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If You Cannot Say Something Nice

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

One part of being in the jazz blogosphere that I sort of like is the idea of having colleagues. These are the folks that I typically hyperlink in my weekly posts. From time to time, something comes up on one person’s radar and reaction spreads through the rest of the blogosphere. One minor blip came from a certain jazz video blogger that due to editorial suggestion here at Nextbop, I’m not going to link or embed.

Patrick Jarenwattananon briefly commented on the video in question on [Twitter] stating, “Knee-jerk "anti"-ism, Republican or Democrat, is not the point of Lara Pellegrinelli's column, nor Terry Teachout's for that matter. We Jazz People get so defensive about our turf that anything vaguely negative is pilloried. Don't people understand constructive criticism?” There are those in the field who make jazz seem cut off from the rest of the world or a little pretentious.

Upon talking with Seb on the matter, he told me Nextbop’s philosophy is about making jazz more appealing to a younger audience. Those with staid, vocal opinions can turn off a new audience. Someone swooping in and drawing arbitrary lines in the sand like calling out Republican jazz bloggers (as if that sort of thing even matters) or harkening back to earlier days in the music as though the present is of little relevance only produces unnecessary quibbling. Sure, I may take some joy in that quibbling (it gave me a column for this week), but this sort of thing isn’t really best for the future of the genre.

Since I’m involved in [radio], one of the first lessons I learned was never to mention another station on the air, especially disparagingly. I adhere to this rule because it’s just not good to spread that kind of negativity. It turns off the audience to talk about the faults of another radio station or some other artist. It’s best to focus on the high points, omit the negative, and keep things moving.

Also, because of a history of people hating me in high school, I’ve put a great deal of effort toward not pissing people off. I take a great deal of pride in being a peacemaker. Usually, there’s a kind way to speak the truth, or at the very least use ambiguous language to make people feel reassured hearing rejection. Essentially, I abide much of the time by the value of Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

There are many in the discourse who aren’t fully following these principles. Peter Hum [very recently highlighted this shift in the discourse] with quotations from Maurice Brown, Esperanza Spalding, Jon Brion, and Christian Scott. The [Scott interview in All About Jazz] is most certainly a must read but I took pause with parts of it much like Hum took pause.

Many of the points Scott, Spalding, et al. have made are valid. Jazz can only move forward if all parties involved are more invested in said forward movement with reverence to the past as opposed to completely kowtowing to the past with a lack of innovation. What we’re seeing here is not only a vocalizing of this critical point but also a kind of fatigued irritation. Scott isn’t just making the music that he wants to play, but one can read tinges of his being just plain pissed off that he even has to state the clear fact that of course art is supposed to progress. What good is art if it doesn’t progress?

I just would rather people wouldn’t crowd out folks in their stances. I, like Jarenwattananon, would prefer folks make their arguments without being inflammatory. Art requires critique, especially jazz in this day and age, but lately we’re hinging on ad hominems at Matthew Shipp magnitude. (Yes, I realize that the way I just referenced Shipp was in a sense, also an ad hominem attack.) I’ll try to keep all this in mind whenever I speak disparagingly of folks who abide in the Wynton Marsalis school of thought.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].