Brian Clark's recent post "Jazz and the Art of Improvisational Blogging" over at Copyblogger asks the question "Can jazz musicians really teach you a thing or two about effective blogging?" I've been reading Brian's blog for its well-articulated thoughts on how to be a more effective blogger and writer. It was no different with this post as his use of jazz and its artists to illustrate something about effective blogging hit a chord (pun intended). In addition to the jazz hook, Brian's post made me realize it had been awhile since I took some time to reflect a bit on what I do here in [email protected] Brian's use of quotes by jazz musicians also made me look up a few of my own for illuminating other places where jazz and blogging may intersect.
Perhaps it is a peculiarity of mine that despite the fact that I am a professional performer, it is true that I have always preferred playing without an audience. Bill Evans
Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself. Cecil Taylor
Brian Clark was looking at the places where that thing that jazz musicians and bloggers do may intersect—he found it in the art of improvisation, which he defines as the "practice of acting and creating in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment." Brian writes:
Jazz musicians riff off the rest of the band, and the vibe of the audience, in real time. Good bloggers riff off of relevant parts of the blogosphere, and the vibe of the audience, also in real time.
Things only break down when someone forgets who the real audience is.
However, as Taylor and Evans illuminate above, improvisation is also a solo gig. As Brian drew the issue in his post, while the creativity and collaboration between jazz musicians, the importance of the performance, can result in jazz musicians playing for themselves or for the other musicians up on the bandstand with them, leaving the audience to fade into the darkness of the club. Bloggers can do the same thing as they riff on stuff that they find interesting out there on the Internet and begin talking mostly to other bloggers (or to Google or their affiliate programs) rather than to their audience. I know that I have done it. In blogging, the trick is to do both—create content that is useful and interesting to the audience that you know is reading (through the comments left and by looking at your traffic), but also to bring your own voice and interests into the mix and show that audience something new. As Brian writes toward the end of his post:
...even an innovative artist who is ahead of his time needs to get some people into the club first. Play them a song they want to hear, get them on your side, and then take them happily to a place they had no idea they wanted to go.
I think that keeping this in mind is particularly important for a blogger who, as here, focuses and promotes a local music scene. I try to keep a focus on the fact that what I am really trying to do here is promoting the live jazz music scene here in Rochester, NY. I need to provide people who are interested in the jazz scene here, or who just drop in because they're looking for something to do on a Saturday night, what they want and need—a mostly comprehensive and accurate source for information on the live jazz scene here. I also want to take the blog and my readers beyond that local focus and those trips will be guided by my own interests and instincts. Of course, I also want this blog to be successful and to grow the audience.
I have a couple of additional "riffs" off other jazz quotes I found out there.
Imitate, assimilate, and innovate. Clark Terry.
Clark Terry's observation says a lot about what bloggers try to do. While you're blogging you sometimes find yourself imitating other bloggers or blogs in your approach or writing. You often assimilate the content of posts that have struck you or information aggregated from numerous sources and then mold your own post and, hopefully, innovate something else out of all that content. That's what I'm trying to do here.
You may have holes in your shoes, but don't let the people out front know it. Shine the tops. Earl Hines
The blogging software and ease in publishing to the web make it possible to take Hines' advice and "shine the tops" when I make a mistake on [email protected] or just engage in some sloppy writing (which happens more than this editor would like to admit). I could simply make it go away or clean it up, repost, and only those who have already seen the post will even know. However, remembering the audience, it is important with some posts that I lift up my feet and show those holes as it is the only way that my readers will know there was a mistake they may want to pay attention to. That's why you'll see me using strikeouts when a gig is canceled or calling attention to new gigs on the listings post with an "[added]." Sure from time to time I'm just embarrassed at a result and I'll do a bit of a rewrite "on the sly." However, even if I do that, I know. The fact is even if I tape up the holes, the water (or in our case today, snow) will get my socks wet.
This post has ended up on much longer than is advisable, but there it is. I just let it take me where it wanted to go. If you got to here before going elsewhere, I commend you. Seriously, I don't hear enough from the people reading [email protected] I'd like to hear more about what you'd like to see in these pages so I can try to keep it focused on what matters to you. Leave a comment (all you have to do is click on the link at the bottom of the post to get started).