Jazz Musician-Bloggers

The Jazz Review was one of the most fascinating journals in the history of music-writing. Its editors were Nat Hentoff and Martin Williams, two of the most insightful critics of its day (the late 1950s and early ’60s). But its main distinction was that it consisted almost entirely of jazz musicians, writing articles and reviews about other jazz musicians.

In retrospect, the issues (which are now available online) contain as much parochialism as wisdom, which is to say they’re a reflection of their times. Art Farmer scolds Ornette Coleman for discarding chord-changes; at the same time, Gunther Schuller (in the first issue) parses Sonny Rollins’ style of improvisation so meticulously that, after reading it, Rollins is said to have lost his footing (as a centipede might upon hearing an entomologist explain precisely how he manages to walk with eight legs).

What’s interesting is that the musicians hold no bars when writing about one another. The reviews (often of albums now considered classics) are very detailed, sometimes quite technical, and occasionally disparaging.

The magazine lasted just three years, from 1958-61, but there’s something like it going on today in the blogosphere.

Countless jazz musicians have their own blogs, most of them to offer sound clips or to announce their upcoming albums and gigs. But some are using the medium in ways that echo, wittingly or not, The Jazz Review of yore.

Darcy James Argue takes deep, analytical dips into his own scores for his Secret Society big band, and sometimes touts other musicians’ works as well. Dave Douglas does the same with his. Steve Coleman uncorks massive musicological, occasionally mystical disquisitions on harmony and rhythm. Matana Roberts offers poetical ramblings on life, ideas, and music (her own and others’). Chris Kelsey has gone at it, with other musicians and critics, on the meaning and scope of “jazz form.”

But the jazz blog that I go to most eagerly is Ethan Iverson’s. The pianist for The Bad Plus, and quite the hip virtuoso on his own dime, Iverson lays out some of the most probing interviews with other musicians, and analyses of their work, by anyone anywhere. Iverson’s knowledge is encyclopedic (of jazz history, theory, and performance). I know from my own journalistic endeavors in other realms that interview-subjects open up when they’re faced with someone who’s on their wavelength, and Iverson’s subjects open up.

His blog leaves a lot of critics (myself included) in the dust.

It’s also a lot of fun.

Readers: I know I'm leaving out some jazz-musician bloggers. Who are your favorites?

Matt's picture

There are a few good underappreciated jazz musician bloggers:Jason Parker is a Seattle-based trumpeter who offers new marketing strategies for independent artists (especiallly jazz musicians). His URL is http://oneworkingmusician.com/Also New Orleans trombonist Jeff Albert has a good blog about his playing inside and outside and around the world with Hamid Drake, Lucky 7s and others. http://jeffalbert.com/Also trumpeter/cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum had a good though currently dormant called SpiderMonkey Stories.

NitpickyPedant's picture

Um, it's "bar no holds" - as in wrestling holds - not "hold no bars."

Fred Kaplan's picture

To (not at all) Nitpicky Pedant: You're right. I'm mortified. The real lesson here, one that I usually follow but I must have been in a hurry, is not ever to write in cliches...Fred

Listener's picture

While one could not accurately say that Pat Metheny is a blogger, he has posted on his website (a) quite a few answers to questions from fans as well as (b) a number of podcasts in which he describes the making of many of his records. His comments about music are always incisive and interesting.

RankStranger's picture

Interesting. I'm listening as I read this to Pat Metheny's Rejoicing and much as I love a lot of his work, I have no interest in anything he has to write. Funny that, isn't it. I will check out Ethan Iverson's blog though. He intrigues me because I saw him in a support slot at Melbourne Jazz Fest last year and didn't find out til a week later who he was. Bloody good, though.

David Tallacksen's picture

Not a blog by a jazz musician, but the NPR Jazz blog, A Blog Supreme, is an interesting aggregation of material.http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/Full disclosure: I work not for NPR but for an NPR affiliate that is a Jazz station.

J.P. Smith's picture

Is Ted Gioia's Jazz.com more or less out of business? I also like Ethan's Bad Plus blog--some great in-depth interviews there (most recently of Cedar Walton). And I second A Blog Supreme. Very well done.

Matt  Smiley's picture

http://ronanguil.blogspot.com/ Bassist Ronan Guilfoyle has a great blog, that's very insightful!

TW's picture

Check out James Mahone's blog. Not only is it heavy on (thorough, interesting) analysis, but he's got some great transcriptions and lead sheets as well.http://jamesmahonemusic.com/wordpress/