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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Genius Guide to Jazz

Who Listens to Jazz

By Published: February 21, 2011
Raised in a town where the entire Jazz scene consisted of a guy who claimed to have once felt up Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
1910 - 1981
at a cotillion, and educated in public schools where none of the three R's stood for rhythm, it is almost a miracle I was exposed to Jazz at all. But for high school band, which I joined in a mistaken attempt to avoid going to Vietnam (despite the fact I was only thirteen, and the war had been over for several years), and the proliferation of cable television, I might have gone through life never knowing that the combination of Coltrane's sax and Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman
Johnny Hartman
1923 - 1983
's voice can loosen a woman's undergarments faster and more effectively than a salad bowl full of margaritas.

But I digress.

I went on from these humble beginnings to acquire an appreciation for such refined interests as the films of Akira Kurosawa, the art of Salvador Dali, the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and the torso of Christina Hendricks, I never felt compelled to leave behind the imprints of my upbringing (or, as we would say in the South, I never did get above my raisin').

While I love bottle-conditioned Belgian abbey ales, there is much to be said for a cold Budweiser at the ballpark on a languid summer evening. I enjoy Beijing opera and Chinese take-out eaten directly from the box. I love watching football (and I don't mean soccer, you Euro-heathens), and foreign films. I appreciate the cuisine of virtually every region on earth (except for the places where they eat bugs and worms just to see the tourists gag), and I take pleasure in attempting to prepare recipes so challenging they'd make Julia Child call out for pizza. But I also enjoy the Appalachian culinary tradition of frying the hell out of something and then covering it in gravy.

If my love of Our Music separates me from my Appalachian-bred Taylor Swift-loving, NASCAR-obsessed, Go Hokies! brethren, then it is my disdain for an equal portion of the accouterments of intelligentsia that keeps me from earning a seat at the cool kid's table at Panera Bread. I prefer ESPN to PBS, XM to NPR, and NFL to MLS. I lack the d-bag hipster cred to like PBR, even "ironically," but I can still groove with the occasional PB&J. I tried to think up some more clever acronyms to enforce my point, but ended up SOL.

Perhaps just as important as the wide and varied amount of things I like is why I like them. I don't look at discerning taste as a mark of superiority, as though the sincere appreciation of Wagyu beef somehow places me on a higher plane of existence. I like the things I like not because I seek to escape the limitations of my upbringing, but precisely because of my upbringing. My parents, hillbillies though they were, saw the world as being filled with only two categories of stuff; good and bad. And the only way to tell what was what was to give it a go. They instilled in me the philosophy "Try everything, and give it an honest shot. Like what you like, and don't worry about what any one else thinks."

Which brings us back to Jazz. There are a lot of different people who listen to Our Music for a lot of widely disparate reasons. Certainly, there are people who like Jazz because they think it is something people like them should like. There is undoubtedly a level of snobbery in Jazz as there is in any other human pursuit. Literally anything you can think of, somebody somewhere is taking it entirely too seriously. Google® something, anything—and then brace yourself for the results—if you don't believe me. But that is just one part of the Jazz elephant. Feel your way around, and eventually you may find the fun side of the beast where the beer flows like water and a good time is had by all.

So there you have it, kids. Proof positive that Our Music can and should be accessible by all no matter whether they think they're the type of person who listens to that type of music. If I've accomplished nothing else in my ten years with AAJ, I believe I've proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Jazz will take anybody.

Till next month, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.

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