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Jazz journalist James Hale addresses need for professional standards in music criticism and journalism

From Jazz Chronicles:

First, some context for my comments

They don’t come from any bias against technology as it applies to our art form: I wrote my first online article in 1992. I was an early blogger, and eagerly spread my work in digital form as soon as there were people with the tools to receive it.

Neither do I have an age bias, even though I’ve been in the business now for 35 years. Through the Jazz Journalists Association, I have mentored a number of young music writers, and I happily consume and encourage the work of younger compatriots.

My point of departure is Orrin Keepnews’ curmudgeonly 1987 essay, “A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed…” in which he decried uninformed, overly opinionated and badly written jazz criticism.

In the main, Keepnews argues for professionalism and style.

I share his viewpoint, and I’ve modeled my career—in large part, unknowingly—on his design. I urge you to read his essay, as it has its own argumentative muscle and examples (mostly based on his years as a producer for people like Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk, and on his time as a label executive).

But here are my own tenets for good music criticism: If you’re going to write about the music, it’s not enough to enjoy the music, even if you can summon the linguistic energy to communicate your passion to others. Sadly, that is still what gets some people their jobs in music writing.

There was a time when it was commonplace in some types of arts coverage—where the art was considered mainstream, or lowbrow—where coverage was assigned to anyone who expressed an interest in it. For example, the longtime film critic at the newspaper where I worked for a decade got the job because he liked going to the movies. The growth and rapid evolution of film schools in the ’70s and ’80s—and the calibre of knowledgeable young film aficionados they turned out—killed that notion for film.

Unfortunately, it’s still the case that jazz assignments—to say nothing of pop music assignments—go to writers who have an interest… and often, it’s an interest that doesn’t extend far beyond receiving review copies and complimentary concert tickets.

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