Tribune Critic Julia Keller Plays Dumb | Bleader

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tribune Critic Julia Keller Plays Dumb

Posted By on 10.19.09 at 12:39 PM

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Julia Keller
  • Julia Keller
In her review in Sunday’s paper, Tribune writer Julia Keller looks to be using her hatred of jazz mostly as a straw man—a way to give extra luster to her praise of David Hajdu’s new anthology, Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture (Da Capo). Her angle is more or less “he makes jazz sound so good in theory, I almost forget that I can’t stand the shit.” I’m not about to argue with her taste, but it was hard not to cringe reading the piece. Right off the bat she writes, “[Chicago] is a city that runs on jazz, that thrives on it. Jazz is the gas in our tanks. It’s the fizz in our drinks. Jazz is always just around the corner.”

What say?

As much as I love jazz, not even with the rosiest of rose-colored glasses could I delude myself into believing that Chicago bears the remotest resemblance to the city Keller imagines. She goes on to explain that she loves the idea of jazz, and you could be forgiven for thinking she wrote the passage in question 60 years ago: “I love the image of hip, swinging, subversive people who live by their own rules, who revel in melancholy, who blow sexy, dangerous notes in out-of-the-way places.”

Like I said, some people don’t like jazz, and that’s fine. But it’s astonishing that a Pulitzer Prize winner who calls herself a “cultural critic” would display an ignorance bordering on willful disregard for one of the country’s most important art forms. I can’t decide which makes her sound more inane and out of it: her belief that Chicago is fueled by jazz or her image of “sexy, dangerous notes.” As I read the review, I started to wonder where she’d work in the obligatory mention of smoky clubs—which no longer exist, of course, thanks to the smoking ban—and it pops up right on cue in the final paragraph. Jazz, now personified, “drains a shot glass, grinds out a cigarette, stands up and mutters: ‘Your loss, kid. You don't know what you're missing.’” Sadly, that “kid” could be her. She has no idea what she’s talking about.

Today’s playlist:

Andrew Hill, Smoke Stack (Blue Note)
Robert Henke, Atom/Document (Imbalance Computer Music)
Charlie Parker, Washington D.C., 1948 (Uptown)
Savath & Savalas, La Llama (Stones Throw)
Oscar Peterson, Plays the Jerome Kern Song Book (Verve)

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