What do jazz writers contribute to the music?
I can only speak for myself, of course, but my role is to discuss the music as insightfully as possible. Whether reviewing albums or gigs or interviewing artists the golden rule is to treat the music with respect, and that means expressing negative as well as positive opinions. I wouldn’t patronise an artist by giving him or her a glowing review if the music, to my ears, fell short, creatively. This is all part of the debate in any case. Hopefully readers may learn something interesting about the music through my opinion and observations. If that gives them a way into the music and encourages them to listen I feel my job is done. If they disagree with me and stand on their conviction that’s good too.
What process do you go through when you review a concert?
Listen as intently as I can. Even if the music doesn’t draw me in I stay with it and keep as open a mind as possible. Most importantly I try to listen without expectation so I’m judging the artist on what they do rather than what they are ‘supposed’ to do. When music takes you by surprise, and, in the best case scenario, completely floors you it’s a wonderful feeling. But you have to be prepared to allow that to happen rather than being guided by any kind of prejudice, positive or negative.
Technically speaking I form a general impression while trying to retain as many details as possible. I react and then try to pinpoint the reason for it. I don’t take notes as I find that helps me to immerse myself as fully as possible in the music. Some key words usually pop into my head and I ‘file’ them mentally, as you would on your computer.
How do you see the state of contemporary jazz and how does the future look?
There are some great things happening just about everywhere you care to look. New York, London, Paris and Berlin still remain strong scenes but in cities throughout America and Europe artists are making excellent music. Then again in less fancied places such in the Caribbean the degree of originality is excellent. Take one instrument such as the piano and look at the exponents at the cutting edge across several borders; David Virelles from Cuba; Craig Taborn from America; Benoit Delbecq from France; Robert Mitchell and Alexander Hawkins from Britain; Simon Nabatov from Russia – that’s an awful lot of talent.
What plans do you have for 2017?
Keep listening, keep learning, keep chronicling the music as much as I can both in print and on the radio. It’s such a great privilege to do so.
Kevin Le Gendre will be doing a DJ set at the Ropetackle Arts Centre as part of The South Coast Jazz Festival on Sunday 29th January from 2pm.