When the Beloved and I are out for a walk and I have commented on something, a flock of crows may fly by and give their verdict:
and I will turn to the Beloved and say, “Oh, everyone’s a critic!”
When people caw in print it is sometimes more difficult to get the rancor out of the air. I can deal with the gentleman who wrote in to tell me that I was a “traitor to Jazz,” because he and I no longer converse. Life is too short to welcome and encourage personal abuse.
But I am disheartened by the anger displayed by people commenting on YouTube videos. I read comments that seem furious at the audience at a public performance in a restaurant for talking while the music is playing. I understand the viewer’s unhappiness, but think, “Sir, shouting in print at people in a video-recording for their bad manners may make you feel better, but the talkers can no longer modify their behavior to suit you. Your comment, although a genuine expression of your frustration, is not the best use of your energy.”
Even more disheartening is the commentary of a viewer that X is playing badly. One such critic wrote in recently that “the audience deserved better.” I wonder how someone, sitting at home, is able to judge what the audience did or did not deserve for the price of their tickets. Does an imperfect performance offend so much that it should be made to vanish?
What bothers me is the implied insult to the musicians, who are working with all their skill, energy, and decades of experience to create something beautiful. Merely playing one repeated note on the piano for four minutes at a fast tempo and staying attuned to the rhythm is beyond most amateurs, but the amateurs have no problem saying that “Y’s performance is very bad.” And when we graduate to the difficulties of playing a trumpet or a saxophone . . .
I am not espousing a general bland appreciation for everything. I go away from some performances saying, “Gee, I didn’t like that very much. I think L doesn’t always play in tune, or R rushes.” But there I am expressing my subjective judgment, and it remains personal and private — unless we are going to have all jazz performances measured on-the-spot by scientific arbiters with metronomes and pitch-analyzers.
Generosity of spirit might be what we should aim for, rather than “good” or “bad,” “better” or “worse.”
I wonder if this critical urge comes from a lack of impulse control born from decades of ranking and rating (i.e., the Academy Awards, Playmate of the Year, Best-Of lists), of people sitting in front of their television sets at home, yelling at the football player who has “done badly.” Or in other contexts, people watching generations of beauty pageant queens compete, and saying to the screen, “I wouldn’t vote for her. She is ugly!” Or, in the parlance of the times, “That SUCKED!”
I wonder also if the people who comment so acridly on these videos would find it proper to say to a jazz player or players as the musicians got off the stand, “Wow, you played so badly!” I think most listeners would think such judgments would be at best rude, at worst cruel or unwise. ”Would you say this to someone in person?” might be a useful rule in criticism. It is so easy to write something in anger, then press SEND or POST — and what is in print tends to stay visible. And perhaps harmful.
Once, years ago, I was coming home on the train from a classical concert and I fell into conversation with a man who had been going to concerts for decades. He was also unhappy with people who could not sit still and listen peacefully. His theory was that the coughers and talkers and rattlers and paper-shufflers could not stand subordinating their own egos for the length of a performance. ”Look at me! I’m here, too!” I doubt that everyone who coughs is possessed by ego-demons, but I wonder how many of the most “offended” critics are upset that X — with the soprano saxophone — is getting all the attention.
Finally. Jazz magazines still rank recordings with stars. No stars bad, five stars good (to paraphrase ANIMAL FARM). I remember reading that a critic in a famous magazine said of an early-Fifties Lester Young performance that it was “bad,” that Lester played with a “cardboard tone.” He was entitled to feel this way, but I prize those Lester Young recordings, and am happy that this critic was not in a position of imperial power where he could have had the masters destroyed. That music remains long after the critic’s response has been forgotten.
The crows may be performing a useful function while cawing. That chorus of sound may say, “Someone dropped half a sandwich! Let’s go, boys!” Or their sound may mean, “Watch out! Hawk’s in town!”
If our criticisms are not equally useful, do they need to be expressed in print?
And who knows who is criticizing You while You are unaware?
Peace, brothers and sisters.
May your happiness increase.