Blowin’ Hot And Cool: Jazz And Its Critics
University of Vermont professor John Gennari has taken on a daunting and admirable mission, tracing the way jazz writers have shaped the perception of the music. He begins in the 1930s with early critics John Hammond and Leonard Feather, working up through “writer’s writers and sensitive cats” (Nat Hentoff, Ira Gitler, Martin Williams) to Gary Giddins and Stanley Crouch. Along with individual writers, Gennari discusses the critical impact of the Newport Jazz Festival and the Lenox School of Jazz and devotes a chapter to Ross Russell’s quest for the definitive Charlie Parker biography.
The book offers honest critiques of most of his subjects, using extensive references to present their strengths and shortcomings. In doing so, Gennari traces the social and political climate that fueled critics and the way they were perceived. But a good deal of his writing comes off as dry and excessively academic, especially in the early chapters. (He frequently throws the term “jeremiad” around, a $9 college word if there ever was one.) And Gennari regularly buries valid points in run-on sentences that blunt his ideas. Further, he doesn’t always take a linear path in his discussions. In the midst of discussing one writer, he often goes off on tangents about someone else. Coupled with his writing style, it makes the reading a little lugubrious for anyone who’s just here for the music.
In his introduction, Gennari says work for the book began in 1990, and his 57 pages of footnotes indicate that he did plenty of research within that time. The fruits of his labor definitely provide some strong insight into the workings of veteran jazz scribes, especially when he discusses the output of the 1950s and beyond. But ultimately, Blowin’ Hot and Cool seems more like a resource for literary criticism studies than jazz history.