The Significance of Reader’s Polls

602212_downbeatSKF NOTE: I have mixed feelings about musician’s readers polls. Always have. My great dislike is when players deserving of a spot in, say, a Hall of Fame, never get it because their heyday was too long ago, or the quality of their recordings are sub-standard to the ears of today’s listeners. Of course, when musicians I like win reader polls, I’m as happy as the next guy.

Down Beat Managing Editor Don DeMichael introduced DB’s 1960 Reader’s Poll results with an explanatory piece called, The Significance of the Poll. I re-read Mr. DeMichael’s piece this morning, pulled out its key points, and I’m posting them here. I think DeMichael  captures for all time the essence of all reader’s polls.

“To the casual reader, the poll is nothing but a list of names and figures. But the more astute and serious student of jazz will find it the reflection of the jazz population’s present tastes, trends in the making, dominant schools of thought, traces of fading eras. He will not find with musicians are ‘best,’ for there is no ‘best.’

“[T]he winners are those who are satisfying some emotional need in the greatest number of listeners, even if, by voting for certain men, the voter is merely conforming to others’ opinions – for conformity in itself is satisfaction of an emotional need.

“Exposure of the artist, of course, is a necessary and vital prerequisite to his obtaining votes. All the winners had ample exposure, including publicity, throughout the year.

“But more important than who won what is the undercurrent of the poll – the rise of new names, the decline of old ones. This is the heart throb, the real significance of the poll.

“As the new rises, the old falls. Most of the former winners are still listed in the categories – some… are strong contenders. Others have fallen to mediocre positions. And many…did not garner enough votes to be listed.

“How fleeting fame – how changing emotional needs.”

Source: Down Beat, The Significance of the Poll, by Don DeMichael, 12/22/60

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