Handling Bad Reviews

Jazz Critic Voodoo DollIf you’re a working musician, like it or not—you’re also a performer. So it follows that a great part of your job involves being on stage. And when you’re on stage and in the public eye, judgment of your performance is inevitable. From the casual audience member telling you “I preferred the suit you wore last time,” to a bad review in a big publication; everyone has an opinion. And as the old saying goes, “Opinions are like noses. Everybody has one.” Except “noses” is not the body part traditionally used in that saying. Just think of an unpleasant body part that best describes jazz reviewers, and you’ll figure out how the adage really goes.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, reviewers ALWAYS write nice things about yours truly. It’s nice to know they have journalistic integrity coupled with excellent musical taste.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Not that I’ve really had any bad reviews at all. I’m a little surprised that you thought otherwise. Almost no bad reviews! Huzzah! Well, truth is, sometimes I might get an unfavorable critique. Big deal. I don’t let it get to me. You see, as a professional, it’s important to remember that one’s career is not summed up by one bad review, and not to take any of it seriously. At least, that’s what my therapist tells me I should think.

So okay, occasionally a criticism slips through the net. It’s unavoidable. I mean, you can’t sleep with everyone. It’s exhausting. And some reviewers can’t even be paid off or bought with gift baskets.

The name of the game folks, is to give as little attention to good reviews as the bad ones. That way, the good ones don’t go to your head, and the bad ones don’t get under your skin. Well, to be honest, I did have a couple of good reviews laminated, and eat my breakfast off them; but that’s only because seeing my face in print next to glowing hyperbole seems to help with my digestion. And, truth be told—I do tend to cross out my name on the bad ones and write Ken Peplowski in place, but only because I’m fairly sure that’s who the reviewer was really thinking of. But other than the half dozen times a day I read them, I barely think about reviews at all.


Not that bad reviews get under the skin of your dear Professor. Ha! Quite the contrary! Water off a duck’s back, thank you very much. But sometimes one needs to defend one’s reputation. Like the one time a guy called my playing “immature.” Pff! I’m as mature as it gets, thank you very much. What a jerk. Anyway, I’m sure the burning bag of dog poop on his doorstep will make him think twice next time before calling me immature.

Not that any of it bothers me. I barely even notice! But I mean, if it did, it might even bug me a little. Hey you reviewers—you try and play the clarinet! It’s bloody hard! It keeps squeaking and generally sounds awful. No doubt it would sound better if I actually practiced, but I’m far too busy defending my reputation.

I mean, do I turn up to your crappy review writing job and criticize your work? “You call that typing? Underwhelming grammar. 2 Stars.” No I don’t. Because it doesn’t bother me.

Not that I even really care, but who do these people think they are to critique my performances? My mother always said if you can’t think of anything nice to say…don’t say anything at all. Do these guys even have mothers?? If they do, I hope those mothers gave their kids 2 stars.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to my therapy session. Not that I really need therapy, mind you. It’s not like my therapist is even that helpful. And you know, sometimes she gets so damn knit-picky. I’m hypersensitive, am I? Hmmph. And she just sits there and writes notes. Judgey little notes. A good therapist would be less judgmental. I mean, how good can she really be if she has jazz musicians as clients?? (That reminds me…note to self: write her a Yelp review.)


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Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.

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