by Phil Freeman
Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion in jazz circles about whether critics need to be able to play the music themselves in order to be credible. Like, I suspect, most people who write about jazz (occasionally for money, and often not, something which will come up again below), I have been following this debate with some interest. It was all sparked by this August 21 Boston Jazz Blog article by Roanna Forman, and continued on Patrick Jarenwattananon’s NPR-hosted A Blog Supreme (twice), on Hank Shteamer’s blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and probably in darkened corners of actual jazz clubs, too.
I first briefly entered the fray on Facebook, after saxophonist Greg Osby posted an essay of his from a few years back, wherein he argued that reviewers should take into account the arduous travel conditions that impact the life of a touring musician before laying down too harsh a critique of a given night’s set. That’s a reasonable point. Some of his commenters, though, proceeded to argue that not only should non-players refrain from critique, but that non-African Americans could pretty much keep their opinions to themselves, too. (Osby did not endorse this viewpoint.)