The holiday season is upon us once again, kids, and it is time once again to repeat those yearly rituals that we call tradition. These are the things that we do Christmas after Christmas that build a Pavlovian reflex of holiday cheer. Mention egg nog and mistletoe to the average individual, and immediately they will begin decking the halls with boughs of holly and wassailing (whatever in the hell that is) until they have to be sedated by public health officials. So ingrained in the American psyche are the traditions and rituals of the Christmas season that even recent events can't stem the warm, happy feelings they produce. If anything, the Christmas season will take on an even greater poignancy this year as Americans of every ilk join together and focus on what is really important during this most blessed of seasons-spending wheelbarrows full of money on Christmas gifts for everyone with whom they've ever exchanged more than two words.
Which is where your own personal Genius comes in.
As both Americans and jazz fans, we have a dual responsibility this Christmas. On the one hand, jazz fans are on average more affluent than the run-of-the-mill mullet-impaired AC/DC fans who control vital sections of our janitorial and 30-minute oil change industries. Therefore, we are in a better position to spur the economy with a veritable orgy of discretionary spending.
I'll pause for a moment so that you may give in to reflex and giggle like a schoolgirl at the word "orgy."
Now, as jazz fans, we are also responsible for ensuring the propagation of our music. It isn't enough that we simply listen to jazz and buy jazz CD's and related merchandise (inflatable Katherine Whalen
dolls, $59.95. With banjo, $79.95. Include $7.95 for shipping and handling. And oh! the handling...). It is up to us to spread jazz to as many people as possible. By rights, we should walk around with giant eighties-style boomboxes, blasting Coltrane and offering impromptu lectures on the history of jazz. Barring that, we should use the holiday season to further our music by giving jazz CD's and jazz-themed gifts to those we know and/or love.
"But how?" you ask, clawing desperately at my lapels. "How shall we know the proper gifts to give and where shall we find them? And why are we using the word 'shall' so much all of a sudden?"
Settle down, kids. Uncle Genius is here to help.Gifts for the Newcomer
Believe it or not there are a lot of people out there who, for one reason or another, are either ignorant of jazz or almost hostile towards it. Ignorance is easily overcome by gently introducing the patient to jazz in small doses. I recommend crushing up a Louis Armstrong CD and serving it to them mixed with a little applesauce. A small mortar-and-pestle set may be obtained from most pharmaceutical supply stores for this purpose. As for those who are hostile towards jazz, this may stem from the belief that jazz is some sort of esoteric highbrow music. This is in line with the trend of anti-intellectualism that has pervaded American culture since the invention of cable TV. Therefore, we can overcome the perception of jazz as too erudite by combining it with soothing images familiar to the patient. Try editing together a video montage of professional wrestling, Jerry Springer, and softcore pornography set to Duke Ellington's Newport Jazz Festival Suite
An appropriate gift for the ignorant but receptive newcomer would be the CD The Best of Ken Burns' Jazz , which contains a little bit of everything from the earliest days of recorded jazz to the point where Burns lost interest in the whole thing and started thinking about his next 20-hour film. In fact, there are several items from the Ken Burns' Jazz collection worth recommending, up to and including the Ken Burns' Jazz jar-and-bottle opener and the Ken Burns' Jazz flavored body oils. The entire 4-CD box set is probably a good gift for a more thorough introduction for those you feel close enough to that you would spend $60 on them, and the $170 10-DVD set of the entire documentary is probably only for those with whom you've exchanged bodily fluids.
For the outright hostile, it is important for us to present jazz with as little pretense as possible. Compelling arguments could be made for Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who certainly made accessible music. I tend to gravitate towards John Coltrane's Blue Train or Miles Davis' Kind of Blue as an introduction to jazz. Intimate, passionate, melodic but challenging, they represent to me a cohesive apex of everything jazz should be without being so deliberately oblique as to alienate even those predisposed to dislike jazz. And they both have the word "blue" in the title and everybody likes blue.