Over a month or so ago, I wrote a piece for the OC Weekly on jazz.  It was called Ten Jazz Albums to Listen to Before You Die.  I wrote the post after I read Sean J. O’Connell’s piece, Ten Jazz Albums for People Who Don’t Know Shit About Jazz, at the LA Weekly.   O’Connell’s piece was great, but I had a different take.  I knew the albums that ignited my curiosity, and I wanted to share my viewpoint.

So I wrote the piece targeted at the OC Weekly audience — a readership who is young and with a jazz scene that isn’t traditionally something to write home about, though it’s there.  My intention was to write a post introducing people to jazz albums that would be a good entry point.  I imagined a young audience searching the web, looking for ways to learn more about jazz, and I wanted to give them a place to go, a place to start.  I rigged up a post, thinking about the intended audience — not the grumpy old guard that I knew had a strangle hold over the conversation — and found the full albums on YouTube.

And it was successful.  Honestly, it was startling successful — 15,000 likes on Facebook in  24 hours.  That’s incredible.  People are still coming to the blog to check out the piece.  Of course, it was met with criticism, too.  You can’t please everybody with these lists.  And as I wrote in the first post, “The debate is so polemic that I might as well write about the top ten abortion clinics.”  However, there were many people on the site who were listening to the albums and enjoying.  I welcomed the comments disagreeing with my choices.  That’s part of the game.  It starts up conversations about music and jazz and a genre other than pop. And that’s cool.

To my surprise, this wasn’t the end of the piece.  I was surfing Twitter and noticed that West Coast Sound (LA Weekly) had picked up the piece.  I write for the LA Weekly, too, so I was pleased to see the piece gaining some legs.  After that, I received an email from the  Dallas Observer, and they told me they were going to use my piece in print and online.  I thought, great, a new audience.  An opportunity to reach more people.  And again, it picked up some criticism and some appreciation.  I knew that I was going to take some heat for not having Bird or Dizzy on the list (though I felt their influence was obvious), but the albums were just my opinion.  I went with what my gut told me would be a great introduction.

So a week or two later, I’m on my blog, and I see a spike in my stats.  I really hadn’t posted anything, and I saw that the hits were being referred from a site.  So I clicked on the link, and it was a thread on music writing.  Man, the people in that blog were just tearing the list to shreds.  Calling me every word in the book to describe a naive and young writer who shouldn’t be engaging in a historic conversation.  I imagine these “hip cats” laughing at their wit and swirling around a brandy from their apartments in Brooklyn.  Obvious stereotype.  They kept talking about some piece I just wrote on jazz.  All I kept thinking about was that the jazz piece was published a week or two ago.  Why all of sudden?

That’s when I discovered The Village Voice had published my piece.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised it was posted there, since it was written for an audience not familiar with the locales in New York. In the part about Sonny Rollins’ The Bridge, I’m actually describing the Williamsburg Bridge to the reader.  You think an audience in New York might know about the Williamsburg Bridge, right?  Then I noticed on twitter people calling me a 19-year old, etc.  The Village Voice took some heat for it, too.  Well, The Village Voice is a storied weekly — the mother of them all — and I was excited to have my piece published there, but it was obviously not the audience I had in mind.

But what I found interesting was that the Editor of Spin Magazine said this on twitter: “Any smart 19 year old with access to a public library has heard enough jazz and can die now.”  Then Anthony Dean-Harris posted a beautifully written piece called On Wheat and Chaff.  While he’s criticizing me pretty handedly, he’s doing it with style.  Seriously though.  I can admire good writing when I see it.  He’s basically saying that in the age of blog writing, good writing will eventually separate itself from the bad — the wheat from the chaff.  Great metaphor.  Though it’s an extended metaphor as old as the bible.

You know, I don’t pretend to be an expert on jazz.  I haven’t been writing about jazz for 40 years.  No shit, I don’t belong in the same sentence with Gary Giddins.  But I have a voice and an opinion, and I stand by my piece and the original purpose and audience.  Even at The Village Voice, it received 1,000 likes on Facebook.  Of course, I’m not trying to defend the piece as a great example of music criticism, but the popularity and negative criticism mean people are at least listening.  Most importantly, I’m probably still getting to the young audience I intended the piece for.  I guess in the end, the chaff is separated from the wheat — the piece is still finding the audience it was meant to reach.

But what I have a problem with is the idea of a blog aggregator talked about in the wheat and the chaff piece  — an expert editorial board surveying blogs and making sure they meet expert standards.  Well, Anthony Dean-Harris objects to this idea in his piece, because he says bad writing will eventually expose itself for being bad writing.  His example, my piece.  He also talks about the freedom of the internet.  However, for those realistically thinking about this plan, the idea of blog aggregator is one of the most fascist ideas I have ever heard in terms of writing since I was actually in high school.  Okay, so I’ve got a great idea.  We could call this new aggregator the Ministry of Intelligence and have it installed in every computer in the world.  Before any blog gets posted, it will have to go through a series of editorial boards.  Let’s bring bureaucracy to the internet.  No, I have a better idea, let’s call them the Vogons.

In a way, while this is hyperbolic, the conversation around jazz is kind of like this already. All I’m trying to do is share my opinion, and the criticism is expected.  I welcome it, but when talking about limiting what someone says, keeping the conversation to the experts, well, I disagree.  I will keep writing about jazz.  And maybe if the dialogue surrounding jazz was more welcoming, then people wouldn’t be talking about the death of jazz.  A younger generation wants to be a part of the conversation; they want to express their opinions and say what they don’t understand.  They want to learn and speak.  And if anything, the response my piece received proves that.

Thanks to everyone who read the piece.  But I want to say thanks, specifically, to those who criticized Ten Jazz Albums Before You Die, because without them, who knows how many people would have actually read the piece.  In the end, this was my first trashing by a New York elite.  It’s kind of like popping a cherry for a writer.  And I hope it’s not the last.  Because like one of my friends said, the criticism means that my voice has relevance.  And I’ll take that any day while a few jabber away.

6 thoughts

  1. I found that trying to please anybody with those lists is damn near impossible but clearly the nonverbal response you got (likes, retweets, etc) is a reassuring sign. I guess the difference in our lists is that I deliberately aimed just off the beaten path but still tried to keep the readers AND writers off my back. You aimed for the readers and hit your mark and started an interesting conversation among the writers. Everybody talks shit on the concept of the list but they also all have their own. It certainly was an interesting response.

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more Sean. Thanks so much reading. It really is incredible how people get so upset about lists, but it’s also awesome that people get excited. So, I guess we roll with it. I hope one day to hear about how Japan went for you. Saw you writing about it on Twitter.

  2. Through a cursory Google of myself, I ran across this long forgotten post as a reaction to my piece. Thanks for taking your lashes in stride, that’s a sign of being a good writer. I’ve definitely been in your boat before so I’m glad you’re keeping your head up. Also, thanks for the kind words about the piece, even though I tore into you.

    1. Thanks for reading Anthony — and the compliment. It’s important to respect other people’s opinion, even when it’s opposite mine. Hope all is well with you.

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