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Chinen writes about himself: "I was born and raised in Hawaii, a place where tradition and commerce coexist fruitfully, if not always agreeably. My parents were entertainers; much of my childhood was spent at the musicians union and in nightclubs. For some years I had designs on following in their footsteps, though writing also captivated me early on. Live music was a tangible thing for me long before recordings.
But I do remember the first albums that gripped me, many of them arriving in the mail from Columbia Records: "Ellington at Newport," "Monk's Dream," the CD reissue of Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens. "Kind of Blue," of course, and "A Love Supreme." A middle-school teacher made me a cassette of choice Charlie Parker cuts, which I wore out, but not before tracking down their sources. (These allegiances coexisted with a predictable set of others: A Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana, Hendrix, Zeppelin. Diversions, I thought at the time.)
There was a debate raging in the jazz world then, based on a dichotomy of history and progress. It was the so-called "Young Lion" era, a period of intensive canonization and backlash. The arguments interested me, but not half as much as the music. I saw Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard, and met McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. One of the shows I remember most vividly from those years was by the Branford Marsalis Quartet, with Kenny Kirkland: they played brutishly, as if the world was ending, but also with extreme refinement. A lot of their moves went over my head, which was thrilling.
Later, taking my first steps as a jazz critic in Philadelphia, I realized the challenge of articulating both the sound and the feeling of music, along with some kind of context. My training took place on the job, and I consider myself lucky to have landed in a city with serious history and a proud jazz constituency. For a time I was also working somewhat steadily as a musician there, which greatly deepened my perspective.
After moving to New York City in 1998, I wrote a book with the jazz impresario George Wein and worked for a few years in online media. In 2005 I began writing for the New York Times, where I continue to cover music -- not only jazz but also pop, as it's loosely defined.
I don't believe there's any fixed difference between writing about jazz and writing about the myriad variations on hip-hop, rock, R&B, or folkloric music. In every instance you address a history as well as the product of an objective, stated or implied. But it's more basic and intuitive than that. It's about how something resonates, and what it tells you, or at least tries to say."
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