Music for Music: Articles Instead of Reviews


 


Igor & Marina, Jazzmen

Why I Write Articles Instead of Reviews of YouTube Music 

By Dan Ursini © 2018

All the statistics I have seen about YouTube music have two things in common: they involve a very large number, and somebody disputes its accuracy. What is beyond dispute is that the sheer convenience and free access of YouTube has made it the primary destination on the Internet for checking out music. I think YouTube offers a point of access to pop music of this era that compares with what transistor car radios were to the sixties-era Top 40 culture, even to the uh, sorta okay sound:

What truly sets YouTube apart from everything else is the absence of any filters—legal or cultural. Of course, videos get removed when creators object. Otherwise, everything that is posted stays. Most of the videos I write about are from live concerts posted by someone connected to a given band or by a fan. A marvelous performance usually cuts through any imperfections with the video, the sound, and anything else. Still, the absence of filters reduces the ways the videos can be identified and organized. There is a lot of great unmapped music video treasure on YouTube. Yet we have all found valuable music. My personal favorite is a half-hour video of bossa nova classics at an Italian music festival done with relaxed virtuosity by three masters of Brazilian music: singer Paula Morelenbaum;  her husband, cellist and arranger Jacques Morelenbaum;  and guitarist Jurandir Santana. When the global history of perfect evenings of music is written, this should get its own page:

When I find something outstanding, I fight the impulse to do a regular review. The template for this kind of writing was developed in the sixties at Rolling Stone Magazine by co-founder Ralph J. Gleason. He was also a pioneering jazz critic whose standards reflected an era when this music attracted a deeply committed audience for whom jazz was truth, and everything about it mattered. As you might imagine, his ideas were cheerfully implemented by young rock critics at Rolling Stone as they reviewed  albums by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Cream, and others.

Though terrific musicians and passionate listeners remain, the contemporary cultural climate is like nothing a Ralph Gleason would have anticipated. Alternate ways of expressing an intense love of music can be a good idea. When I write about YouTube music, I just write about music I truly enjoy. I have always been guided by the ideas of  critic and composer Virgil Thomson, renowned for his opera collaborations with Gertrude Stein, including “The Mother of Us All.”

To paraphrase a key insight, Thomson said that if you describe the music effectively, the job is done. Your opinions are implicit in the words you choose. So I stress not so much how good a piece of music might be as what most sets it apart. The two are not always the same. In any case, I always find it exhilarating to come across music that is fundamentally fresh. I hope you do as well.

 

Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983); he worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine ; he wrote performance art pieces presented at  Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication . In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, recently had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at: danursini@aol.com

Virgil Thomson

Ralph J. Gleason via NPR

Gertrude Stein via the Poetry Foundation

Music for Music: Balawan by Dan Ursini at EIL

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