One Of The Best Things Ever Written About Jazz Writing

Is also one of the saddest. Here’s the first paragraph:

Jazz writers are a bunch of kids who don’t know anything about the music; also, they are a bunch of old men who haven’t liked anything new since Bird died. They live to put musicians down; this explains why they let record companies bribe them (sometimes outright, sometimes through paying them to do liner notes) never to write anything negative about anybody. By this means, among others, jazz writers get rich off the work of musicians. Nobody publishes in jazz magazines worth reading, though, because there isn’t any audience that will pay to read one.

The article is from 1983, but it still carries a certain resonance today. Its author, J.R. Taylor, was already “semiretired” from freelance criticism by the time he penned this item. But in 1983, somehow he got the Village Voice to print 2,799 words about the actual “marginal” business of jazz writing: pay rates, supplementary income streams of questionable ethical value, the actual age of writers (“jazz writers have always tended to be too young”), the tenuous business of funding a jazz publication and other structural observations about the impossibility of making a living doing this.

Much has changed in the landscape of jazz journalism since 1983 — the Internet, for one — but in spite of the references to obscure defunct publications, the perspective will be familiar to anyone who has tried to write about jazz, especially for money. Perhaps it’s the hint of hope embedded within Taylor’s black humor, which saves the piece from total cynical despair: “The caricature at the head of this column is a thoroughly unfair composite of opinions from members of all these groups. I will now demonstrate that every word of it is true.”

Thanks to saxophonist/composer/writer/historian Bill Kirchner for recently pointing it out. The story has been archived on the servers of the invaluable Jazz Discography website. [Village Voice/Jazz Discography: “Critics Have Problems, Too”]

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