"Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen; we'd like to remind you that we don't applaud here at this old place where we're workin', so restrain your applause, and if you must applaud wait till the end of the set – and it won't even matter then. The reason is that we are interrupted by your noise. In fact, don't even take any drinks, or no cash registers ringin', et cetera.
I'd like to introduce you to the Jazz Workshop."*
I love jazz. I've always liked it, but loving it, that's a relatively recent development. For this I thank Jim Steele, the radio personality at WFDD (the NPR affiliate) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose program Jazz Place was my doorway into this universe; and Louis Matza, a dear friend, jazz guitarist, and former teacher who ordered me ten years ago to get Kind of Blue and whatever disc I could find that contained Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues." These, he explained, were the foundations.
A decade and a lot of records and shows later, and I've suddenly become a jazz critic. A real, live, professional jazz critic, with bylines and connections and clips. And opinions. Lots and lots of opinions, some of which are highly unconventional.
It seems a little strange to say something like that. Unconventional opinions? Why should opinions have conventions? Everybody's got different ears, and if you know your way around the music, what your ears tell you shouldn't be measured against what everybody else's ears tell them. But it doesn't work that way. Too often, would-be critics' opinions stem as much from reading others' opinions as they do from trusting their own ears. (Reading other critics is great, and it's necessary; it lets you consider aspects of the music you hadn't previously noticed. But it's not uncommon for that to cross over into "It's not right", it's not fair to themselves, and it's egregiously unfair to the music.
With all of this in mind, I welcome you to the Jazz Workshop.
The Jazz Workshop is Blogcritics' new jazz column, hosted by yours truly. Because I have lots of opinions, on albums, on people, on the place of both of those elements in jazz history, and on a ton of other tangential matters, I'll be expressing them in this space. Although the column is named for the band led by my favorite composer, Charles Mingus, this Jazz Workshop is a different sort. It's a workshop of ideas about jazz. And there are never enough of those to go around, believe it or not.
We'll talk about how jazz deserves to be regarded with the same reverence as classical music, and the same irreverence as pop. We'll marvel at the talent and rail against the narrowness of the so-called "jazz neocons" (N.B.: nothing to do with politics). We'll debate my long-held contention that Ornette Coleman is a more important figure in jazz than Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and maybe even (God forgive me) Duke Ellington. Among other contentions that will make many jazz-heads blow a fuse.
On the other hand, this is also a workshop for ME. It's still fair to call me a fledgling jazz critic and writer, and I aspire to more. I want to get better and better, to refine my ideas and expression of them, to gain in knowledge and appreciation of jazz. In short, I want to hone my craft. This feature is a place for me to do that.
Overall, I hope that this will be a feature that works as well, and features as much diverse content, as any jazz column in any magazine or newspaper or what-have-you. I plan to work in reviews, musings, analyses, new ideas about the music as a whole, insights into what the musicians do, appreciations of individuals' achievements, and, probably, bizarre philosophical insights.
I invite you to join in the Jazz Workshop. I'm the bandleader here, but this is an open jam session. Bring your instrument with you, know your material, and let's swing.
*Charles Mingus, 1960.