The Jazz.com Blog
March 23, 2008 · 0 comments
Bob Blumenthal, whose interview with Wayne Shorter is currently featured on our home page, has been celebrating jazz music in print, to the delight of fans, since 1969. Reading his criticism was part of my own education as a jazz writer, and I know that I am joined by many in admiring the depth and breadth of his work.
Only ten writers have been awarded the Jazz Journalists Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, and Bob is on that elite list. (For the curious, here are the other honorees: Whitney Balliett, Stanley Dance, Francis Davis, Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Gary Giddins, Gene Lees and Howard Mandel. Nice company to keep!) True, there are other awards for authors, but this honor is distinguished by being chosen by the jazz critics themselves. Needless to say, these are a prickly, difficult-to-please bunch of folks - especially when it comes to jazz writing - and their approval is a good measure of how a critic is viewed by those who know the field best.
(Of course, a vote by the musicians to select the best jazz critics would be even more interesting. But no brave journalist has yet stepped forward to conduct that poll.)
Even jazz fans who donít read criticism (how dare they?) have had their tastes shaped by Bob, through his frequently encountered liner notes, which stand out for their intelligence and judicious assessments of the music. Perhaps the one complaint we can make, is that so little of Blumenthalís criticism has appeared in book form. This will continue to be our lament, but Bob has at least rectified this in some degree with the publication of his book Jazz: An Introduction to the History and the Legends Behind Americaís Music (Smithsonian).
Bob manages to cover the history of jazz in less than two hundred pages. And does so stylishly and without missing any of the changes. Can you really tell the story of jazz in such a compact form? This is like one of those magic tricks, making the Statue of Liberty disappear or an elephant come out of the trunk of a VW bug, that I wouldnít believe if I hadnít seen it with my own eyes. The book is also well illustrated and designed, with a number of sidebar features, and I could envision it working well with a classroom of students coming to grips with the jazz art form for the first time. I especially like his coverage of last two decades, always the hardest part of any history, where a writer needs to make the hard decisions about which aspects of the current scene will stand the test of time.
I wonít try to summarize what Blumenthal has to say. His writing is succinct enough, that you should check it out for yourself. Meanwhile, you can read his interview with Wayne Shorter here. And if you didnít see his conversation with Eddie Palmieri and Brian Lynch, published on these pages a few weeks ago, you can find it here.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia