We spend most of out lives playing for audiences who have very little, if any, background in Jazz. Like all of us, they come with their own unique musical baggage, and getting past the stereotypes can be a challenge. If I had to make a few basic points to these hopefully openminded novices, this is what I would say.
As Bill Evans once stated, “Jazz is not a what, it’s a how, if it were a what, it would be static.” In other words, it is a process by which a musician approaches music. Miles Davis is a jazz musician, as the Grateful Dead are rock musicians who saw the value ofjohn Coltrane’s work and used the jazz spirit in their way of making music.
Elements of jazz can be contained in other music. besides the traditional ‘swing’ style of jazz, such as funk, rock , reggae, blues, hip-hop, country and klezmer, to name a few.
There are many unfortunate stereotypes that one should dispel when approaching jazz. It doesn’t have to be performed in a dingy, dark, smoky atmosphere by people who look like beatniks. This stereotype has outlived the Forties, which is too bad, and we can thank the movies for that.
There doesn’t have to be a trumpet or saxophone for the music to be in a jazz style. You can use 3 garbage cans, a bassoon, and the aerial of your car antennae, if you wish. If it is created in an improvisational spirit and is of the moment, it probably has strong elements of jazz.
Great jazz musicians do not have to look like they are on the way to the electric chair in order to play jazz. Look at the joy on the face of Elvin Jones, Milt Hinton, or any other soulful player, and the fact is that it is the vibe they radiate that is as important as the music that comes from their instruments.
Jazz can be played anywhere, and in the early days, the audience was rarely seated, they were dancing, carrying on, and having a good time. People are a lot more uptight now, which is really too bad. Yes, it is an art, but it should always be a ‘people’s music.’ A little romance doesn’t hurt, either.
Jazz can be cutting edge or extremely slick and commercial (don’t tempt me here). Everyone has differ-ent opimons about this, but taste, ex- posure, patience, sensitiv- ity, and some intelligence are the ultimate umpires.
As David Byrne has stated, ” Western Pop is the fast food of music.” You can’t compare filet mignon to a Quarter Pounder with cheese, so don’t even bother trying it. I can feel Zappa’s spirit looming over me!
jazz respects the past and the masters who created it and attempts to bring the past forward into the current scene. We can le am from the great masters, as they are our life- long teachers. They are never gone, never.
Great jazz tells a story to those who can’t just listen, but who have the patience and can do the work to really hear the deep levels that the music has to offer. Put down the remote better yet, throw it away altogether.
Does any of this matter? Only for those who realize that music can transport, change, and affect us in deep and very personal ways, and even make a difference in our lives.
It’s not a bad life…