Congratulations to CMA’s very own Larry Blumenfeld, Chamber Music’s editorial director, who has been named the recipient of the prestigious Robert Palmer-Helen Oakley Dance Award for Excellence in Writing from the Jazz Journalist Association. While the scholar and critic has been a longtime contributor to Chamber Music, he took the editorial reins in 2023, adding to his impressive list of regular bylines in The Wall Street Journal, Tidal Magazine, The Daily Beast, and Jazziz, among many other titles.

You’ve likely seen Blumenfeld work his journalistic magic onstage in panel discussions: most recently, he led a conversation with 2024 Conference keynote speaker Terri Lyne Carrington. Today, in an effort to get to know our favorite wordsmith, we’re flipping the script and asking Blumenfeld to share about himself.

Your most valued qualities in music writing or criticism: Honesty, rigor, and an open mind. (But, forgive me, I think “music writing” is what composers do; there is writing about music, which encompasses journalism, criticism, biography, musicology, essays and even poetry. Criticism, however, is a real thing, endangered though it may be.)

The journalists you have admired most: Too many to mention, really, but the ones writing about music who have moved me most include: Greg Tate; Amiri Baraka; Gary Giddins; David Hajdu; Alex Ross; Valerie Wilmer; and the dean of all jazz critics, Martin Williams. Nat Hentoff helped usher me into The Wall Street Journal and, when I wrote for the Village Voice, his essential writing about Constitutional law and unconstitutional acts (boy, could we use it now) often ran just a few pages from my writing about music (and in a way, we were both writing about both music and politics). At that same beloved weekly, Bob Christgau (who mostly wrote about rock) was the editor I always wanted.

When I was young, Joan Didion and Susan Sontag made me take the arts of criticism and truth-telling seriously. Sometimes, I dream of being John McPhee, who I would read about any subject.

How did you fall in love with jazz? When I was young, I played trumpet and I sang in bands and school productions. I also took music theory in junior high, which I think should be required along with grammar and math (and which is, in a way, both grammar and math).

My older brother used to listen to jazz and collect records. I hated that stuff—where was the melody? Why does it just go on and on? Then I left for college: I took philosophy and started listening to Thelonious Monk. I came home for vacation. I stole all my brother’s jazz LPs. And I was off…

It’s Saturday night; where can we find you? Hard to say: out, listening to music; home, watching the NBA; being a dad; doing laundry; working hard because writing, editing and curating are things fortunate people get to do if they’re willing to work long hours and enjoy it.

Rapid Fire!
Favorite thing to cook: fresh fish
Currently on your nightstand: The Notebooks of Sonny Rollins
Best advice you’ve received? On the basketball court: Learn to go left. In politics: Learn to go left. In music: Listen to everything. In writing: Show, don’t tell. In life: Stop taking yourself so seriously.


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