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The Gig: Behold the Jazzbro

Like it or not, he speaks for you. Wooo!

Nate Chinen
Nate Chinen

One night this spring I was sitting happily at the Falcon, a music haven in a bucolic corner of New York’s Hudson Valley, when I heard the call of an invasive species. It happened a song or two into a set by Boom Tic Boom, the ruggedly intuitive band led by drummer Allison Miller, with Myra Melford on piano, Todd Sickafoose on bass and Kirk Knuffke on cornet. The noise that caught my ear was a conversational rumble of “Oh man!” and “Woooo…,” punctuated by a “Check that shit out,” and the clincher, “She’s such a badass.” I cracked a tight smile and glanced over my right shoulder to confirm what I already knew: There, just a few feet away, sat a table full of jazzbros.

You may not know the word, but you surely know the type. A jazzbro—not to be confused with a jazzbo, its older taxonomical cousin—is a self-styled jazz aficionado, overwhelmingly male and usually a musician in training himself, who expresses a handful of determinative social behaviors. Among these are a migratory pattern from the practice room, where they often nest alone, to the jazz club, where they travel in packs; a compulsion to signal the awareness of any mildly startling musical detail, with muttered exclamations like the aforementioned “Woooo”; the emphatic adjectival use of the word “killing,” as in “that solo was killing“; and the exploitation of jazz knowledge as a private commodity selectively put on public display. Easily mocked but only partly understood, the jazzbro should be an object of concern for anyone who claims to care about outside perceptions of jazz. Because like it or not, the jazzbro speaks for you.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).