Sort by newest | oldest

16 Archived Comments


  • Anon wrote on October 08, 2012 report

    This review has clearly been written based on jealousy, I mean, the review is longer than one of the chapters in this book. Maybe Duncan Heining's own book has not been quite so successful.

  • Duncan Heining wrote on October 08, 2012 report

    Dear Anon

    I have the courage and confidence to give my name by what I write. I also state my qualifications, which allow me to comment both on the basis of my knowledge of music but also on the basis of a strong academic background. Those qualifications include a degree in Psychology and 24 years of related work in social work and criminal justice. I never jump to conclusions. I read, reflect and analyse. What exactly are your qualifications that would justify these remarks?

    Duncan Heining

  • Brian Priestley wrote on October 10, 2012 report

    It's a bit of a cheap shot for "Anon" to describe Duncan Heining's review as based on jealousy. I mean, Heining's book is scarcely in competition with a seven-year-old outmoded diatribe by Nicholson. I don't even agree with Heining that Nicholson's book was well-written - numerous examples of clumsy writing and poor editing were found in it, and some may even have been mentioned in my negative review published by JazzUK in 2005. The best thing about Nicholson's book was its title.

  • John Kelman wrote on October 10, 2012 report

    Let me just throw in a few words in support of Duncan. What I can tell you, as his editor here at AAJ, is that he is always meticulously thorough on any subject about which he chooses to write. His own book on George Russell (which I reviewed, and which I think is the definitive book on the subject) is a great example of an almost pathologically (but in the best possible way!) detailed account that is crystal clear about its empirical assessments, but humble enough to admit when others are less so.

    That Duncan's article is longer than a chapter in Stuart's book is irrelevant. If Anon is going to critique Duncan's piece, surely he/she can come up with actual hard issues and not unsupportable impressions.

    That's what Duncan does, and why, whether or not you agree with him, you cannot dispute the thorough and thoroughly logical nature of his arguments.


  • Stephen Ambler wrote on October 25, 2012 report

    Duncan Heining's recent critique of Stuart Nicholson's Is Jazz Dead? (Or Has It Moved To A New Address?) is neither accurate nor well reasoned. But in his hubristic effort for self promotion Mr H has doubtless gained some confidence, since he has reached significantly more readers with this disingenuous piece than with his own turgid tome George Russell: The Story of an American Composer (Scarecrow Press). Perhaps he has now found his calling; that of a second rate critic rather than a third rate author.
    Stephen Ambler

  • Duncan Heining wrote on October 26, 2012 report

    Dear Mr Ambler

    I am very curious about what you have to say. Your post reads as being rather emotional, something as a second rate critic I try to keep out of my own writing. Have you actually read my book on George Russell? If so, you found it turgid. Well, I'm sorry you found it so. Others who know the subject and subject matter would disagree, which is some slight comfort to me as a third rate author. As to the accuracy of my arguments and reasoning in my critique of 'Is Jazz Dead?', I would love the opportunity to debate these issues with you, as I am confident that my reasoning and arguments are both cogent and well-presented. You describe the piece as disingenuous, that is ‘lacking in sincerity’. You suggest also that I am motivated by a desire for self-promotion. Since, without knowing me, you have formed your own impressions of my character - generally, the term for such hasty and ill-founded judgements is 'prejudice' - there is probably nothing I can say to dissuade your from your opinion. It is some relief that those who know me would question both your assertions most strongly. You will see from this that I have replied in a measured way to your post, leaving any assessment of your personality to one side. It is possible to post comments here and elsewhere and make a point without resorting to personal attacks.

    Duncan Heining

  • John Kelman wrote on October 26, 2012 report

    Whether or not you agree with Duncan's assessment, to call his George Russell book a "turgid tomb" says a lot. If you think a meticulously researched, impeccably organized and engagingly written biography is a "turgid tomb," well then, there's not much more to say. I reviewed Duncan's book, and while I will agree that it hasn't received the press and acclaim it should, it's not because it isn't what I consider to be the most authoritative document of the subject - certainly, in my opinion, the final word.

    About to start into his latest book, Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers: British Jazz, 1960-75, and based on what I read in the Russell book, I do so eagerly.

    I am always curious why, when folks disagree with something a writer has written, they have to turn to argument into something more personal? Is it not possible to disagree with Duncan without casting aspersions, intimating intentions about which you know nothing, or getting just flat-out insulting?

    Is it not possible just to disagree and then explain why on the actual subject in question?

  • Aaron Hamish McDuff-Fox wrote on October 27, 2012 report

    Isn't it amazing what one comes across. I know very little about jazz except for two facts. Firstly, I know what I like..and, therefore, I am always right because it is my opinion. Secondly, I know that if you put two people together and have them discuss jazz you will get at least three different opinions. And remember, opinions are always correct. The argument here seems more to be about the semantics of prose style, researched deductions and resultant conclusions rather than jazz itself. Insomuch as Mr Heining is in critical mode, it is the fact that he is criticising Mr Nicholson's approach rather than the substance of his book that seems to have got him all hot and bothered...what is it, seven years after its publication? I think I would have come to a conclusion before that! So whose argument should one support then? Stuart established, international author and acclaimed jazz writer for many years of six major volumes (and further printings)...or Duncan Heining...a publisher of one recent book (these facts researched care of Google). Fact is, the jazz stage of criticism is a small world and it can never be good writing not to be deferential to ones betters.

  • John Kelman wrote on October 27, 2012 report

    Sorry, but while I am absolutely respectful of Stuart, just because Duncan has only one (well, actually two as of this moment) books published doesn't mean he hasn't been around, contributing to Jazzwise and other UK publication for a long time. I don't know about whether or not as long as Stuart - but even Stuart hasn't been doing this all his life, fyi. He came to it after spending a considerable number of years as a professional musician.

    As for why critique it now? Well, if Duncan just read it recently, and felt it deserved a piece, why not allow it? Is there a statute of limitations on criticism? And even if Stuart has been around longer, and I don't mean this as a particular slight, that doesn't intrinsically make him better (or, for that matter, worse) than folks writing less time.

    Duncan's arguments were objective, not subjective, and that's why we chose to run the piece. Had it been a case of sour grapes or any other personal agenda, it wouldn't have run (this was, in fact, discussed in advance, when he came to us with the idea).

    And Duncan may have published fewer books, but having read and reviewed his George Russell book and about to dive into his new one, all I can say is: he's a fine writer, a thorough, meticulous and above all accurate writer. There's nothing wrong with what he has done in this piece. Now, if Stuart would like to engage and dialogue, that would also be great, but I am not certain whether he would feel disposed to or not...but that's up to him.

    But whether or not you agree with Duncan, let's keep it from getting personal, as Duncan has done, very precisely and intentionally, in his critique of Stuart's book.

  • Aaron Hamish McDuff-Fox wrote on October 27, 2012 report

    At least I make money out of my words. Nothing personal in my observation. Purely factual.

  • John Kelman wrote on October 29, 2012 report

    Aaron, I am not quite sure what your last comment means. Please elucidate. I am afraid I don't know your writing, so I am not saying this as a personal comment about you, but just because one gets paid for one's words doesn't intrinsically make one a good writer. There are plenty of writers who are paid, and well, and are terrible writers; equally, there are fine writers who don't make a bean. What's more important than the issue of payment is the sinple question of whether or not the writing is good.

    In my opinion, Duncan's writing is very, very good. And, of course, both he and I, for that matter, are, indeed, paid for our writing...just not necessarily at all about jazz, which is volunteer-driven of necessity (unfortunately, too, as it's never been the objective, but just the reality), but certainly elsewhere.

  • Judith wrote on November 01, 2012 report

    Mr. Heining’s “review” of Stuart Nicholson’s book reads less like a considered critique than a diatribe with the type of malicious overtones that I find distasteful in what purports to be sincere academic writing. I actually found it difficult to read past the title which I found extremely offensive. (Heining could as well have written “Yah, Nicholson loves those Norwegian suckers”. His title has the same abusive bite to it.)

    The overall impression one gets when reading this piece is that Heining is using Nicholson’s book, and his own so-called review of it, to enhance his own reputation (as someone else commented above) as the "next great thinker" in the academic jazz world. (Interestingly, he accused Nicholson of doing just that in the first line!) The "review" reads like a soap box platform designed primarily to show just how many disparate fields of inquiry Heining can toss around as if he is an expert in all of them. That having been said, there is a serious lack of support referenced from existing literature on the part of Heining, a support that is expected of any serious academic undertaking.

    A clear and prominent theme running through Mr. Heining’s "review" is 'what Nicholson didn't talk about' (!!) -- e.g. global economics and its effect on disenfranchised populations. There are many other examples where he writes "Nicholson fails to ask these questions" and then begins one of his "next great thinker” shpiels. Mr. Heining appears to be unable to stick to point without wandering down every possible tangential road (which serves more to complicate than clarify). He appears unable to see that Nicholson’s choices of 'what to talk about' stems from his ability to do just that - 'stick to point', not his being "unaware of..." (as claimed on p.3) or (even more ridiculous) accusing Nicholson of attempting to "trivialize it (globalization) and its effects" (p.4). Mr. Heining appears to be calling Nicholson out for not writing 'The New Concise History of the Post-Modern Age' or 'A History of Capitalism and its Effects on Jazz'. If Mr. Heining feels capable of doing so… let him write them! For now, Mr. Heining – Stuart Nicholson, in his book, has done just what he set out to do - make a very clear and concise statement about jazz in today’s globalized economy and America’s jazz establishment’s (I am American, by the way, and a jazz musician) inability to relinquish control and allow the genre to continue to develop in organic ways.

    Lastly, if the likes of Davis, Gioia, and the Jazztimes editorial staff are not sufficient for Mr. Heining to give serious scholarly weight to Mr. Nicholson’s offering, I will add ‘praise’ of a different sort. I am a doctoral fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. At Columbia University, one of the most reputable academic havens in the world, Mr. Nicholson, his ideas, and his book are being cited with respect and authority by the doctoral students writing about jazz today. I would even go so far as to say that Mr. Nicholson’s ideas have actually inspired the research of several of the doctoral candidates here, jazz players (and thinkers) who are asking questions about what jazz education needs to look like in order to open up new possibilities and encourage new voices. Whether Mr. Heining would admit it or not, Mr. Nicholson’s book has started a quiet revolution, even in the States.

  • Duncan Heining wrote on November 01, 2012 report

    Dear Aaron and Judith

    Aaron, I am pleased that you are paid for your words. Judith, I am pleased that you are a Doctoral Fellow at Columbia. I’m not sure what points either of you are seeking to make by these comments but I’ll let that pass. You have both succeeded in your own ways of misunderstanding my arguments and both seem to wish to attribute motives to me that I simply don’t have.

    I really suggest that you both go back and reread the review. If you still feel the same, so be it. I wrote the piece to encourage debate, something that I think is important in the field. I do not mind debating issues, in particular with those as eminently qualified as Dr. Judith but I do not intend to engage with the kind of point-scoring that seems to be going on here. If Dr. Judith would like to contact me through my contributor page, I would be happy to discuss these issues with her in a rational, unemotional way. I am confident that I can address all of the points she raises. I will do you both the courtesy of not presuming your motives in the way you have mine.

    What follows below are facts not opinions.

    1) I read Is Jazz Dead? recently for the first time in connection with reading/research for my doctorate.
    2) I was concerned by issues of scholarship it raised.
    3) Because I know Stuart Nicholson, I thought long and hard about whether to write the article and discussed this at length with AAJ editor John Kelman.
    4) I decided to write the article because (a) I thought it important to challenge Nicholson’s arguments and conclusions (b) I saw it as an opportunity to present an alternative analysis and as an opportunity to develop my own ideas.
    5) Because I know Stuart Nicholson, I sent him an email before the article was published to advise him that I had written it. I did this as a matter of courtesy.
    6) I do need to publicise my work more widely because, as I am now a published author, I do want people to read my books. However, my critique of Is Jazz Dead? was not motivated by a desire to publicise my work nor out of a desire for self-publicity but primarily arose from studies towards my doctorate.

    I make these last six points to set the record straight. I am saddened that I should have been put in a position where even this much was necessary. I have no more to say on the matter.


    Duncan Heining

  • John Kelman wrote on November 01, 2012 report

    Just a quick point of fact, Judith: Duncan's title is a quote from a famous Monty Python sketch (the Parrot Shop sketch), and was intended as humor, not the nasty thing to which you ascribe it.

    Everyone's opinions are their own, but I felt it was important to set the record straight on the title.

    Carry on.... :)

  • John Kelman wrote on November 07, 2012 report

    Posted on Behalf of Philip Richards, Isle of Man:

    The Heining "review"

    As a fan of jazz I come to this debate from an amateur (in all senses of that word) perspective.

    Having just returned from a visit to San Francisco where the book "Is Jazz Dead?" and its subject matter formed the basis of many hours of good-natured, informed, humorous and enjoyable discussion with a number of jazz aficionados and musicians I'd had the good fortune to be introduced to I was drawn to read this review when I stumbled across it via Google.

    I am familiar with and admire Stuart Nicholson's work and have learned a great deal from his writings which, to me, express his love and depth of knowledge of the subject without talking down to his audience. He wears his wisdom lightly.

    In the same way as an earlier correspondent to this debate, I know what I like and, more so, I resent being told what I should like or what I should think.

    My experience of reading Nicholson's various books has been that he is informative and presents his arguments in a way that encourages you, the reader, to think. In my view that is precisely what separates the excellent from the mediocre in authorship terms and it appears from the praise he's received from those who know far more than I about jazz that his style and scholarship sits well with informed judgement.

    I began to read Duncan Heining's rather belated review of "Is Jazz Dead?" with interest. That interest quickly turned to concern which then morphed into annoyance.

    What was billed as a review seems to me to more of a rant and a hatchet job.

    Within the first few pages of an extraordinarily long "review," I came across phrases like:

    "he fails to examine the processes involved"
    "he fails to make adequate use of it"
    "nor is Nicholson's historical account….consistent or coherent"
    "Nicholson's understanding and analysis…..need to be re-examined"
    "historical account is….partial at best"
    "hazy notion of Darwinism"
    "theoretical perspective is weak"
    "more widespread than he appears to be aware"
    "not only does Nicholson fail to ask such questions…."
    "we need to do more"
    "we need to explore"

    This seems to me to be more an attempt at character assassination than a reasoned and fair-minded review of the work in question. Trying to stimulate debate is one thing, but doing so by way of maliciously attacking an established first-class author's reputation is quite another.

    Between these aggressive, opinionated and badly aimed barbs I found phrases such as “basic academic convention” which, to me, always sound like the phrases used by ignorant people when they are trying to sound important.

    "Basic academic convention" can also be interpreted as "this is the way we've always done it, this is therefore the only way to do it". It is exactly that sort of blinkered arrogance coupled with complacency that stifles development of new styles and forms (whether in music or in any other walk of life).

    Ironically," Is Jazz Dead" was focussed on and bemoaning precisely such lack of imaginative development (and a clinging to the "conservative" no-risk blandness that has infected jazz in the USA……...whether simply from commercial pressures or otherwise).

    Who decides what is “adequate use”? Is Mr Heining the sole arbiter of fact and opinion? To the unbiased observer it might appear that he himself very much thinks so. I fail to see the title of Professor before his name but he seems keen to give the impression that he is a world authority on history, politics, economics, philosophy and psychology as well as jazz. Either a very large intellect or a very large ego, I guess. Much of what he states in this "review" is his own opinion untroubled even by any vague references to or association with fact. I am left with the view that Heining has a hidden agenda.

    Why else does he choose to write in such vitriolic fashion and, in particular, why do so at this time? Is he trying to draw attention to himself, I wonder?

    Epiphany did not take long to arrive.

    As I read further into the views of those who have chosen to debate I couldn't help but notice that Heining"s second book is being published in October 2012. Quel surprise! Heining"s "review" thus dovetails so neatly with the shallow desire to patronise and puff his own book.

    Even for those with a less than cynical outlook Heining's "review" and the timing of it can now be seen simply as a publicity gimmick. By use of this tawdry "review" device he seeks to draw attention to himself at the expense of a much-admired jazz author in the hope that the resultant publicity will increase the sales of his own book.

    An inflammatory and damning "review" by an insignificant author simply in order to boost his own drivel exhibits blatant self-interest of the worst sort. I note with interest that it is Heining's publisher who constantly leaps to his defence throughout this debate……..whilst Heining's own responses to criticism are littered with juvenile self-justification.

    For Ted Gioia (a man most likely to be on the other side of Nicholson's fence) to describe him as “the most perceptive critic writing in jazz today” is high praise indeed and speaks volumes for the quality of Nicholson's output.

    Philip Richards
    28 October 2012

  • Mort Weiss wrote on January 10, 2013 report

    Damm, How did I miss geting into this one. Old age and gravity are catching up to me i guess:( Mort