From: Nate Chinen
OK, you guys, the sponsor relations rep at Dogfish Head thought it would be a good idea for me to work in more product placement, preferably with some clicky visual cues. So: Happy Holidaises from mah kitteh, Toshi, who luvs his Bitchez Brewses as much as I does!
I kid (um, obviously?). But seriously, Dogfish Head, call me. (Kidding! Kidding!) I do like the fact that beer has been a through-line in our convo so far; it says something reassuring about the state of American jazz criticism. Also, thinking for a moment about ethics and gag humor reminds me of a question posed by Shaun earlier in our exchange. Paraphrasing a bit: should we critics still be wary Facebookers? And how has Twitter changed our game?
Maybe this is a bit inside-baseball for some of our readers, but I’ll touch on it for a minute. Seems worth it. The Facebook quandary has changed in degrees but not in principle, for me. I don’t friend musicians as a rule, and that flat policy keeps me out of trouble. It also keeps me out of a few potentially vital conversations. It’s an imperfect solution, but I have to trust it. The alternative feels messy and treacherous. I’d feel differently about that, I think, if the nature of my job didn’t involve so much critical evaluation of the scene. (Despite appearances, I still consider even the weekly Jazz Listings to be a form of criticism.) Still, I’m open to reevaluating the policy. As this week’s news reinforces, the Facebook reign ain’t ending anytime soon.
Nor is the Age of Twitter. (Shaun, I’m talking to you.) But there’s a key distinction between the two social-media platforms: “friends” vs. “followers,” and “ambient awareness” (baby pictures, favorite movies, Farm-fucking-ville) vs. something more like viral graffiti (hashtags, retweets, “must-read”s). Yes, I am aware of the narcissism involved in the amassing of “followers.” I’m also aware that participating in the Twitterverse constitutes a crack in my Objectivity Wall. To wit:
I joined Twitter a day or two into the new year, which means 2010 really was distinct from 2009, as far as my media metabolism goes. I’d only been aboard about a week when the Winter Jazzfest rolled around, and I found myself experiencing the event on two separate but overlapping frequencies. At one point, overheated and sardine-packed in Le Poisson Rouge for a Vijay Iyer Trio set, I heard about someone passing out in the room. Unwisely, I fired off a tweet riffing on this info. (At that point, I’d seen the ambulance but heard that it wasn’t serious. I wasn’t on duty that night, and I’d also had a few pints of Dogfish Head *.) Guess what happened? Yep, a ripple of concern from multiple sources, including Iyer himself. Not a good look for a critic.
So yeah, there are perils to our new critical sub-function as real-time commentators. Don’t be stupid. Check yourself. There’s also, it should be said, a continuing reason why jazz still needs critics who put in the time and effort for reflection. (Preaching to the choir, right?) But hey, back to Twitter. Last night there was a steady flow of updates from Prince’s big show at the Izod Center in N.J. One dispatch in particular caught my eye: ?uestlove, drummer and musical director for the Roots, uploaded a pic of opening act Esperanza Spalding.
Which brings me to the issue of jazz and pop, which registered clearly for me this year. Spalding’s case is obvious, though no less remarkable for that. (She’s a star on the rise, and rising fast. How many of those has jazz produced recently?) Then there was her ex-boyfriend Christian Scott, whose considerable media savvy -- no less, perhaps, than his considerable chops -- landed him a DownBeat cover story by our own Jennifer Odell. (Over at JazzTimes, I weighed in too.)
Say what you will of Scott’s whole vibe; here he is, above, exposing a network television audience to the genius of Jamire Williams. (For the record, I think Yesterday You Said Tomorrow was a flawed album but also a big leap forward, and a good sign of things to come.)
Speaking of New Orleans exports: Jen, you brought up Treme, another huge part of my year in jazz, and another example of our music resonating in the popular sphere. Has there ever been a truer, more richly textured depiction of the jazz musician’s social reality? Has there ever been a better reason to raise a glass to the righteous existence of Tom McDermott, Rebirth and Kermit Ruffins? The show lost some narrative steam near season’s end, but not the music.
While we’re talking about jazz thriving outside the usual places, can we get an amen for Ravi Coltrane onstage with his cousin, the cutting-edge producer/beatmeister Flying Lotus?
Lotus, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, made some of this year’s most head-spinning music, and jazz was fluttering in there somewhere. I’d like to think that Coltrane, who was smartly signed to Blue Note this year, might be working with Ellison even without the familial hookup. The other night, as I was reviewing a dance-pop band, my contact at Warp told me that a big New York date was in the works for next year. He also told me that they had their eye on the Village Vanguard. (!!!) I’m not holding my breath on that front, but the mere idea is something.
David, I am 100% with you on the continuing need for a jazz canon, and the importance of planting a flag between polarized extremes. When my Top 10 lands, sometime within the next day or two, I’ll pick up that thread a bit. But I’ll close with two more examples of jazz-pop interaction this year. First up, Herbie Hancock’s Imagine, a top-heavy Rolodex album that strikes me as the limpest, least creative approach to jazz-pop exchange. (Nonetheless: three Grammy nominations! Ask me some other time about the Hancock Clause.)
At the other end of the quality spectrum, for me at least, was the Maxwell tour, for which I’ve already aired my admiration here. This was one of my live shows of the year, hands-down, irrespective of genre -- and a big part of the reason had to do with Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge and Chris Dave. Something tight is happening at the margins of jazz and R&B. Just ask the diehard Prince fans who heard Esperanza last night. Now, what does that mean for jazz, beyond the audience-bait factor? Dunno yet, but I’m paying close attention.
Wow, have I filibustered? I relinquish my soapbox and open the floor. Have at it, gang!
* The names of some beers have been changed to protect the gag premise.