“Life during the time of isolation and social distancing” Vol. 2 — music writers/critics Howard Mandel and Joel Selvin

April 26th, 2020

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“Man Thinking” by James Brewer

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…..In recent days, I have posed this question  via email to a handful of creative artists and citizens of note:

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…..“During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?” (If you wish, please feel free to also share your thoughts on the effects this isolation is having on your creativity or on your world).

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…..Responses to this question will be published periodically as this era progresses.

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This edition features the email responses of music writers/critics Howard Mandel and Joel Selvin

(published with only minor stylistic editing)

 

 

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photo by Susan Brink

Howard Mandel

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Author; arts reporter; winner of the Deems Taylor Award for Music Journalism; president of the Jazz Journalists Association

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This response was submitted on April 1

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…..I’ve found that I’m engaged in a lot of work – some around the virus, as the Jazz Journalists Association launched its international series of reports, JazzOnLockdown at JJANews.org.  Most daily for the past week-plus, out of a new online project we’d begun called Working the Beat – all online communications — at the same time we’re celebrating 26 Jazz Heroes from 23 US cities online, and the 24th annual Jazz Awards (1st round voting just ended, tabulating now).  I am also consulting the Jazz Institute of Chicago as a member of the board, concerned about programming now that our spring-early summer plans are not viable. So I’ve been editing, writing and rewriting, in touch with a large number of people on every platform except in- person.

…..Since I’ve worked from a home office for most of the past 40 years I’m used to that, and like being amid my books, CDs, instruments, other media, and take breaks to read, listen to either things I’m working on (reviewing for DownBeat, say) or that have just come in the mail or I suddenly have an urge to hear – an old favorite, or maybe something I never dipped into. I listen to a lot of piano music – was digging Tatum ‘34-‘35 solos, which I never had, and an album I hadn’t heard previously by Donald Lambert, but that was in alternation with Fire! Orchestra’s new version of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Actions, originally recorded by an ensemble Don Cherry convened (though he didn’t play on it) in ‘69 – and of course I went back to the original, then wanted to hear Cherry himself so Complete Communion, but new Myra Melford, Miya Masaoka and Zeena Parkins trio also grabbed me, and I listened to Roscoe Mitchell’s newly released orchestral album.

…..And watched the news. But also some movies; Yesterday, Danny Boyle’s Beatles fantasy which I loved, and It Happened One Night – with my daughter in New York City, we texting as it played in our respective living rooms. She’d never seen it before. I’m interested in The Plot Against America, was disappointed in Hunters, liked Avenue Five as hilarious and the Netflix Dracula (one of the best ever!) and also Astronomy Club, which is skits by a troupe of black comics in LA.

…..I’ve been having an unusually hard time reading for pleasure – I’m jumping around among too many books, nothing’s locking in. But ranging widely, wildly including stories by Theophile Gauthier, Max Beerbohm essays, Dwight McDonald’s take on Hemingway in MassCult and Midcult, myths and legends of ancient Israel by Angelo Rappoport, Chester Himes’ All Shot Up, George Silverman’s Explanation which is obscure late Dickens. That’s the past couple weeks. Plus I reread The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford in anticipation of the film (produced by a friend) and will recommend highly Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure. I’m also more than halfway through the complete writings on film of Manny Farber.

…..I think all this activity demonstrates my restlessness, discomfort in not being out hearing live music or seeing movies with audiences. I want to be diverted from the immediate dangers and disappointments and fears, but not mindlessly – I want to engage with something pleasurable and meaningful (to me). I’ve been on Zoom calls for business and to hang out with friends. I’ve got lots of mags coming in New Yorker, NY Review of Books, New Republic, Smithsonian, Rolling Stone, Atlantic, Baffler and I read three newspapers daily plus check news feed constantly. . .and also do some writing. So disengaged physically – I miss swimming as I had been, too – but very much with this world. Which is scary, though I personally feel safe from the virus (have been home almost without break for three weeks, since a weekend jaunt to NYC 3/6-9), and my finances will hold out for now. What I worry about is our government and the flux of the world.  What I think about is what can I do best to improve anything, what can I report on that I alone have seen or know or think, how to tell my stories to keep interest and lead to someplace unexpected.

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 Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

Joel Selvin

San Francisco-based music critic who wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle from 1972 – 2009;  columns have appeared in many publications, including Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the Los Angeles Times; author of  several books on pop music, including the #1 New York Times best-selling book,  Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, with Sammy Hagar

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This response was submitted on April 7

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…..Tell you what is unusual for me at this strange time…can’t get new books from Amazon for weeks, so I have been pulling books I always meant to read off the shelves and going through those. Finished Frank Baum biography, Anita O’Day autobiography. Have Bird Lives and Straight Life lined up. My music habits haven’t changed — although I have had time to file my records — and I still listen to all kinds of crazy shit.

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Click here to read Volume 1 of this series, featuring recording artist Bruce Cockburn

Click here to read Volume 3 of this series, featuring the journalist Joe Hagan and the photographer Tim Davis

Click here to read Volume 4 of this series, featuring Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell

Click here to read Volume 5 of this series, featuring Arizona State University historian Tracy Fessenden

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