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Watch The Year in Jazz: A Critics Roundtable, From the National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Ashley Kahn
Panelists on The Year in Jazz 2019: Nate Chinen, Will Layman, Shannon Effinger, Martin Johnson

What do you get when you bring four jazz critics together to discuss The Year in Jazz?

There’s no brief answer to that question, just as there’s no easy way to wrap your arms around the galaxy of sounds we heard in 2019. Was it a year marked by political urgency, in this era of discord? Was it a year of harboring reassurances, as we draw from the past? Was it all about straining for the impossible, the way one artist indelibly described as “Stretch Goals”? Or — you knew this was coming — was it all of the above, and more?

Back to the original thought. The Year in Jazz is a fond tradition I began more than a decade ago, originally as a round-robin email exchange. Since 2013, the event has been co-presented by The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and I’ve had the pleasure of sitting down with my colleagues in person.

This has been an invaluable opportunity to discover consensus, sort through differences, and even to put faces to names. This year’s panel included two critics I’ve admired in print but hadn’t met before: Shannon Effinger and Will Layman. Rounding out the lineup was Martin Johnson, who’s been a friend and colleague in New York for about as long as I’ve been here.

The panel was live-streamed by the NJMH on its Facebook page, and you can watch the full archived version above. We began by each picking a favorite album from 2019, and went on to reflect on the notable gains made by women in this music; the evolving relationship between jazz and certain forms of pop; the challenges faced by jazz artists in our current listening climate; and the role that institutions, and especially music schools, now play in that calculus.

Each of us also voted in the NPR Music Jazz Critics poll, administered by Francis Davis; stay tuned for results from that effort in the new year. For now, here is our part of the brain trust. I enjoyed this conversation immensely, and hope you will too.

Related Reading:

  • Martin Johnson reviews Tomeka Reid’s Old New, for JazzTimes
  • Shannon Effinger reviews Angel Bat Dawid’s The Oracle, for Pitchfork
  • Will Layman reviews Matt Mitchell’s Phalanx Ambassadors, for PopMatters

Special thanks to Ryan Maloney and the staff at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.