Who Dares Comment

Whose comments count on music and more specifically jazz? I’ve been meaning to post  one on this ever since my fellow Bristol blogger alluded to the issue in a post (about my trio – eek).

A few years ago I heard a well known player on the British scene ask of someone working for the production company  of an influential jazz broadcaster, whether the broadcaster was a player. The clear implication was that the broadcaster’s  aesthetic judgement about the music was  faulty  if he hadn’t passed a sort of qualification test by playing the music (presumably to some standard that would satisfy the rather legendary grouchiness of this musician). I’m still trying to unpack my instinctive horror at that sentiment and the reference in the blog has re-kindled the thought.

The essence of what I think is that everyone can hear the sentiment and intention behind a performance.  I’ll grant you some are gifted sharper ears than others, but my judgement is that ears for the qualities in music which move and excite (soul? authenticity?)  are not necessarily players’ ears. Its a commonplace that technical mastery is not the same as powers of expression. Who hasn’t been to a gig where the undisputed brilliance of the performance has failed to move?

That one may hear different things in the music if you play is natural; is it a qualification for sole licence to comment or opine? I think not. What a limited audience there would be!

There is an interesting development over the last 15 years or so  of increasingly  large numbers of jazz workshops and summer schools from which many, many people derive pleasure .  I came this route myself.  Most people will never perform much or desire to.  There are invariably a smattering of such folk in any jazz audience.  That experience certainly adds a dimension to the listening experience – I’m not sure it always alerts you to the ‘authenticity test’.

I finish with another recollection. This time of a hotly anticipated (by me)  Greg Osby gig a few years ago at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. What a band he had with him. They played a relentlessly abstract, hip, set. After duly slavering at the proximity of (newish) gods I had to admit to myself that I hadn’t been very excited or stirred by it. Me or them? Did I not understand? Or maybe they were just going through the motions and I was hearing a lack of fire from them.


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