« Happy Canada Day | Main | Maria hey hey Maria »

03 July 2009



Even better: Heinrich normally covers "diversity issues". Interesting that a female conductor is apparently too diverse for the Gazette's diversity reporter.

I've written a couple reviews that I'd rather not read again, but I'd have to try to write something that bad. Yipes.

Matt Rubin

Thanks so much for reading (and linking.) I appreciate your thoughts, and am eagerly anticipating that DD album. Interestingly, a conversation I had with Dave at Banff a couple summers ago kick-started my thinking on the subject of individual voices within big bands.

Regarding Maria's band, I guess my problem is really much more with the "fetishization" of precision than the precision itself. With her music, I always hear how beautifully she writes for her individual band members, particularly on her latest records. With the majority of big band music, however, I hear a homogenized "Big Band" sound in place of something unique. And I fear that this homogenized sound is too often seen as a feature, rather than a bug.

cbj smith

Hah! Darcy, you beat me to it! I was just coming to point you to the article.

A few things that got me: he seems to be unable to relate to art music except in a film score context. He seems to both want his female entertainers to be sexy, and to despise them for it if they show any signs of attractiveness. They ESPECIALLY can not be middle-aged (as if forty whatever Maria is could be considered middle-aged.) Does he know how hard it is get that good at a young age? I suppose not, to judge from his parting shot.

Particularly troubling is that he is unable to distinguish a "run-of-the-mill high school jazz band" from one of the best big bands in the WORLD right now. Is it possible to have such small ears?

I posted my comment on the Gazette website to register my disgust, and encourage others to as well.

He seems to both want his female entertainers to be sexy, and to despise them for it

That's it in a nutshell, Chris. You see this kind of crap time and time again (though not usually quite as blatantly as Heinrich lays it all out) and it's so predictable and tedious at this point.

See also: every article about Esperanza Spalding ever written.

Jason Parker

Wow. I'm glad that reviewer in Montreal is getting his comeuppance in the comments. I've read bad reviews before but that one is bad on so many levels it's hard to even know where to begin...

Cool to hear that you're involved with the liner notes for Dave's big band record. Sounds like a treat!

And I laughed out loud when I read your footnote explaining liner notes. As a total liner note junkie I'm glad the art isn't lost entirely.

Andrew Durkin

That review is indeed pretty stupid. But there's also an underlying issue here: we really need more female jazz critics. What is it about this music or its community that seems to dissuade such a thing?

And Matt, thanks for that big band essay. I confess I have some of the same reservations as Darcy -- and reading your response here I wonder if you're not really complaining about "precision" (or the fetishization of same), but rather, lifeless, mechanical playing in general? If that's the case (and who would disagree that lifeless, mechanical playing is bad?), well, why do big bands get singled out as the prime suspects? Isn't "lifeless and mechanical" precisely the complaint most people have about the jazz they don't like, in a band of any size? I.e., that it's very much "by the numbers," with individual voices smothered by the weight of the "jazz tradition," and so on? It seems to me that plenty of smaller groups get accused of the same thing all the time.


What is it about this music or its community that seems to dissuade such a thing?

See above w/r/t the widespread tendency amongst those in the jazz press (and certainly not just the jazz press) to "want [their] female entertainers to be sexy, and to despise them for it."

Anyone who wants into that particular club has to really want it, be really good, and be willing to put up with an insane amount of bullshit.

(Also, you have no doubt noticed the entire jazz media establishment exploding like the set of a Michael Bay movie... now really isn't a good time to be trying to break into the biz.)

I know I've made the comparison between the fringier fringes of the music world (jazz, improv, new and experimental musics of all stripes) and comic books before, but: it seems to me the stories of outsiders like Christopher Priest and Gail Simone are instructive and perhaps in some respects applicable.

Andrew Durkin

See above w/r/t the widespread tendency amongst those in the jazz press (and certainly not just the jazz press) to "want [their] female entertainers to be sexy, and to despise them for it."

Anyone who wants into that particular club has to really want it, be really good, and be willing to put up with an insane amount of bullshit.

But why is this so pronounced in jazz, per se? I mean, look at film criticism, or political writing, for instance. Tons of misogyny and "old boys club" BS in both of those fields. And yet there are also numerous great female film critics and political writers who have broken through. They've been doing it for a while now.

John Guari

A strange read, indeed. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about it yet.

On counterpoint: While Gil Evans of course utilized counterpoint (among many other techniques), I tend to think of his broad timbral spectrum as a more essential characteristic. When I think counterpoint, I think immediately of Bill Holman. If big band composers shy away from extensive counterpoint, it may be because once you write past a certain amount of counterpoint, you edge into Holman territory. And you can't out Holman Holman.

Also, counterpoint is one of MANY techniques available to the composer. It's powerful in a completely different way than tutti block voicing, call and response, modal planing etc. If counterpoint is right for the situation, it should be used.

As time moves on, composers' influences have broadened greatly and subsequently turned up in their music. Darcy, your Steve Reichisms in the middle of "Habeas Corpus" are powerful when paired with Maher Arar's story. I can hear the emotions of solitary confinement, the grim passage of time and the loss of humanity in there. For counterpoint to have been required of a piece like "Habeas Corpus" would have robbed you of the choice to use that static effect.

Different tools do different jobs.

Dan Johnson

There were middle-aged women in the audience? Wearing sleeveless tops?? They were blonde and beautiful—but in a "steely" way, not in a sexually-available way?

God, what a NIGHTMARE. That must have been a TERRIBLE concert. If I had been there, as soon as the show was over, I would have gone straight home to my mother and considered telling her off once and for all, except that that would break her heart, and she's very difficult to live with when she's upset, so instead when she asked me about the concert, I'd give her a sort of noncommittal response, but then I'd show her by writing a scathing review of this Schneider woman, since I know Mother doesn't read the arts pages, and anyway I can just pull them out before I give her the paper, when I pull out the underwear section of the Target circular, with those soft and inviting girls, so pleasant and sunny and friendly. They never scold me. No, they would never scold me.

Michael Good

Dave has a big band album coming out? Can't wait!

Love your album, Darcy - it's great to hear your music at last over here in California. I know you have a lot of downloads on the site, but when it comes to recordings I'm a CD guy. Please come out on tour to the west coast?

Matt's article has provocative wording but I like the overall analyais. I would add a point about layer cake orchestration, and your album could definitely be used as a counterexample for that one.

cbj smith

Umm, Dan, that was brilliant AND disturbing at the same time. Now that my dander is back down in the morning, I'm starting to regret a little bit the sheer volume of crap this guy is going to have to deal with today.

But only a little bit.

Darcy, I hope you've learned a lesson about keeping only one topic per post. Your excellent first topic might have gotten a little diluted in this thread. 8-)


One good point I think Matt makes is about the composer ceding certain control of the music to the musicians--beyond a solo section. But I don't believe this is mandatory.

Since Andrew is following this blog, I'll point out that for one of his tours, he allowed me to play alto trombone instead of tenor. On another occasion, the great Wolter Wierbos was playing lead trombone and he plays with a plunger. All the time! And so the lead trombone was always in plunger. Even the lead trumpet book, as played by another amazing guy Dan Rosenboom, was allowed, nay encouraged to adapt the part to his liking. This is also in tandem with lobster hats and fucked up masks. I really like playing music in that environment.

On the other hand, Chris Thompson, percussionist in Alarm Will Sound and LineC3, turned me on to drum corps (which I realize is not "big band" but it is certainly a big band). The level of selflessness and precision in those groups is sadistic. For example:
BLue Devils 1991
But this stuff is incredible. I think that's the problem with coming up with these "rules." Everyone is going to approach it differently. And even if you do all the "right" things and become as talented as Maria Schneider, there is still going to be some asshole who will write an article trying to knock you down a peg.

Cicily Janus

Comment removed at author's request.

Andrew Durkin

Many thanks for your comments, Cicily, and for your work. What you are doing is inspiring -- I wish you every success with your book (which I look forward to reading) and your career. I hope it paves the way for others.

The problem as it exists is clearly not because there are no female writers brave enough to confront the challenges of the male-dominated jazz-critical establishment. I don't even think the problem is with the readership of the jazz press, given the comments here and at the original article. Everything points to the idea that jazz is, to some undetermined but nevertheless large extent, critically curated by a group of folks who are more chauvinistically protective of that privilege (or at least more successful in their chauvinistic protection of that privilege) than their counterparts in fields that are typically more given to megalomania because of the scale involved (cinema, politics).

Why is that?

John Guari

My friend Ashley and I talked about sexism with Ingrid Jensen a few months ago when she came as a guest artist to North Texas. The crux of the conversation was that the people who are really cool, that you respect and that you want to make music with generally don't care what gender you are. They just care that you're a good player and a good person.

It may be a generational thing as well. My generation (kids of baby boomers) is by no means post-sexism/post-racism, but I have rarely, if ever, witnessed a female musician being shunned for being female. At North Texas, there are women on every instrument routinely being called for gigs and sessions because they are talented and hard-working.

Heinrich's article is in bad taste (duh) and the fact that no one agrees with him in the comments is a good sign that the view he espouses is not popular opinion.

Cicily Janus

Comment removed at author's request.

Cicily Janus

Comment removed at author's request.

Graham Collier

Having been involved in jazz and jazz composing for most of my life, I have some strong views on the big band in jazz, and about jazz and jazz composing in general, and I'm delighted that this discussion is, at last, going on.
I've already responded to Matt's post - and, naturally, while doing so, got in a plug for my new book, the jazz composer, moving music off the paper, which aims to be a philosophical look at the subject. Some extracts, and comments from critics and readers, are carried at http://www.thejazzcomposer.com
Precision is needed in big bands if - as the majority of big band writing is today - the music is rooted in the style pioneered by Don Redman in the 1930s. Good luck to those who want to write in this way - and with many writers the roots are well hidden. But following the examples of Ellington, Mingus and late Gil Evans I feel that the jazz big band has to approach the music in a jazz way, and that musicians on every chair should be able to improvise and interpret what the composer has written.
The two epigraphs I used in my book sum this up well: Ted Gioia said that 'the success of a jazz composition can best be determined by what the players do at the point in a performance when there are no black dots to play', while Coleman Hawkins said 'To this day I never play Body and Soul the same way twice'.


Yikes...that review reads like a practical joke.

When I started teaching jazz history about 10 years ago, several students were bold/foolish enough to note that women playing instruments looked funny to them (after watching a great film clip of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm). Thankfully my students these days are actually quite enthralled with artists like Vi Redd and Mary Lou Williams (and not because of their bare arms!)

Regarding the lack of female critics, I thought immediately of two very well respected academic writers: Sherrie Tucker and Ingrid Monson. Which then made me think of a couple of other earlier writers: Valerie Wilmer and Helen Oakley Dance. Which then made me think of a couple of other names: Laurie Pepper, Elaine Cohen, and Sharony Andrews Green (wives of Art Pepper, Red Callender and Grant Green who coauthored/authored autobiographies). There are probably others, this was just off the top of my head of things that aren't gathering dust on the bookshelf.

Andrew Durkin

Thanks for that list, Charles... of the writers you name, I have only read Monson and Dance, and both of those were long ago. I'm also not sure I'd put academic writing on jazz (or jazz autobiography, for that matter) in the same category as jazz criticism, but your point is well-taken: it's not like there are no good women writers writing on jazz. Still and all -- call me greedy, but I think we could use more.

Cicily Janus

I'm going to comment, once again, and hopefully no backlash comes at me in the form of emails!

I agree with Andrew. Academic writing on jazz isn't in the same category as jazz criticism. Yes, they're both book categories dealing with jazz but that's like saying a Memoir that reads in first person of an ER doc is the same as the book ER docs use to learn their trade.

When I started out on my project, I wanted to make it a guidebook but it turned into sooo much more. After I realized that the musicians had stories that needed, ABSOLUTELY needed to be heard, I turned and focused my attention on them. What I'm doing is autobiographical in nature, only as much as it's using the musician's own words. And it is a FAR CRY from academia. As a matter of fact, each musician I talked to for the book, I had to take the time to explain to them that this wasn't a book of critique.

Another point that needs to be made among this, and one I've been a part of first hand, is that it's darn hard to get published these days. Finding an agent, which is necessary if you want a publisher other than self-pubbing or if you're not an academic writer, is difficult because unless you know them personally or have met them in person, you have to catch them with a query letter. This is not easy either. Then you have to have the right Platform to get past an acquisitions desk. Platform is the backing to be able to do the project that's been proposed. For me, I was lucky. I went to jazz school, etc...Then once you get all that, your chances of making it on the shelves some year or so later is still only a 5% chance.

I'm sure there are many female writers out there writing about jazz, I hope so at least, but maybe they're just butting up against a wall.

Also, you guys may want to check out Michelle Mercer. She's not just a jazz writer, but she just came out with her new bio. on Joni Mitchell and her previous work was the biography of Wayne Shorter. And, as weird as this is, we live down the street from eachother in a small town in Colorado. Who would have known. Maybe all the women jazz writers are just sitting in this culturally deprived town.

~C. Janus


Sure there is a difference between academic, biography and criticism, but I was just noting that the lack of female voices in our discourse on jazz (in whatever form) is partially because we overlook the few important voices we have too quickly. The more voices heard, the more perspectives, the more different the perspectives, the better for me too. Thanks for the heads up on Michelle Mercer.

Andrew Durkin

Cool, Charles, I get what you're saying, and agree -- I was just making the distinction because I had referenced "jazz criticism" in my initial comment. (Seems like months ago now...)

Jen Wharton

This review was more like what I imagine a jazz review in The Onion to read like.

Unfortunately, I feel like in the world of critics, any reaction is a good one. So all the backlash this guy is getting will probably further his career. What sucks is that the more they bash performances, the more notoriety they get. Critics don't have to be knowledgeable about what they are reviewing as long as it is inflammatory. Provoking such a strong reaction increases online traffic to a newspaper's site and is ultimately a good thing in the eyes of the powers that be.

We know that Maria Schneider Orchestra isn't what this guy says. Call the review what it is - bullshit - but don't give that guy any more attention!!!


Forgive me if some of this has already been said, I haven't been able to read through all of the comments yet, but some immediate thoughts struck me after reading Mr. Rubin's article.

I found myself in the same place as him for many years, but I think that the sound that he hates so much is harder to pinpoint than this.

The "fetishization" of precision comes a little closer to describing it, but it can manifest itself as a lack of originality in the players, the composition, the arrangement, the orchestration, etc...

Maybe it's that when you try to force any element on the music, the music suffers. With the Big Phat Band, one could say that the centrality of tight, flashy, technique-heavy passages and playing destroys anything musical. The same could happen with an over emphasis on block-voicings, counterpoint, dissonance, political propaganda, emotion etc...

Anytime you make the music (or any art-form) subservient to any one idea or technique, it's probably going to suffer.

The comments to this entry are closed.