Why writing about jazz is maybe just a little bit like ‘dancing about architecture’ – @robgarratt on jazz

The oft-quoted dictum that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” – credited variously to sources from Laurie Anderson to Frank Zappa, but attributed by scholars to comedian Martin Mull – is, of course, clap-trap. Words carry meaning more explicitly than any other medium, and there’s simply so much to say about music – from analysing harmonic theory or individual technique to relating a musician’s biographical backstory. From describing the mood in a certain room on a given night, to gropingly grasping at language in frequently inadequate, but often profoundly rewarding – and, darn it, at times outright beautiful – attempts to immortalise the fleeting phenomenological states and emotions that pure sound can inspire.

As someone who has spent the better part of my professional life writing about music, I understandably feel quite passionately, and protectively, about the subject. But the times I feel closest to emphasising with Mull’s (or whoever’s) words, is when writing about jazz. Perhaps it’s a personal failing – because from technical analysis to biographical geekery, there’s surely no genre with more to chew on, or more deserving of fresh insight. Nor does my reserve stem from antipathy or aesthetics – I’d readily call jazz my deepest musical love and have enjoyed little in life more than not just listening to jazz, but trying to make sense of my euphoria with words. Maybe I’m too close to my subject, but that doesn’t quite chalk up with me, either, or perhaps I’m just plain scared of jazz – of the music’s weight, sweep, history and power.

Despite all these reservations, International Jazz Day struck me as a fine time to look back on ten years of writing about jazz – for newspapers, magazines, blogs, for fun – on a blissfully tortured decade spent trying to wrestle my dearest love from the ether, and onto the page.

 

Meeting the masters: interview profiles

Legends

Herbie Hancock  /  Wynton Marsalis  /  George Benson /  John McLaughlin  /  Stanley Clarke  /  Larry Carlton  /  Quincy Jones (2011 … 2014 2016)

Fresh voices

Esperanza Spalding  /  Vijay Iyer  /  Alfredo Rodriguez  /  Rudresh Mahanthappa  /  Ollie Howell Bill Laurance  /  Kyle Eastwood  /  Nik Bärtsch  /  Jamie Cullum  /  Bobo Stenson

The French connection

Erik Truffaz  /  Manuel Rocheman  /  Laurent de Wilde  /  Laïka (Fatien)

Arabian frontiers  

World Peace TrioAmir ElSaffar  /  Tarek Yamani  Insula  /  ARS Trio Noon

Blagging London, circa 2010-11

Gilad Atzmon  /  Courtney Pine  /  Phronesis  /  Tony Kofi  /  Jay Phelps  /  Kit Downes

 

Groping into the ether:  jazz reviews

On stage

London Jazz Festival 2016 (Wayne Shorter, Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, etc…)

Wynton Marsalis  /  Herbie Hancock  /  Rudresh Mahanthappa  /  Led Bib  /  Mulatu Astatke Vijay Iyer  /  Rony Afif  /  Tarek Yamani  /  Gary Burton  /  Pat Metheny  /  Laïka Fatien  /  Benet McClean  /  Amir ElSaffar

On record

Esperanza Spalding: Emily’s D+Evolution  /  Robert Glasper & Miles Davis: Everything’s Beautiful  /  Gregory Porter: Take Me to the Alley /  Tarek Yamani: Lisan Al Tarab  /  Courtney Pine: Europa  /  Diana Krall: Wallflower  /  Ollie Howell: Self Identity

 

Pictured above: Kaisa’s Machine live in Tampere, Finland, December 2017

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