I don't read as much jazz journalism as I should, but of what I did read in 1969 it is Down Beat's account of the Rutgers Jazz Festival that has stayed with me most vividly.
Down Beat, as you know, is the principal magazine of the American jazz music profession; it has been going thirty-five years, and has correspondents in every land from Denmark to Japan. Its policy is a comfortable, middle-of-the-road tolerance: whatever is, generally speaking, is right. And the man they sent to Rutgers was clearly cast in the same mould: let 'em all come, DIzzy, Herbie Mann, Jethro Tull, B.B. King, the Adderley Brothers—the more the merrier. He sat patiently in his seat and tried to hear good in everything, even sermons from Stones had they been present, and on the whole he succeeded, though there is the occasional wince. ('I was beginning to wish I wore a hearing aid so I could turn it down').
The flashpoint, if one can call it that, came on the Sunday evening. Our man arrived late, to find the Miles Davis group launched into what proved their final number, or, as he puts it, 'in the throes of what I most deplore, a free-form free-for-all' that "degenerated into a musical catfight." One must salute his honesty: here was one of the groups he was most anxious to hear, and it was terrible, and he admits it was terrible. But then—and this is the point—there followed the Newport All Stars Braff, Norvo, Tal Farlow, and good old George Wein on piano, and the reporter's relief was so enormous that his encomia became almost pathetic in their hyperbole. Braff and his friends were sparkling spring water, they were 'Macbeth' and "David Copperfield', they were incomparable, they were as eternal as sex and sunlight: 'man, this is what it's all about.' In his enthusiasm he asked a 17-year-old girl what she thought of them. She said: 'It's music to go shopping at Klein's by.'
Now the point of this anecdote it two-fold: first, all kinds of jazz are not equally good, no matter what editorial policy might be; some of it is ravishingly exciting, and some a musical catfight scored for broken glass and bagpipes, and you only have to hear the two in succession to grab one and reject the other. Secondly, jazz (that is, the form of Afro-American popular music that flourished between 1925 and 1945) means nothing to the young. This should strengthen us in our devotion to it. True, we must give up any notion we may have been cherishing that beneath our hoary exteriors lurk hearts of May: we may dig jazz, but the kids want something else. Our passion for this extraordinary and ecstatic musical phenomenon that lasted a mere twenty or thirty years in the first half of our century must now take its place alongside similar passions for Hilliard miniatures or plain-chant.
—Philip Larkin, "Moment of Truth," The Daily Telegraph, January 10, 1970, reprinted in All What Jazz, Faber and Faber, 1985