One of my goals since I began assigning editorial in early 2006 was to get more musician voices into the magazine. I had a strong feeling that the “Us vs. Them” quality of much of jazz writing and criticism was becoming tiresome for all involved parties. Writers too often take the role of either champion or critic, leaving readers to wonder what really is going on with the music. In turn, musicians often feel that writers don’t really understand the music, yet are given the outlet for its evaluation. I also wanted to evoke all of those great pieces by famous musicians in jazz magazines of yesteryear.
We haven’t entirely succeeded with my mandate, but we’ve made some strides. Our Farewells section in the previous issue consisted of personal tributes from musicians (as well as industry professionals) on their peers or heroes who died in 2006. In this instance, having Sonny Rollins talk about Jackie McLean, or Joe Lovano discuss Dewey Redman, would seem to be an improvement over the salutary prose of a pundit.
As Nat Hentoff observes in his Final Chorus column on oral history, one of the finest examples of this approach is Art Taylor’s Notes & Tones, in which he provides an unfiltered outlet for artists’ words. Hentoff, the co-author of the seminal Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya, ought to know. You can read examples of first-person material in this issue, including bassist Gerald Veasley’s personal take on the development of jazz-funk bass. And, in the cover story, interviewer Bill Milkowski does his best to step out of the way and let Wynton Marsalis have the floor to talk about political and social issues that rarely find their way into a jazz magazine.
There’s nothing new under the sun with all this. Oral history and first-person material from musicians have been a part of the jazz lexicography for many years. One of the most famous columns in jazz journalism, the Blindfold Test, was originally created for Metronome by Leonard Feather in the early ’40s specifically to debunk the myth that the average jazz musician was some sort of idiot savant. Feather wanted to demonstrate that jazz artists had plenty of intelligent insight into the creative process. When he left DownBeat, Feather adapted the column for JazzTimes as Before & After, in which we hear from musicians before and after they are told what they’re hearing.
Not everyone is thrilled with musicians doing the interviewing. During the most recent IAJE conference, at which there were several musician-to-musician panels (including Marcus Miller with John Scofield, Christian McBride with Roy Haynes and Greg Osby with Ornette Coleman), a prominent jazz journalist voiced his dismay to me. From his perspective we were not only asking musicians to do something that writers do better, but we were taking away work and exposure from writers. I, however, enjoy the fresh perspective gained from musicians interviewing their peers. I also believe that musicians come away from the experience with a bit more empathy and respect for what jazz journalists do. Walk a mile in another man’s shoes and you gain plenty of perspective. I, for one, can’t wait for our first musician guest editor to try on my smelly sneakers. Size 10 1/2, if you’re interested.Originally Published