Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ted Gioia on Whitney Balliett

I really enjoyed Gioia's How to Listen to Jazz, although for some reason it seems I never wrote about his book here.

Anyway, here's a nice essay by Gioia which encompasses a number of my favorite things: The Music Critic Who Tried To Disappear

  • Jazz (of course)
  • Specifically, the amazingly productive period of the late 1950's and early 1960's when a flood of beautiful new music was written and performed
  • Public Libraries
  • Music as Literature
  • The strange way in which a few youthful interests can become lifelong passions

Gioia on what he means about what a critic might do in order to be disappearing:

This unwarranted humility came to a head in mid-career, when Balliett’s personality and opinions vanished almost completely from his writings—a disappearing act unusual for any essayist, but especially for a music critic. “Sometimes during the 70s,” Giddins wrote back in 1983, “Balliett made the draconian decision to remove all the I’s from his writing. He not only eschews the pronoun in his current work, but has expelled it when revising his older pieces.” I dare say no one else in the jazz reviewing trade had ever made such a move, or perhaps even considered it.

Did this peculiar retreat make his jazz writing less authoritative—removing all those judgments and verdicts that are the very essence of authority—or did they give it even greater force, turning his perspectives into part of the fabric of the art form, natural laws instead of subjective opinions? You could argue that point endlessly. In any event, the final result of this shift was to create a shimmering translucency to his music writing, a new effect in a very old trade. Sometimes you even walked away with the impression that the musicians and music had spoken for themselves. Whether they actually did (perhaps doubtful), or if it were merely a prestidigitator’s effect created by the critic-behind-the-scenes, is almost irrelevant. Oz is still a magical place even after you find the Wizard hiding behind the curtain.


No comments:

Post a Comment