Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

To ask your own question, please use this form.

September 08, 2020

[Q] Anyway, I was singing along to the radio with a lotta joy and silliness today in my car and wondered . . . do you sing? do you dance? anything specific that might get you to start singing or dancing? -- Peter, New York [2020-09-03]

[A] I've never been any good at singing or dancing, and have long made it a point to avoid things I'm hopeless at. I remember being in a choir in 5th grade and the girl behind me insisted that I lip synch -- and kicked me any time she could hear me. As for dancing, I never figured out what to do with my arms. I can't help but sympathize with Donald Trump's idiotic swaying with his hands locked together so they don't get into trouble. On the other hand, I do have vague memories of being able to dance to the Temptations' Greatest Hits -- no album gives me joy more consistently. And when no one's around, sure, I sometimes catch myself singing along. Most recently: "Ruby Baby" (The Drifters).

[Q] I just read the piece about your method for voting in the Downbeat Critics Poll and I thought it was fascinating.

My question, as a musician, is how does one even get on the radar as a candidate for consideration to one of these polls? Thank you very much for your time. -- Alix St. Felix, Killeen,TX, USA [2020-09-01]

[A] I've written up notes on DownBeat polls every year from 2003 through 2019, except 2010 (index here). It looks like the first series (2003-09) were reactions to the published poll results, whereas the second series (2011-19) are mostly records of who I voted for (so 2011 seems to be when I got my first invite). I've probably written about methods and rationales along the way, but don't think of myself as having a consistent approach to the task. The last several years all I've tried to do has been to capture the album lists (as a check against what I've heard and missed) and get through everything else as fast as I possibly can. The invites claim voters can work through the ballots in 45 minutes, but I've never been able to complete the set in less than 4 hours, and 8-10 was more common back when I tried to take them more seriously. I've never compared notes with other voters, so I have nothing to generalize from.

I should also note that my votes are way out of line with the poll totals, so I'm unlikely to help you there. About the only thing I can say is that having the backing of a big label and publicist helps, but probably isn't sufficient. Of course, it's easier to break into the less popular instrument categories, and the Rising Star tier is relatively volatile. I know of one case where a guy mounted a very aggressive, personal campaign for Rising Star Guitarist, and managed to win. That wound up pissing a lot of critics off, and I've never heard from him again, so maybe it wasn't such a great career move.

DownBeat seems like a big deal in the small world of jazz magazines, but I've never found it very useful for finding good records I didn't already know about. Back when I was writing Jazz Consumer Guide, virtually every one of my Dud picks enjoyed a DownBeat cover story. Of course, that wasn't accidental -- I wasn't going to waste a Dud pick on something obscure -- but even so was a striking correlation. They've never asked me to review anything, so I have no insight into how their review decisions are made. From far away, it does look like buying advertising helps, but that's not something I know. Publicists should have some insight into that sort of thing. I don't know what they cost or whether they're cost-effective, but as a reviewer I appreciate their efforts and support.

[Q] Just a simple question to ask what you think of Future Nostalgia. Loved so far, and I like it. Is Dua worth the acclaim? -- AJ Blackett, London [2020-08-13]

[A] I gave it an A- shortly after it came out, and a recent replay didn't tempt me to change it. How it holds up for the ages is hard to gauge -- I'm beginning to wonder whether, given my age and changes in consumption habits, anything new will ever resonate with me as much as the music I grew up on -- but I'm happy for every good dance-pop album that comes my way. The remixes on Club Future Nostalgia are nothing special, but also fun.