My friend and fellow jazz journalist James Hale recently wrote a piece for the CBC Music Blog titled “The top 10 music list: good or evil?” http://music.cbc.ca/#/blogs/2012/12/The-top-10-music-list-good-or-evil. For reasons of space, my responses were edited down to a couple of quotes. Here are the complete answers to his three questions:
(1) Why do you object to year-end top 10s?
I don’t object to them. I’m often asked to share my list and I usually do so because it might help give deserving musicians a bit of exposure. Depending on who’s writing them, Top 10 or Best Of lists can be provocative, fun and surprising, or boring and predictable. But the construct of ranking musicians or their creativity is primarily designed to generate publicity in order to sell a product. We often refer to jazz as art and jazz musicians as artists, but would you create a list for best painting or best sculpture of the year? That’s not usually how artists think about art. We do it for music because we’re basically talking about recordings as commercial products. I’m not against commercial products. I consume them just as most people do. But I think Ellington said it best: you rate tomatoes, you don’t rate artists.
(2) Do you think readers find value in them?
Sure, people love lists, and understandably so. They offer the illusion of order and hierarchy. There’s such an overwhelming number of choices available in the marketplace that people are seeking an informed opinion to help prioritize purchases or compare aesthetics. Needless to say, lists often reveal more about the list makers than the music being listed. For me, these lists are also a useful way of documenting the various bandwagons that have been constructed during the year.
(3) Given the obvious interest in wrapping up the year’s recordings, what would you prefer to see rather than top 10 lists?
It’s human nature to make lists. But if we use the end of the year to look back and assess, I sometimes wish we’d all take a harder look at what developments–good or bad, obvious or nuanced–have taken place in the music world that year and what they mean. The record business is still a significant part of the music world, but it’s far from everything.