Artist self-review: Dottie Grossman & Michael Vlatkovich at Dangerous Curve, January 13.

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of artists reviewing themselves for MetalJazz. I picked Dorothea Grossman because she’s a writer, but that’s not a requirement at all -- performers who’re interested, lemme know at I’ll say yes or no, and I’ll edit your review.

By the way, when Dottie says “my husband, who played jazz piano,” she’s talking about Richard Grossman, who was a huge influence on many L.A. musicians; he died in 1992. You might have seen Dottie attending about a thousand local performances, especially avant stuff; she has great, great ears. Now here’s the self-review.

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When Greg invited me to review myself, I asked my colleague, the incomparable Michael Pierre Vlatkovich, hereinafter referred to as MPV, for his input. (Ours is a "Call & Response" format, where I read aloud my own poems and Michael responds with an instant trombone improvisation.) We agreed that he would, in turn, ask for my input.

Dottie Grossman (hereinafter referred to as DG): How would you rate our performance, on a scale of 1 to 10?

MPV: I'd give it an 8.

DG: How does one critique a creative act?

MPV: The decision of rules, the criteria, is the question most important in my opinion. In this situation, poet/trombone, the rules change on each rendering, each poem. How sad is sad in the performance? How blue is blue? etc....... I often pick a phrase, sentiment, idea.... and relate that concept to the music I play or in some cases don’t play on the trombone. Judging how well I play may also be a factor, but not necessarily. For example, being angry may call for a less than pristine production of sound. In that case, the priority of criticism would be different. This is the precise reason various styles of music are critiqued often harshly by those in another style.

DG: How do you know if your performance was successful?

MPV: I guess for me, and I am embarrassed to say this, my success depends on the audience reaction. I prefer to critique myself, but I just don't feel my opinion in this situation may be the best. The audience reaction may be very subtle, but if they are convinced in some way, I guess I was successful.

DG: OK, your turn now...

MPV: Same questions. How would you rate our performance?

DG: I'd agree with you, give it an 8. I thought you were particularly good -- sounded glad to be playing. Which, of course, is almost always the case. But that can be funny, too. I'm thinking of another gig, not that long ago, when you and I came away with very different perceptions of our "success.” I thought it was great, and there was lots of applause. You said, "Tough crowd, huh?!" And you were serious. On the other hand, I remember (shudderingly) the gig we did in Berkeley, where both of us were practically standing on our heads, with no discernible response from the crowd. I thought then (and still do) that we were just a mite too frivolous for the serious Berkeley activists. In that case, we probably shouldn't have played there in the first place!

MPV: How does one critique a creative act?

DG: For me, it's visceral. If something is "good," I feel it right away. My high standards have evolved over years of experiencing and making art in association with some pretty heavy hitters. If a work (whatever the medium) draws me into it in some way...makes me want to keep looking at it or listening or reading -- I 'm hooked. I think my standards are so internalized by now, that the good stuff kind of leaps out at me, and I can't always articulate why that happens. For example, near Philadelphia is the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of some of the most extraordinary Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. The paintings are hung in a very unconventional way -- almost crowded -- according to a system advocated by its founder, Dr. Albert Barnes. The result is that you can walk into any given room and from the chaos of paintings (maybe 50 to a room), the excellent ones will almost literally jump off the walls. I once had an English teacher who said she knew a work of literature was great if it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. We all have our ways of saying hello to art, don't we?

With specific reference to my own art, which is poetry, I know that probably the most important standard I have is that it has to be honest. Don't ask me to define that, though. I just know whether what I've written is in my own voice, and I can, as the saying goes, spot a phony a mile off. And there has to be rhythm. Not rhyme, rhythm. I'm a big fan of the popular song, and I absorbed its form as I was growing up. I was a great radio listener. Didn't have TV until I was a teenager, so I had a long time to learn many of the great American standard tunes -- which, incidentally, made the transition to appreciating jazz very organic for me, when I met my husband, who played jazz piano.

MVP: How do you know if your performance was successful?

DG: I guess I'd have to say I know if I feel the audience is connecting with what we're doing. Sometimes it's maddening when I'm feeling no response; then there's always the temptation to pander -- to read my less serious poems, and go for the cheap laughs. I like very much the fact that you and I both understand the need for balance in our work; i.e., serious and light. I want to present both, and I feel we're successful when the audience responds to both. Yes, of course I want it to be entertaining -- otherwise, why bother to do it at all in front of people? You don't want it to be painful for them. You want to -- yes, dammit, I'll say it -- make them feel good. I heard you say almost the same thing after you played a gig at somebody's wedding and people were dancing to your music.

There was a poetry reading I did some time ago, before you and I were working together, when I heard somebody in the audience audibly sighing, rather loudly, after I read something that particularly moved her. It was kind of funny, but it was very genuine, too, and that made the performance successful for me. I like it when I can hear the audience. Otherwise, in the immortal words of Lenny Bruce, "It's an oil painting!"