Last month, the critic Nate Chinen wrote a column in JazzTimes that has roiled the jazz blogosphere. As soon as I started reading, I could see why it kicked up a fuss, because I felt myself reflexively assuming a defensive crouch:
A jazzbro—not to be confused with a jazzbo, its older taxonomical cousin—is a self-styled jazz aficionado, overwhelmingly male and usually a musician in training himself, who expresses a handful of determinative social behaviors. Among these are a migratory pattern from the practice room, where they often nest alone, to the jazz club, where they travel in packs; a compulsion to signal the awareness of any mildly startling musical detail, with muttered exclamations like the aforementioned "Woooo"; the emphatic adjectival use of the word "killing," as in "that solo was killing"; and the exploitation of jazz knowledge as a private commodity selectively put on public display.
Elsewhere, Chinen offers some more signal traits. The jazzbro is "utterly convinced of both the superiority of his taste and the marginalization of his ideas." As with the standard bro, the jazzbro is usually between the ages of 18 and 34 and is most likely white and male, but there are black and female jazzbros, too. (Namechecked but left vague are jazz-nerds, a separate group whose main distinguishing characteristic appears to be a fondness for transcribed solos.) I'm not a musician in training, but I saw myself in almost all of the other descriptors. I'm the guy always bobbing in his seat, whether at a divey club or a concert hall. I sometimes call people "cats," and I know people who use words like "hip" and "dig" and "swinging" unselfconsciously, though there's no way the habit didn't start as affectation. I'm listening to this as I write.
So I was ready to be taken to the woodshed, and not in the jazz musician's sense of practicing. But Chinen's column, along with a follow-up on his personal blog, proved disappointing. He had an excellent conceit, and he has targets that are both juicy and deserving. His overarching point seems to be that jazzbros risk alienating non-jazzbros from the jazz audience and distracting from the music itself. More than anything, what sets Chinen off (and this is a man who writes about music for a living) is the "performative" demonstration of jazz smarts. Yet he doesn't offer any prescription except an admonition to self-awareness. That's a problem, because the hegemony of the jazzbro poses a serious challenge to jazz's ongoing health.