Doug Ramsey is of that rarest of breeds: a man of integrity who writes about jazz in an unbiased and selfless way, a writer who defies convention by refusing to write negative comments about others, while still being a true critic and lover of the Music. He refuses to go for anyone's jugular. But after you read a Ramsey piece, you know what he really thinks, and you know that you can trust his evaluation of the music that's being reviewed.
He's his own man, and he tells the truth about the Music.
He doesn't rely on the usual hackneyed jazz-journalist-speak. You know. Phrases like "a Monkish phrase" ... "has played with the likes of" ... "her voice is slinky and sexy and sublime" ... "no new ground is broken here" ... you get the drift.
So I was very honored to be asked by him to participate in the Before and After test which appears in the May 2007 issue of JazzTimes.
He documents the affair on his blog Rifftides and says that I was "forthright, smart and funny." To be truthful, I may have stepped in my own dogma a few times. But I felt right at home after a few minutes in the hot-seat
Brazenly lifted (by yours truly) from his biography on Rifftides:
[ Doug Ramsey has pursued a career in print and broadcast journalism in cities including New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, San Antonio, Cleveland and Washington, DC. His writing about jazz has paralleled his life in journalism.
He is the author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond and Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers. He is a winner of ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards for writing about the music of Bill Evans and for his biography of Paul Desmond. He has contributed to Jazz Times since 1975 and, before that, wrote regularly for Down Beat. He was a contributing editor of Texas Monthly for twenty-five years and wrote a jazz column for The Dallas Morning News.
His articles, reviews and op-ed pieces on music and on free press and First Amendment issues have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, and Congressional Quarterly, among other publications. Doug is the co-editor (With Dale Shaps) of Journalism Ethics: Why Change?
Under the American Speakers program of the United States Information Agency (when there was a U.S.I.A.), he lectured in Germany and Eastern Europe on jazz and on the role of a free press in a democracy. As senior vice president of FACS (Foundation for American Communications), he educated hundreds of professional journalists about analytical coverage of issues.
He describes himself as an avocational trumpeter who sometimes plays for money. ]
Funny, that. I'd say that I'm a musician who's learning the piano and that I also sometimes play for money...
Every once in a while, you meet someone that has it so "together" that you have to write or speak about them. I'm glad I met Doug Ramsey, and I heartily recommend his new book. It's a work of art. You can get it here and check out his blog here
Not all reactions were postitive (not by a long shot) and I promptly dumped the hate-mail. Here's some positive input after the interview hit the stands and the Internet:
That was entertaining. Funny enough, the only one I got was the Fats piece too! Your answers reflect the main reason you're my favorite contemporary pianist: you realize it's about HEART. Reminds me of the saying (think it was Jung) "the task in life is not to be good, but to be real." Thanks for the laugh! - J ___
Good opinions, too. You were right on the mark, Jessica. I suppose you noticed, looking through the archives at previous interviews, that you are the only female instrumentalist they have featured. Interesting. Steve ___
Jessica, Don't be shy. Your opinions are excellent. As a listener and not a player I feel so enlightened by your insights from "the inside". I felt the same about the peices you did not enjoy but I sure could not have said it like you did! You're great. Believe in yourself. Andrew ___
It's been years since I've subscribed to the jazz rags, and I usually found the Before & After pieces a bore because everyone tries to be so politically correct. However, a few did stand out. I think it was Bob Brookmeyer's that was particularly interesting and informative. This is a place where musicians have an opportunity to educate readers, but few take advantage of that. Congrats to you! Love, Sandy ___
Very cool Jessica! Kudos! The only track I would've guessed was the Fats Waller one. That took a lot of nerve!!! Love, Jennifer ___
Jessica - you really need to work on letting us know what you really think; don't hold back! Those were thoughtful insights and honest opinions, which are refreshing in these troubled times. I still enjoy the 9 Jessica Williams CDs I have and try to learn something from them- I offer very best wishes for continued growth, success and contentment. Mike ___
Hi, Jessica, I really did enjoy it. I didn’t listen to every track for the simple reason that here in the boonies of Alaska my connection is only one step above dial-up, and it takes forever to pull up the music and buffer it. I picked four or five at random, and did pick Hank Jones on the first track, and after listening to the last track a couple of times, said, Hmmmmm……I think that’s Bill Charlap, but he sounds like he’s doing something different. Diana Krall was easy, of course. I read the entire interview, and must say there is nothing wrong with having strong opinions! I especially appreciated your discussion of the state of jazz music today, both in this country and around the world, and some of the reasons for that. I happen to agree with you. In the spring of 2004 I took my sister, Meg Rayne, to see Tierney Sutton in the Doubletree Hotel in Boston. I don’t know the seating capacity of that room, 120, 150, something like that. Tierney had just released her Dancing in the Dark CD, and at one point during the performance she told us the CD had reached #4 on the Billboard Charts. There was a round of applause, but Tierney was under no illusions. Somewhat ruefully she said, “Of course, this is jazz we are talking about, and if everyone in this room tonight were to purchase the CD, it would go to #1". Thank you so much for sending this along, I hope this finds you happy and well. Take good care, Gordie ___
Just proves what soul mates you and I are--that we agree on so many things that others can't comprehend. I am amazed that you are the first woman to take the test! So much for equality. - Sandra ___
Hey thanks. That was great. Thanks for not pulling any punches. By the way I was reading a mystery by John Harvey, an author I enjoy because his detective, like me loves Jazz, cats and food. He said some lovely and insightful things about you. I was planning to drop you a note about it but then somewhere or other I read that you were aware of it. Anyway, keep up the good work. - Ann ___
Hi Jessica,Thanks for sharing your JazzTimes piece with us. The whole program just underscored why I have so many of your recordings, and have remembered your playing since I first heard you in SF in the late 1970s. I didn't know any of the piano players except Fats Waller, but your comments went straight to what I heard and felt on each cut. It's sad when difference is taken for creativity and when merely making a listener uncomfortable passes for making cutting edge music. Thanks just for being, and preserving, you. -George ___
Love those opinions Jessica! Ouch, but someone has to tell it like it is. I scored only 2 out of 10, but enjoyed. Except for the fact you only get about 35 seconds of actual music online, it's great the way Jazz Times puts this on the internet now. Still listening, always. - Bill ___
Thank you all so very much. You are all such beautiful friends. - Jessica