This week I interviewed for a freelance reporting job at a local newspaper in New Jersey. There's a preponderance of jazz-related writing experience on my resume, and the man I was interviewing with pointed this out. Most potential employers do. I expect them to, but I'm never completely ready to explain why, or how, it's all there.
I'm also never really sure what posture to take. Just because I've done a bit of writing on jazz doesn't mean I know anything substantive. Should I drop a name? Go into a little history? Say which critics I like? What I do is wait to see what they say. If they ask me a question, I'll try to answer it.
This man asked me who my favorite jazz musician is. This is a particularly tough question for me to answer. I love and respect so many jazz musicians--dead and living--including Lester Young, Oscar Peterson, Paul Motian, Ethan Iverson, Benny Goodman, Al Grey, Jason Moran, Joshua Redman, Johnny Griffin, Red Garland. I could go on, for a while. In this situation, I said that, lately, I really enjoy the music of the clarinetist Anat Cohen. He hadn't heard of her. I then went on to explain that, although I don't consider myself a jazz critic, I mainly listen to jazz with critical ears now. I don't really enjoy it in the way that I used to, I said.
What was that way I used to? Well, in high school, listening to jazz, for me, was an exciting process in which aspects of the music were revealed by degrees as I continued to purchase CDs and listen and read the liner notes and memorize the personnel. I wasn't only learning about the music itself; it was teaching me something, about the importance of paying attention, of subtlety and grace and precision.
I started this blog after a summer spent writing and studying jazz criticism with Ben Ratliff, the New York Times music critic. Also that summer I took a course at the Rutgers Jazz Master's Program in Newark with the jazz historian and musician Lewis Porter. I was breathing jazz after I'd finished my work with Ben and Lewis. I wanted to continue thinking and writing about it. Yet at the same time, I didn't want to lose my innocence, if you understand. I didn't want to become too conscious of my consciousness of jazz, to make too much of a good thing. I thought that might make the music less enjoyable.
Ultimately, it didn't, because writing is important to me, and I want to become a better writer; and jazz is important to me, so I write about it, among other things. I also play the drums, and I'm usually the most refreshed after I listen to a good jazz drummer.
When I started this blog, I wanted to leave some of the mystery of jazz intact. It lured me in in the first place--I owe a lot to mystery. That's why I write so much about my life and how it relates to jazz. That relationship is hard to figure out.
So it's a different kind of enjoyment that I get from this new partnership I have with jazz, and music in general, and for that matter, almost everything. Yet it's fruitful.
Sometimes I can't tell what a piece of music has told me, or how it's made me feel, until I sit down to write about it.