07/09/14 By Nate Chinen
The Gig, Nate Chinen's Column, Approaches a Milestone
Reflections on the first 99
I got 99 columns but this ain’t one.
Yeah, you heard me: we’re creeping up on the 100th installment of The Gig, my monthly column in JT. Lately I’ve been puzzling over how we got this far, this fast. I’ll have more to say on that front in column No. 100, which will appear in the Sept. issue of the magazine. Meanwhile: a few stray thoughts, followed by an invitation.
The Gig made its debut in the May 2004 issue of JazzTimes. It had some precedent in a previous jazz column I wrote for the Philadelphia City Paper, my first critical outlet. And when I started an independent blog a few years later, I reapplied the same name, which has always been partly a reference to the workaday rhythms of the jazz life, and partly an affectionate nod to the slyly complex Herbie Nichols tune.
A column confers both privilege and pressure, and I’ll confess that it took me a while to feel quite comfortable in the role. My first handful of dispatches now strike me as earnest and a little awkward, in the manner of a yearbook portrait. Given that I was implicitly brought on board to speak for some kind of youth bloc—a position that made more sense when JazzTimes was still publishing columns by Nat Hentoff and Gary Giddins, and I was still in my 20s—it may make a certain sense that the earliest Gig I can point to with satisfaction was a critical appreciation of Björk. (I stand by every word.)
The early columns also predated the advent of social media, and it’s interesting—to me, anyway—how much of a difference that made. Not too long ago, I had a column go viral (we’re talking of course in relative terms). It was a larkish bit about the jazzbro, my tongue-in-cheek term for a certain subspecies of jazz fan. It made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook, and inspired several online responses, including one by an associate editor at The Atlantic. At that point I was beginning to wish I’d made my point a little more clearly. (No, I’m not at all against spontaneous whoops and hollers in jazz clubs, or youthful enthusiasm in general. It’s the performative aspect of the typical jazzbro utterance, with its cliquish enforcement of a subtle exclusion, that bugs me.) Anyway, I realized that the subject had taken on a life of its own. Which is something that didn’t happen too often in the salad days of The Gig, as recently as a decade ago.
In my (ahem) tastefully navel-gazing 100th column, I’ll get into some reflections on what The Gig has meant to me, and what I think it has accomplished. At this moment, I’ll just say I’m especially proud to have used the space to celebrate youngish or emerging artists as well as deserving elders. My 99th column is about the new solo work of guitarist Mary Halvorson. Two columns before that, I wrote about the Westerlies. This isn’t the point of The Gig—JT has a front-of-the-book section, Opening Chorus, that covers that ground well—but I’m sure it’ll continue to be part of the portfolio.
But enough of this blather, right? I thought it might be fun to select five columns that I’m especially fond of, for one reason or another, and then encourage readers to make their own suggestions below. Here’s a link to almost all of the columns—I count 93, with a few unaccountable omissions. Is there a Gig you’d include in this bunch? One that you’d most definitely not include? Breaking the Golden Rule of Internet writing (which is Don’t Read the Comments, obvs), I’ll be watching to see what this exercise brings.