21 July 2013

Backing Chinen

Nate Chinen has a humorous (at least to me) column on the "Jazzbro," defined as "a self-styled jazz aficionado, overwhelmingly male and usually a musician in training himself" who demonstrates

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.

That offense could possibly be taken to this only-half-humorous article merely confirms that the problem is real. Driven by just such a response from some corners, Chinen actually had to clarify that his beef is with "the performative exclamation, the posturing, self-congratulatory yawp," not with genuine expressions of audience enthusiasm. I couldn't agree more.

This kind of writing, in which hyperbole and sarcasm serve an earnest message, is deceptively difficult to pull off gracefully. I sometimes try it here and usually fail. Seriously, though, if you didn't LOL even a little bit upon learning that Jazzbros "ritually converge anytime Chris Potter is in town with his Underground band," I have some pretty serious reservations about you. And if Chinen's emphasis on age and gender understandably gives this piece an edge to those of us who find ourselves doubly implicated, this is in another sense actually an error of understatement: it has seemed to me for several years now that Jazzbroism is slowly spreading beyond its core demographic group of young males to define a broader swath of jazzland, one that, IMHO, is better defined stylistically. The website Nextbop, for example, though I value and commend them for the service they provide, operates squarely within this space in both style and substance.

In high school, when I first got serious about jazz and started going to more jazz camps, I was alternately enthralled with and taken aback by the top hats, banana ties and unruly comportment so self-consciously flaunted by "the jazz kids." My surly temperament, inexperience playing jazz, and background in classical music kept me from ever truly assimilating to this environment, and it was not much later that in pondering the prospects of becoming a teacher myself all of this began to trouble me in earnest. Though much of my own recent jazz work is concert-oriented, there is a time and place for vocal expressions of approval (perhaps even disapproval) even there, and I would agree with the most butthurt in the Jazzbro caucus that we could probably use more of it, not less. The point of Chinen's piece, which I think is equally important, is that disembodied affect is profoundly destructive, equally so to the experience of the music itself and to the social relationships immediately surrounding it.

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