In retrospect, the issues (which are now available online) contain as much parochialism as wisdom, which is to say they’re a reflection of their times. Art Farmer scolds Ornette Coleman for discarding chord-changes; at the same time, Gunther Schuller (in the first issue) parses Sonny Rollins’ style of improvisation so meticulously that, after reading it, Rollins is said to have lost his footing (as a centipede might upon hearing an entomologist explain precisely how he manages to walk with eight legs).
What’s interesting is that the musicians hold no bars when writing about one another. The reviews (often of albums now considered classics) are very detailed, sometimes quite technical, and occasionally disparaging.
The magazine lasted just three years, from 1958-61, but there’s something like it going on today in the blogosphere.
Countless jazz musicians have their own blogs, most of them to offer sound clips or to announce their upcoming albums and gigs. But some are using the medium in ways that echo, wittingly or not, The Jazz Review of yore.
Darcy James Argue takes deep, analytical dips into his own scores for his Secret Society big band, and sometimes touts other musicians’ works as well. Dave Douglas does the same with his. Steve Coleman uncorks massive musicological, occasionally mystical disquisitions on harmony and rhythm. Matana Roberts offers poetical ramblings on life, ideas, and music (her own and others’). Chris Kelsey has gone at it, with other musicians and critics, on the meaning and scope of “jazz form.”
But the jazz blog that I go to most eagerly is Ethan Iverson’s. The pianist for The Bad Plus, and quite the hip virtuoso on his own dime, Iverson lays out some of the most probing interviews with other musicians, and analyses of their work, by anyone anywhere. Iverson’s knowledge is encyclopedic (of jazz history, theory, and performance). I know from my own journalistic endeavors in other realms that interview-subjects open up when they’re faced with someone who’s on their wavelength, and Iverson’s subjects open up.
His blog leaves a lot of critics (myself included) in the dust.
It’s also a lot of fun.
Readers: I know I'm leaving out some jazz-musician bloggers. Who are your favorites?