Category Archives: Jazz at Lincoln Center

Three Guys with a Mission (SJ XI)

My New York sojourn began with the Chamber Music America Annual Conference, which marked my first real involvement with this marvelous organization, which does so much to promote small-ensemble music making and networking among musicians and managers, publicists, educators, journalists, etc..  Since the conference, where in a few days I probably got enough material to design my new course on career skills for young classically-trained musicians, I’ve attended two CMA grant-writing workshops and two free “First Tuesday” events, presented each month at St. Peter’s Church in the Citigroup building.

February’s session was a fascinating talk by Adrian Ellis [pdf], the Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who exudes a deep sense of mission as he articulates its importance.  So do Steve Smith (Time Out New York music editor, New York Times classical critic, and blogger) and Nate Chinen (pop/jazz critic at the Times), the panelists at yesterday’s (March 1) event, “Meet the Music Press.”

We all know these are challenging times for the arts, not only because of the general economy but because, as controversial NEA head Rocco Landesman has infamously observed, supply outstrips demand.  Ellis emphasized the danger of organizations devolving into survival mode and losing sight of their missions, the importance of which he returned to many times.  He elaborated on a variety of topics, outreach being perhaps the most critical.  With much of country “two to three generations beyond routine arts education,” the task falls to arts organizations.  Jazz at Lincoln Center, he said, is “basically an education machine with programming.”

Chinen and Smith don’t refer to themselves as arts educators, but they are, roses-by-another name, working in a for-profit world.  Both spoke of their roles as advocates for music and musicians.

They started out by discussing how event listings (Time Out; find the Times ‘Week in Music” listings in the center column here).  Heck, I thought that would take just a few minutes:  send your stuff in by the deadline and the interns will take care of it.  Turns out these guys are passionate about and take great pride in the listings they prepare–letting people know about what is going on seems to be their mutual raison d’être. It’s not a get-it-in-on-time-or-you’re-out-of-luck thing;  in addition to the emails and physical press releases they receive, each proactively scours the web.

They covered reviews more quickly–the real passion of each obviously lies elsewhere. FYI, at the Times, classical reviews are assigned by the editor and chief music critic; the four jazz/pop writers, on the other hand,  pretty much manage themselves, deciding what to cover and who will cover it.  For these tasks and others, Chinen said there’s a collective “sense of stewardship” for their area.  The best way to get reviewed, besides being famous and important, is to catch the attention of one of the individual critics (even among the classical staff).

Feature articles, including profiles, are what seemed to really turn these guys on.  Chinen likes to write stories “that make you interested in something you didn’t know you were interested in.” (Hope I wrote that down right, Nate.) When Smith pitches a feature article to the Times, its has to be something he believes in so strongly that “perspective as an advocate” comes through.  What really engages him? The “people who are keeping classical music from being a dusty graveyard.”  It’s an “exciting, creative time,” and he wants people to now about it.

So what about negative reviews?  “Disputative criticism” (a term new to me) is fine with the culture is healthy.  Space is limited;  why waste it on sharpening knives over an emerging artist? Not that they don’t write critical reviews from time to time or that even feature articles may contain critical assessments.  But Chinen says, “Often times I exercise my critical urge by means of omission.”

Three men on a mission.  Glad they’re around.

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Filed under Chamber Music America (CMA), CMA 2011 Conference, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Music Writers, Nate Chinen, sabbatical journal, Steve Smith