The Gazette always covers the Jazz Festival pretty hard. This year, as they have for the past few, they send a bunch of people (some professional music critics, others who just like jazz) to various shows and have them blog their impressions on the Words and Music blog. It’s averaging between eight and 13 posts a day, which is a lot for any blog.
This week Jeff Heinrich, who just recently left the city department and moved into features (a.k.a. arts and life) wrote a not-so-nice review of Maria Schneider. The post has been “burning up the web” (and Twitter), leading to a staggering 56 103 comments so far, every single one of them insulting.
I’m left wondering: is it really that bad? Is Heinrich’s descriptions of “irritatingly stiff body-language” or “middle-aged women in the audience” really sexist and ill-informed? Or are these commenters (most of whom, to their credit, use what appear to be their full names) just a bunch of people who disagree with a bad review (and never saw the long feature piece previewing the show, because they’re Maria Schneider fans who were pointed to the post, not Gazette readers who came across it on their own)?
And do you need a degree in musicology to review a jazz show?
UPDATE: As more and more bloggers are linking to the post, and more hate-filled comments come in accusing Heinrich of not being nice (including one apparently from Maria Schneider herself), the author responds in a comment, in which he explains that he’s not a music critic and it wasn’t a review:
Yesterday I started reading the dozens and dozens of comments on my post about Maria Schneider’s concert. Now that the artist herself has weighed in – calling it “the sickest review I’ve ever read” – it’s time I joined in. The list of accusations by the 80-odd readers so far is just too long to ignore: sexism, misogyny, obscenity, ageism, ignorance, distortion, incompetence, childishness, pettiness, arrogance, flippancy, inaccuracy, lack of respect, mindlessness, opportunism.
Let’s get a few things straight.
1) I’m not a jazz critic. I’m not even covering this festival. I got a ticket at the last minute to see someone I’d never seen before, ended up not liking the show, and wrote 350 words about what bugged me. It was not a review. It was a short post about how I felt coming out of a concert.
2) If it had been a review, I’d have done what reviewers usually do: prepare for the show by listening to some of the artist’s CDs, take notes about what I saw and heard, write about what was played and by whom, maybe put it all in its historical context, discuss the high and the low points of the concert. More about the music, less about the scene.
3) Posts on The Gazette’s Words & Music blog are usually short and to the point. Usually they’re reviews but not always. In this case, I was a male audience member struck by a female artist’s body language and underwhelmed by her musical language. That’s it – not criticism, just an impression – my own subjective impression.
4) By the virulence of people’s response, and the attacks on me personally, it seems that based on this one short post a lot of you think you know who I am, that the unflattering way I described someone you care about somehow reveals something sordid about me.
5) How could it? All you learn about me from my post is that I once played clarinet in high school and have seen a Bertolucci movie I liked. That’s called an anecdotal, first-person lead; it informs my opinion, that’s all. If you want to connect the dots from there and try to armchair-psychoanalyse, go ahead, but the material you’re working with is a bit thin, no?
6) I know what a jazz orchestra is. I’ve heard a few; some big (Artie Shaw’s blasting out of my suitcase Victrola), some small (Gerry Mulligan giving birth and rebirth to the cool on CD), some unforgettable (Wynton Marsalis leading a bebop tutorial with the jazz orchestra live at Lincoln Center). But none of that means I have to like Maria Schneider, at least not the show she gave the other night at Place des Arts.
7) Blogs are dangerous ground, I know. You riff on something directly to the Web and it gets an immediate response. No filter, no editor, no backstop, no taste police. It’s risky.
8) But the risk is the point, isn’t it? Getting into an immediate back-and-forth with readers wasn’t something that was possible in print journalism before, and that’s a good and bad thing.
9) Good, because it makes journalists more accountable, more engaged with their readers, more approachable. Bad, because it sets up a relationship that can be very time-consuming – even more labour-intensive than gathering the news itself. More scurrilous, too, as I’ve learned this week.
10) Maybe non-specialists should be kept away from covering something as technical as jazz. It could make for better-informed journalism. On the other hand, iit could just make for more hermetic journalism, and that wouldn’t be accomplishing much.
One final note, this one to Maria Schneider: I admire the fact you admit your show here last week wasn’t the greatest, and I admire the fact you say you “can’t begin to know” why I wrote about you the way I did. That’s more honest than a lot of people who think they do know, people whose idea of rebuttal is to be even more offensive than the thing they’re criticizing. I suppose I asked for it, was naïve to think it wouldn’t matter, didn’t expect the backlash. Was I “sick” when I wrote my post? Not really – just not in the mood. Maybe next time.
– Jeff Heinrich
Not that I’m defending the review, but I always admire anyone who can generate so much irrational anger and hypocritical insult-filled hate from people simply by saying he disliked something.