Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

Copyright Notice

Everything that appears on this blog is the copyrighted property of somebody. Often, but not always, that somebody is me. For things that are not mine, I either have obtained permission, or claim fair use. Feel free to quote me, but attribute, please. My photos and poetry are dear to my heart, and may not be used without permission. Ditto, my other intellectual property, such as charts and graphs. I'm probably willing to share. Let's talk. Violators will be damned for all eternity to the circle of hell populated by Rosanne Barr, Mrs Miller [look her up], and trombonists who are unable play in tune. You cannot possibly imagine the agony. If you have a question, email me: jazzbumpa@gmail.com. I'll answer when I feel like it. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some Thoughts on Writing

 Here's Sarah Vaughan with the Basie band doing a great old song, Just Friends.

Funny sometimes, how one thing will play into another.  After rehearsal last night we were talking about the horrible job the publisher did with the parts for a terrific Tommy Newsome arrangement of Just Friends, written for Don Severenson and the Tonight Show Orchestra.  It's nothing like the rendition by Sarah Vaughan with the Basie band above, which I included because I like it, and I can't find Newsome's on YouTube.  However, you can listen to a sample here.

The trombone parts are 6 pages long and every page turn but 1 is impossible.  Playing the trombone requires two hands at all times.  Ditto the bass, and the bass player showed me how his part had impossible turns - leading into the most important bass passages.  This type of scoring is lazy, thoughtless, and disrespectful of the musicians who have to deal with it.

The thought the bass player left me with, after some conversation, is that when you write something, you should make it impossible for your reader to misunderstand or misinterpret.  This applies to prose as well as music.   I try to write clearly, but I've never thought about it in quite this way.  The idea applies not only to the mechanics of writing, but also to organizing and presenting your thoughts and maintaining focus in your presentation.

Which reminds me of this criticism I wrote of Tim Worstall's Forbes piece.   There was a lot of commentary at the cross-post at AB, and Worstill had a lot to say there, including, "I am getting really rather mystified at all the people who seem to be so deliberately missing the point I was making," and finally, "To repeat, I am critiquing the use of the insurance model to provide such desired health care: not determining how such desired health care should be provided nor even venturing into the question of whether such health care is desirable or not."  You can read it all over at AB.

Maybe I was too impetuous, and should have read the article I was critiquing more carefully.  Now that I know his point, I can't go back, re-read, and figure out if I would have gleaned more with more care.  But Worstall did not make it impossible for me to misunderstand or misinterpret.

Even before rehearsal, I wrote a comment back to him, containing what I think is some pretty good advice..

 So we learn that, contra the title and the extended quote from Sandra Fluke near the beginning, your article really has nothing to do with either her or Limbaugh, and is only marginally related to contraception.  The real topic, if I understand it correctly now, isn't even the subtleties of insurance vs assurance, but rather idealized health care funding.  So, yeah - I will now freely admit that I missed your point - totally - but it was not deliberate, as you asserted in your first comment.

If you want to have your readers get your point, then, instead of glibly riffing on a current hot topic, I'll suggest that you actually write about whatever it is you are writing about, and not require your readers to either do a click-through to discover the actual topic in a different article, or have a close familiarity with your publication history.  When you put something out in the public sphere, you lose control of what readers are going to make of it, and you can't expect them to know your implied context.  So you need to help them along if you have a specific agenda.  An article that is intended to make some point really needs to not only stand alone, but also explicitly make its central point, without a lot of distracting digressions.

I'll also suggest that you use links to show source data, to corroborate assertions, or provide further reading for whoever might be interested in digging a little deeper, not to illustrate the implied point of the current article.   I had to read your comments here to discover what I think you might have been talking about there.  And my next thought was that your point was the difference between insurance and assurance, though I guess that isn't it, either.

That is not communicating effectively.  When you find yourself mystified by the problem of people misunderstanding what you say, then I'll further suggest that blaming your readers will not move you very far toward a solution.   

Is that harsh?  I can't decide.  I don't know if Worstall read these words.  But I'm going to take them to heart.  I've noticed that people will sometimes ignore the main content of my post, and go down a side track due to a flip comment or marginally relevant value judgment I made.  So - there is a lesson here for me as well.

I hope I'm wise enough to take my own advice.


Suzan said...


I'm sure I'm guilty at times of what you've pointed out so succinctly.

Maybe even more.

Thanks for the advice.

Love ya,


P.S. Did I mention that I helped Miss Vaughn ascend and descend the steps to a stage in Baltimore for her last performance?

It was one of the honors of my life. Thanks for the memories.

Jazzbumpa said...

Suzan -

It's a wonderful moment when you can reach out and touch greatness.

What a terrific memory!

I had lunch with Arnold Palmer once.

He was sitting at the other end of the restaurant, but still . . .