BDJF: talking with bob, part I

Bob Blumenthal and his new book on Sonny Rollins

Yesterday afternoon I caught up with Bob Blumenthal for a conversation about his career, his new book, and his 10+ years as the jazz critic in residence at the annual Discover Jazz Festival, underway right now in downtown Burlington.

I’ve been attending the sessions he’s hosted at the Jazz Festival since 2005, shortly after I moved to Vermont. The years have offered a richness of personal anecdotes and insight into artists including Sonny Rollins, Sidney Bechet, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, and many more jazz personalities than I can begin to list here.

You have a pressing question about something you heard, or an artist whose music you’ve just discovered? Ask Bob. You want to float some theory you’ve developed about Coltrane’s second quartet, or share the incredulity about that thing Ornette did with his solo in Buckminster Fuller? Again, talk to Bob.

He’s patient, in radio interviewing terms someone we would describe as “a good listener”. He’s gracious and genuine, encouraging all pedigrees of musical opinion without imposing his own judgment because, as he well knows, such authority has the potential to unintentionally shut down a conversation cold. And he’d much rather have that conversation, whatever the course or the outcome.

Bob Blumenthal has been writing about jazz since his college days in the late ’60s. In talking to him I still caught some of his wonder at being able to make a career doing something he’d loved from such a young age. At first he was on a different career path, which included law school and a year working in a private firm…here’s the rest of that story, and a lot more:

* Ed note: our conversation began with a quote I shared with Bob from Terry Barrett’s excellent book, Criticizing Art. In the opening chapter Barrett quotes several art critics talking about why they do what they do. I read Robert Rosenblum’s thought on the subject: “You presumably write about works of art because you love them. I don’t write out of hate. I write out of love, and that’s what I think criticism should primarily be.”

(The second part of this article is here.)

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