Jazz writing: A Woman’s Perspective: Lyn Horton
Lyn Horton, in addition to her active writing on jazz is also a distinguished visual artist. Throughout this piece we’ve posted a few examples of her work, currently on exhibit at the McKenzie Gallery in DC. “My life is invested with accomplishing a task everyday which is fulfilling. That task can not only be basic and quotidian but also creative in the sense of invention… Invention which involves my senses. I have matured enough to know that all of them are worth nurturing,” she says.
What are your current writing affiliations and any books or other projects you’re working on that you’d like to mention.
Presently, on this day in 2012, I write only for my blog: The Paradigm for Beauty.
What has been your experience writing about music in general jazz in particular?
In 1996, I started to “chat” on Jazz Central Station.com before it was wiped off the internet due to abuse by its participants. Perhaps two years later, I began to post informal “reviews” of performances I attended on the site. These “articles” received a fairly positive response except from all the “jazz experts” who felt it was necessary to question my “expertise” and criticize my lack of substance. I wrote about some mainstream music but mostly about the “avant-garde.”
Then I asked to write on JazzReview.com and was greeted with open arms. Morrice Blackwell and his staff had high regard for my work. Unfortunately the site no longer exists. I wrote for this site until 2007 when I started to contribute regularly to
Out of that experience, where my writing improved and I grew more and more confident about how to convert my viewpoints into words, I reached out to Downbeat, The New York Jazz Messenger and JazzTimes.com, respectively. At one point in time, I was writing for all these publications simultaneously.
My writing was unique: the musicians communicated that opinion to me and so did some of the editors of the aforementioned publications, all of which published my articles. A large percentage of my work was self-initiated, approved by the publications, and published. Only The New York Jazz Messenger, I discovered later, trashed my writing because it was thought to be too contorted even to warrant editing. The latter was the only print publication to pay me. Downbeat paid me for one article, but never accepted my pitches, thereafter. In 2009 or so, The Senior Editor of AllAboutJazz.com wrote an email to inform me that the publication would no longer accept articles from me because I had chosen another venue for publishing an article that was slated for a period of months at AllAboutJazz.com. Not long afterwards, I quit The New York Jazz Messenger because the editor did not want to spend time editing my articles. And I successfully wrote for JazzTimes.com for three years, but had to stop because I was totally burnt out.
What was it about writing about music that attracted you to this pursuit initially?
I want to clarify that my penchant is creative improvised music, rather than jazz. I have written about Brad Mehldau, Josh Redman, Sonny Rollins, and other high profile musicians, but mostly about those who tend to be under the radar of popular jazz journalists: i.e. Joe McPhee, Wadada Leo Smith, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Hamid Drake, Burton Greene, David S. Ware and many others.
The reason I immersed myself in creative improvised music is that I wanted to understand a challenging creative phenomenon other than visual art, which I make every day and which has been my “job” for forty years.
My ex-husband left in 2000. I wanted to support other people I really cared about in the wake of the shock of a lifetime which came in enduring separation, experiencing a divorce and being alone for the first time in twenty-five years.
Jazz turned me on when I was in high school; I followed it throughout college, and, by the time I was married, my interests had aligned with contemporary classical music due to my ex-husband’s vocation as a composer. While he was studying in a Doctorate Program at the University of New York at Buffalo with Morton Feldman, I was exposed to more contemporary classical music than I could ever have imagined and became versed in hearing innovative sounds, no matter how highly formulated. My comfort in hearing experimental music was reinforced and constantly revived with the latter experience.
Would you describe your experiences writing about music as overall positive, and if so why or why not?
It has been positive with regards to how the musicians about whom I write respond. The journalists/publishers have accepted what I do purely on a business as usual basis, as they should. But in addition to the situation I described above, I have generally been pushed into the back room because my writing was somehow not up to par. Perhaps, this perception is incorrect. The people who have edited my work would have to respond to this question. No one has ever imparted to me that I have a unique voice except the musicians and occasionally record producers.
On another note, one of the local colleges has been instrumental in bringing improvised music to the area. Over many years, the advisor of that institution’s radio station has done a remarkable job in promoting jazz, experimental and improvised music concerts and has created a “jazz block” every weekday morning on the radio. I have financially supported this radio station and written about innumerable concerts. Yet, I do not feel rewarded in the sense that my words have never been quoted in advertisements nor have my articles been referred to on air. And when I attend concerts, I am greeted with the expectation that I will write an article and asked what I think about the music rather than simply how I am and what I have been up to.
I reject any baiting from those associated with any music situation; I can smell it a mile away.
Women occupy an interesting place in the jazz pantheon; on the one hand women instrumentalists are in the distinct minority, at least as far as prominence, and on the other hand women absolutely dominate the ranks of jazz singers. What’s your sense of that imbalance?
I do not have an opinion on this. All I care about is the music, not the gender of the musicians who make the music.
Would you describe yourself as a music critic or a music journalist and why?
I am neither a music critic nor am I really a journalist. I suppose that I have practiced journalism when I have written profiles on musicians because I have had to do extensive research, fact-checking and interviewing. Yet, I have never called myself a journalist and am only perceived as one by those in the outside world. I am a member of the Jazz Journalists Association, but I do not know how long that will last.
Its been suggested that one of the real keys to solving the critical jazz audience development issue is that those who present the music must find creative ways to attract more women to their audiences; some wisdom suggesting that where more women go, men will follow. Is this an apt characterization of the jazz audience conundrum, and if so are there elements you might suggest to those who present jazz as to better attracting women audience members?
This is a ridiculous assessment. I believe that women attend jazz concerts because they care about the music. I could launch into a psychological assessment of why men are attracted more to “jazz” than women are, but I won’t, even though oftentimes, I think that it applies.
Clearly writing about music, and particularly writing about jazz, could well be characterized as “a man’s world.” Do you feel like that’s due more to the nature of the music or to some form(s) of overt exclusion from “the boy’s club”?
Yes, I sense “the boy’s club” all the time.
No, especially when the musicians accept me as a presence in their world.
Have you ever found it more difficult to pursue writing about music due to gender issues? If so please detail some of your writing experiences that may have been fairly or unfairly colored by gender.
I cannot fit into the “boy’s club,” which is one of control and arrogance. I have already described my experiences above.
What can be done to encourage more women to write about music in particular, jazz in general?
I do not encourage women to write about music. Women will do it if they have the incentive.
What have been some of the most personally satisfying music performances you’ve either written about or simply experienced over the last year?
The world premiere of the landmark work by Wadada Leo Smith, entitled, Ten Freedom Summers, on Oct. 28, 29, 30, 2011, in Los Angeles, CA.
Lyn Horton, October 2012 ©