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
The French connection
Blagging London, circa 2010-11
Groping into the ether: jazz reviews
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