RAVE REVIEWS and MEANINGFUL SILENCES

JAZZ LIVES’ readers may have noted that I am enthusiastic about the music and I write about the art I love in the most glowing terms.  But I thought I should explain some things about the ways in which my enthusiasm is shared.

First, a true story — with true identities changed or blurred as much as possible.

A musician I know — I am calling him M — plays the marimba, most expertly.  M is a poet of the wooden bars and I admire M’s work greatly.  I wrote enthusiastically about M’s new CD because it gave me great pleasure.  M was very happy; so was I.  M told M’s partner, N, about this — N is somewhat sharp of tongue although we get along well on our infrequent encounters — and N’s response was a derisive nasal explosion of air, then, “Well, Michael only writes good reviews!”  I heard this story from M, and it pained me greatly.  It has stuck in my memory for months now, and not only because I feel very sorry for M.

Another true story, with no need to change identities.

I began this blog in 2008 at the urging of the Beloved, who is very wise.  But before I took the first step, I said, “What do I do if I go to hear a performance and I don’t like it, or someone sends me a CD that seems imperfect to me?  Do I say so in print and make enemies?  I don’t want to give stars to music or musicians.”

She said, “For years, GOURMET Magazine sent its reviewers to various restaurants.  If the place was wonderful, it got written up in print.  If it wasn’t, they said nothing.”

This made sense, because silence is very powerful.  You will note, for instance, that when you email someone with a request and they do not wish to do it, some people write back and say, “No,” or they explain . . . others keep still and you get the point.

So when I write that I feel so fortunate to have heard A sing or B play or the LMNOPQ Stompers swing out, I really mean it.  And when I think to myself, “I could have died and never heard this subtle pinnacle of music,” it is coming from my heart.

I really mean that I really mean it!  The jazz world is so small and I am already so fortunate in being allowed in to it, that there would be little visible benefit in currying favor by writing falsely good reviews.  And what I think of as my credibility would erode rapidly if I praised someone really splendid and then turned around with similar adjectives to apply to a much less creative performer.

When a publicist writes me and asks me to preview a new CD for JAZZ LIVES, more often than not I listen and then write back — politely — and explain why it isn’t for me.  Some people are gracious; some say nothing; very rarely do I get a response that suggests I have hurt someone’s feelings.  I solicit very few CDs — from publicists or the artists themselves — and they are only ones I know will have some aspect that interests me.  I do not want to end up with piles of CDs I do not end up praising, and I know that artists are — for the most part — not wealthy individuals who can afford to waste money.

Speaking of money . . . . but that is another blogpost entirely.  Let me just say that if JAZZ LIVES were a corporation, it would have been bankrupt about ten blogposts after its chartering.  Enough said for the moment.

So I do not “monetize,” nor do I use JAZZ LIVES as a place to undermine anyone’s art, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.  I think we should be celebrating the Beauties we have or we recall, and that keeps me — and I hope my readers — both happy and busy.

May your happiness increase!

5 responses to “RAVE REVIEWS and MEANINGFUL SILENCES

  1. The LMNOPQ Stompers!! Sweet group, I’ve dug em many times before! Hahaha I never questioned your integrity Michael. Keep up the great work!

  2. Interesting, as someone who has spent most of his life writing about music, including reviews and covering blues, jazz, country, rock, cajun, gospel and much more.

    These days my writing is restricted to food. Thankfully, too, as no one in Australia is interested in reading about the kind of music I like! And besides, there are people in the US much more savvy, gifted and knowledgeable than I to do that job.

    Yes, silence is golden.

    But … I part ways with you here.

    There are food blogs, including some here in my city of Melbourne, that only say good things about the places they eat at. They are boring blogs. If everything they say is good, they are generally not worth reading. The good stuff only has context if there’s bad. I reckon such blogs are actually dishonest, a kind of ongoing lie.

    I don’t like or enjoy writing negative reviews. But I do it when I feel I must. And it’s hardly ever a 100 per cent hatchet job – rather, it’s mostly about negative comments balanced by much that is good about any given restaurant.

    Doing this, I have forged a good reputation for honesty and integrity. And that respect is even shared to a large degree by the restaurants I write about.

    Mind you, I think it can be argued that the kind of reviewing/writing I am doing differs from yours, in that once I’ve enjoyed – or not! – a meal, it’s done. I have the choice of not writing about it, but often it can be a new or otherwise significant eating place my readers will be expecting me to cover.

    With there being so much jazz, perhaps there is not the same issue of obligation to cover any particular artist or record.

  3. Michael
    I always enjoy your sticht and ‘take’ on JAZZ LIVES. It was always clear to me that you were interested in exposing the best and latest going on in the Live jazz world to whoever was willing to just take a listen. Those who do are instantly smitten, and lucky to have found your site! And that’s not to diminish in any way the wonderful job you do of posting vids of the ‘Greats’, like Louis, or Bing, or Bowlly, or Jelly Roll Morton etc., etc., which gives an enchanting yet realistic feel to how it’s done when it;s done right! Every one ot them is a great musical history lesson in their own right!
    If nothing else, you have been a great teacher to me, and I truly apprecate it!
    Hell, I found Tamar Korn, and Gaucho, and Au, and Lichtman etc., etc., because of you, and will be eternally greatful. It doesn’t get much better than those cats! And I do my best to ‘Spread the Happiness’ to all of those in my music circles, and surprisingly enough, the young rockers seem to love it the best! Hey, ‘Hope Springs Eternal’.
    Just a note about N. I disagree that you only give ‘good reviews’. I think you give ‘Great Reviews’! You are clear, concise and to the point, are never nasty or demeaning which is something that is a mainstay in the makeup of a lot of supposed “Critics” who feel that the only way they can raise their stature is by trashing whatever subject matter they cover! I find your observations to be helpful to both the performer and the reader in a very fair and constructive way.

  4. I respect what you have written here, and thank you for sending it. But I also think that the experience of eating a meal and that of, say, listening to a CD, are different. If I read your review of HANK’S SUSHI PALACE AND TAQUERIA and it told me that I would have an upset stomach from their SASHIMI FAJITA BURRITO, I would thank you from my heart as a friend who was trying to protect me from something dangerous. But if I say, “X’s singing was (insert critical words here),” am I providing the same service? May your happiness increase! Michael

  5. Yes, there is a difference.

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