Critical profiles illuminate the artistry of a variety of jazz musicians through conversations about the music they love.
In his introduction, New York Times jazz critic Ratliff (Coltrane, 2007, etc.) explains where he got the idea of profiling some of his favorite artists by listening to music with them. One precedent was the “blindfold test,” which has been a staple of Down Beat magazine for more than 60 years. The crucial difference is that where that test asks musicians to comment on a recording without being told the identity of the artist, Ratliff asked the artists to choose the recordings they wanted to discuss. Their choices are often revelatory. The legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter limits himself to The Complete Symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams, while vocalist Dianne Reeves opts for country singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter as one of her selections. (She also made lunch for Ratliff and explained that her cooking method is the same as her approach to singing: “I work with my ear and try to make it feel right, or I just keep changing it until I like the way it tastes.”) Ratliff’s own ear, sharp critical chops and scene-setting interaction with his subjects make the artists come alive on the page and make the reader eager to hear the music, both that discussed and that of the artist discussing it. The range of artists profiled extends from giants of jazz, including Sonny Rollins, Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman, to composer Maria Schneider to the new generation of jazz artistry embodied by saxophonist Joshua Redman (who pays tribute to Rollins as a seminal influence).
“Listening with someone else is an intimate act,” writes Ratliff, “because music reveals itself by degrees.” So do these musicians.