Tag Archives: anonymity

“THUMBS DOWN” and OTHER INEXPLICABLE MANIFESTATIONS OF THE MODERN AGE

I have no problem understanding taste.  I admire Charlie Shavers; you prefer Shorty Baker.  I think that the 1938 Basie band and the 1940 Ellington band were high points in civilization; you choose, instead, Lunceford and Miller.  Fine, and we need not snarl at each other on the street.  I can even understand the anonymous YouTube lone disliker — out of a sea of thumbs up, there’s one person who thinks, “That’s not so good.”  And I know that criticism is not new to this century, as Nicolas Slominsky has shown: for one example, I have read that the audience at the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night was savage and satirical in its disapproval of performers who weren’t up to what the audience thought was the standard.

I have worked hard to acquire some equanimity when faced with negative responses to videos and posts I have created for JAZZ LIVES.  When people comment negatively in either sphere, I can simply make the comment go away, leaving a faint bad smell until I open the window.  However, some of the comments are so acrid that they make me get up from the computer and do something else for a few minutes.  Typically, someone doesn’t approve of the angle from which I am videoing (assuming, I guess, that I am using several people and a multi-camera perspective) — especially if one of the performers is an attractive woman whom the male commenter doesn’t see enough of.  In that case, if the spirit moves me, I gently explain the limitations of a single-camera setup or of my desire to not get walloped by someone’s swingout, or other factors that the commenter may not have understood.  And in many cases, my calm approach gets a calm apologetic response, which is gratifying.

In other situations, the prose is darker.  I shoot videos in places where — you’ll be horrified — people drink alcohol, eat food, and converse . . . as opposed to videoing in the Sistine Chapel.  Thus, many viewers write in to me in a near-rage: “I’d like to shoot the people who were talking while this great band was playing!” I do understand, but the impulse — even rhetorical — is frightening in this century, and again I try to write a calm explanatory note.  (Years of being a college professor have left their mark on me in a gentle moral didacticism.)  I have also said that yelling at people in a video shot five years ago will have little effect on making them quieter.

If the commenter, in either case, continues to fume in response, I will often suggest that he should ask for a refund.  Rimshot.  And no one has written in to ask for one, for obvious reasons.

I understand that there are situations were sharp criticism in public from a nameless “reviewer” is not only appropriate but helpful.  If I go to a restaurant and something makes me ill, in writing about my experience I might be warning others away so that they did not have to spend hours in the bathroom.  If my painter, lawyer, doctor, or other professional does a poor job, there might be good reason to say so in public.  (I would hope, though, that the first line of response would be to contact the restaurant or the professional, as a courtesy.)

But a video that someone disapproves of has no power to do harm, and one can always shut it off, muttering, “Wow, that’s awful,” to oneself.

All of this distresses me, not because people are not “entitled to their own opinion,” but because it seems ungenerous to criticize a product or a production that is offered open-handedly and for free.  And the criticism is often voiced in a coarse unfeeling way.  Of course, this tendency is amplified by the anonymity of the commenters, who are not asked to offer their credentials in evaluating artistic performance.  The man — and the commenters are all men — who says that X is a rottten trumpeter is never asked to demonstrate his own ability on the horn by playing C JAM BLUES, even in Bb.

But anonymity gives courage.  Thus, this comment on a YouTube video of mine this morning.  The subject, a singer I respect greatly, someone with classical training and jazz experience, accompanied by a pianist: “Listening to that whiney voice instead of the sense of the song…horrible nonsense..he’s good but who can tell w that phony warbling…yikes”

That approach and that language seems abusive.  I imagine that few artists read the YouTube comments, but why should someone doing their best be skewered by a nameless “reviewer”?  Would the commenter have the courage to go up to an artist in a club and say, “Your whiney voice is horrible nonsense and phony warbling?”  I would guess not, for fear of getting whacked with an RCA ribbon mike.  And stand.  And I would dearly like to be on the jury to vote for the musician’s acquittal and then award damages in a lawsuit.

I wonder if there is some motivation I am overlooking.  Does it make the commenter feel superior?  “I am an experienced music critic, and everyone is entitled to my opinion, as a public service?  Or does it come out of a silent insecurity?  “X makes CDs and is famous.  Why doesn’t anyone want to give me a gig like that?  I hate X!”

What I suspect, and hope I am wrong, is that it is yet another manifestation of general pervasive mean-spiritedness, that there are hate-filled people in the world who have not got enough to occupy themselves, so they rack up disapproval right and left.  That makes me sad.  Someone once said, “If you’re not being loving, why are you taking up space on the planet?”  True enough.

Something to end this sad essay on a hopeful note: music that no one can disapprove of:

May your happiness increase!

 

“DO YOU LIKE JAZZ?”

I’ve decided to post a photograph of myself — but with an explanation.

The Beloved (as a special gift to me) commissioned Lorna Sass, photographer and transformational life-coach, to do a photo shoot.  The rather serious portrait above is the result, taken in Central Park, with your blogger in full outdoor regalia.  (We attempted photos of me in my natural habitat: in darkness with a video camera obscuring half my face, but the results were less successful.)

Why am I showing off in this fashion? 

For me, some of the deepest rewards of the hours I spend on this blog have been my getting to meet kindred souls at a jazz gig. 

Politely, they ask, “Excuse me, are you JAZZ LIVES?”  “Are you that person who comes here all the time and posts things on a blog?”

These inquiries give me great pleasure — not for ego alone, but for the chance to meet someone new who shares my feelings for the music and the musicians.  I get to talk with someone who loves the way Joel Forbes plays the blues, who gets excited when talking about Bill Savory’s discs. 

And my sense of a large, living, friendly jazz community is renewed and enhanced in the most warm way. 

I don’t go home thinking, “The music I love will not survive”; rather, I think, “Lucy or Jerome or X or Y is a wonderful person, and I’ve made a new friend who shares my essential values.  We are not so alone!”

I would have stayed undercover except for a sweetly amusing incident that happened two nights ago at a Brooklyn beer garden that featured, for that night, a wonderful band and singer, with enthusiastic swing dancers enjoying themselves.  One pair of dancers was particularly sinuous and expert, in close physical harmony, and I couldn’t stop watching them even as a video-recorded the music. 

At a set break, I walked over to compliment them.  And the young woman (a wonderful dancer), having noted me at the bar with my videocamera, hearing my enthusiasm, asked very kindly, “Do you like jazz?” 

I restrained any impulses to say, “Do bears like honey?” or the like.  I grinned at the couple, took out my card, and presented it to her.  “Oh!” she said, “I follow your blog!” 

The interchange was very nice, but it made me think that perhaps I should come out into the public eye just a few tentative steps more.  It might say something about my nature that I took to the woods to do so, but you are free to draw your own conclusions. 

I don’t want more attention; in fact, I want to be unobtrusive and let the musicians shine — but I thought that emerging in this way wouldn’t (as the Sage Condon said) do anyone any harm.