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Dance of the Infidels: Some Jazz Musicians Take Aim at Critics

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Most musicians understand that music critics and writers have their role to play in the music industry. Duke Ellington, who received more than his share of critical reviews, once said "Critics have their purposes, and they're supposed to do what they do, but sometimes they get a little carried away with what they think someone should have done, rather than concerning themselves with what they did." A healthy attitude towards criticism is expressed by Joshua Redman: "If everyone liked what I did, I probably wouldn't be playing anything of depth." But I think that the British pianist George Shearing hit the nail on the head when he said, "You know, I think we tend to say 'It's bad' rather than 'I don't like it.'" That's really what's at issue here. Rather than Steinberg and Gannon merely saying that they did not like these artists' recent releases and providing a well-reasoned critique, they condemned the recordings they reviewed as just plain "bad." That kind of review can feel like a personal attack, even when that is not what is intended. And people who feel personally attacked are much more likely to strike back in kind. While musicians should not necessarily sit silently by while less-than-knowledgeable critics attack their work, they should probably work through a few drafts of their letters to the editor and try to remain as civil as possible. Flying off the handle when one's work is criticized, even unfairly, is probably not the way to win readers over or get them to check out the music in question. That's what music writing should be about, anyway—getting good music into the hands of listeners who might not otherwise have heard it.

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