Influencers - beyond the playlist

Like they say word of mouth is the best recommendation. Where that comes from isn't always consensus. In fact given how jazz thrives on a highly unofficial coalition of dissentient tastes is there even one beyond all begrudgery? The critics give …

Published: 1 Jul 2022. Updated: 40 days.

Like they say word of mouth is the best recommendation.

Where that comes from isn't always consensus. In fact given how jazz thrives on a highly unofficial coalition of dissentient tastes is there even one beyond all begrudgery? The critics give some answers, the public others, sometimes these are the same. Often they are not. Whose consensus it it, anyway?

Given the popularity of playlists on big streaming sites that may be one way towards the Holy Grail of word of mouth. But it's not the best way. Here's why: You just put the track on and the next and the next and so on. It's a lazy listen. And yet there are loads of tracks you probably have never heard before. You certainly come away with a general style impression and that's OK but not ideal. Your knowledge is still limited and you may be not even thinking. But just ponder, you are out there in the street with your headphones on or WFH in Redditch and track after track comes up for you. It's function music, to help you on your way. Like hearing music over the PA in a restaurant while you play finger tennis with your fish knife and try to somehow please your latest internet squeeze. By no means is it an active listen. Like the most deadly of vegetables for tastebuds broccoli - the taste of playlists can pall.

Listening through a radio show is a different experience. You go by the tracks actually forward-and-backwards-announced if lucky. If it's a magazine show you may have to go with the curator's choice (which is the radio producer's choice) so that depends on the format of the show and what they will and won't play. If you don't know the parameters you will be in the dark. You may just switch off when the next ad for a Corby trouser press comes on for the umpteenth time during the show or be persuaded enough to drop everything that you are doing to dash off to buy one.

Working on recommendations of written word media is a different experience and much more useful given how super educated, picky and clued-up most serious jazz listeners are.

That's because listeners want to know more than the scattiness of a playlist or a ''lucky'' landing on a radio show even if there are features.

''Written word'' media is now mainly online. Gone are the days when you had to wait for a month to read your favourite hard-to-track-down jazz magazine. It's better this way - writers can respond more quickly, there is less spin from powerful publicists and writers can for the first time in years go directly to the artist for their point of view more than in the 1990s of 2000s when powerful publicists controlled all access. That isn't the case now and that is a good thing. A small blog (in other words a publication) can and often punches above its weight given skill, the gen, and determination.

Above all what you as a reader wishing to discover more properly selected jazz wants is information on a regular basis. Like every day delivered in an eclectic, critical (but not too aggravating) manner emphasising tracks, albums and the stories behind the playlists from the makers and following the plot as it develops. It's not a grab it and go situation, the story needs time and daily sites can spool out regular morsels in interesting ways.

The one thing no one wants is the automization of choice which if it happens in extreme form entirely benefits big companies, tech giants and major labels most. To an extent it is happening but that's just the Internet anyway. To make a good choice you need to know independent ideas. If you don't you may well be sold a pup yet again.

The little person is the jazz guy, the interesting maverick who does not go with the herd and actually has their finger on the pulse even if often shabbily dressed, living in a shed, and a bit of a trainspotter. The herd mentality is to listen to shiny, happy, sun-always-shines-on-TV 24/7 Ed Sheeran which a lot of people are perfectly (pun intended) happy to do all day long.

Squeeze the little person out and jazz dies another death and if managing to survive at all in the embers goes even more subterranean beyond morale-boosting bursts like when Love Supreme or the London Jazz Festival are on. Careful what you wish for when you buy into a narrative dominated by Universal and their close partners (as jazz is in terms of most big labels). And look in the news the megacorp now owns the voluminous Frank Zappa catalogue. The irony of We're Only In It For The Money is fairly inescapable even if more of a highly acrobatic semantic double salkow yet again by all concerned.

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Cyrus Chestnut, My Father’s Hands, HighNote ****

Cyrus Chestnut is a mainstreamer, his straightahead sound owing a good deal to gospel and the blues as main building blocks and you find all the ingredients of his sound here. Swing is to the heart of it all and to the fore straight off. I'm …

Published: 30 Jun 2022. Updated: 41 days.

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Cyrus Chestnut is a mainstreamer, his straightahead sound owing a good deal to gospel and the blues as main building blocks and you find all the ingredients of his sound here. Swing is to the heart of it all and to the fore straight off. I'm thinking in my head from yesteryear John Hicks and Oscar Peterson as simpatico to the Chestnut sound. And if you dig Ronnie Scott's musical director pianist James Pearson you will also get what Chestnut does if so far unfamiliar with this fantastic instrumentalist. Bassist Peter Washington, a straightahead legend of the music (like his generation's very own Ron Carter and brilliant last year with Bill Charlap), is on most of the tracks and the fine drummer Lewis Nash likewise.

The classic 'Cubano Chant' introduced to jazz by its writer Ray Bryant on a 1956 recording (and followed up the same year by Cal Tjader) really exposes us to the touch of Nash. And that is just one superb highlight of a record that is all about supreme musicianship, refinement and the art of the trio. It isn't going to change the world but will warm your soul whether on the Paul McCartney classic 'Yesterday' or the melting balm of Jimmy Van Heusen's 'But Beautiful.' What a tender tribute to Cyrus' dad McDonald Chestnut from his son - My Father's Hands so very winningly is. SG

Out on 15 July

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