jazz, and is in a sense part of the problem. The problem is that everyone professionally involved in jazz has been watching this demise occur for about 50 years and no one seems to understand why it's happening or how to stop the bleeding. So in that sense, there is a crucial bit of jazz knowledge that so many jazz folks seem to lack. Scott is in a large boat.

The other part of my response was very simple--and again, many jazz critics do the same thing--that they conflate the artist with the producer. These are two different skills. If Scott says that some cuts shouldn't have been released--that's a problem for the producer, and those skills. It isn't a matter of whether or not Yves can play, where Yves is playing, or who he can get to play along with him.

Which brings me to my little change in focus.

I could sit here and rail against that very jazz establishment, the jazz programs in universities, the music schools, the record labels--and all I would produce is one long whine. There's just no point to that. So I'm going to begin to chronicle what it's like to produce a jazz CD in these tough times. Occasionally I get an email from someone wanting me to post a review of a particular CD, and if I choose to do so, I will post a review. Other than that, it's diary time. A Mom and Pop record company is born. We'll also be publishing some novels.