Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

289

A Bottle, a Rag, and a Pint of Gasoline

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Jazz? Ask for a definition of this music, and you're bound to start a volatile discussion.

My grandfather will tell you with a quickly drawn breath that jazz is noise, non-structured and irreverent of the conventional wisdom musicians have learned from centuries of practice. His thoughts on jazz conjure images of a plague set upon the world of musical composition. Though conversations usually end with a head shaking and "I just don't understand it," more than once in an elevator he's turned and said, "This fellow has a nice melody to him."

A favored past neighbor would pick up on this softer theme, arguing that the sounds which wafted from his speakers out the screen porch and into the early evening thunderstorm made up jazz. That it went well with company, and summer twilight, but shouldn't intrude on conversation.

Pleasant melodies aside, it's the beaded-forehead-wrinkling, spit-valve-dripping dissonance cast out in basement clubs, tightly packed dives, and other sultry settings that drew my ear to jazz. While not always quick in tempo, the sounds that tug for my attention hold the latent heat to change my mood. In the coolest forms it relies on tensions built between played notes, as well as the ones left out, to lift riffs above the realm of otherwise gutless mush—there's nothing smooth about that.

Instrumentation stands out as a defining point for many people. Of course the standards take center stage, but unlike other styles, jazz relies on the construction rather than the tools used to build it. Whether hands manipulate the keys of a treasured sax or a crossfader and black vinyl on slip mats, it demands precision spontaneity within a logical structure. Just listen to a jazzman speaking to his flock through the muddied words of Scat, ranting tongues moving devout parishioners, and claim that this music depends on traditional instruments.

Recordings that turn my head carry an underlying theme saying, "So here's how it is. You don't like it, go listen to something else." It's showy and unapologetic, yet not in a presumptuous manner. Combining reverence for it's past with a spirited love for ignoring convention, jazz appeals to the intellect while stroking the senses for all they're worth.

Sound a bit vague and non-confrontational? Leaving you to wonder whether what you hear is jazz, or just the music that makes it up? Jazz drives. It evolves onstage in a way that commands focus. It's about the energy, the movement—even in minimalist pieces. People who "don't understand it" miss this essential quality. Those who feel it "shouldn't intrude" miss the point entirely.

Fans know the roots of jazz music. The stages it took during formative years and the "Giant Steps" made to turn one of the only true American art forms into "A Love Supreme" of international stature. What they often don't know is how to define it beyond a dictionary's scope. A circle of aficionados will trade thoughts until vocally dizzy, and while the infamous line "If you have to ask, you'll never know" doesn't ring completely true, it certainly helps simmer hot heads until the set break ends.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read You Too Can Be A Jazz Fan! Jazz Primer You Too Can Be A Jazz Fan!
by AAJ Staff
Published: April 23, 2016
Read Thinking Outside The Musical Box Jazz Primer Thinking Outside The Musical Box
by Donal Fox
Published: April 22, 2016
Read John Coltrane and the Meaning of Life Jazz Primer John Coltrane and the Meaning of Life
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: January 22, 2015
Read How to Listen to Jazz Jazz Primer How to Listen to Jazz
by Douglas Groothuis
Published: January 22, 2015
Read What is Jazz? Good Question... Jazz Primer What is Jazz? Good Question...
by Jason West
Published: January 12, 2012
Read Miles Davis: Unlimited Miles Jazz Primer Miles Davis: Unlimited Miles
by Bill King
Published: September 29, 2009
Read "All About Jazz Website Tips: 2017" Website News All About Jazz Website Tips: 2017
by Michael Ricci
Published: April 26, 2017
Read "Jessie Lambiase Featuring Gil Parris" New York @ Night Jessie Lambiase Featuring Gil Parris
by Peter Jurew
Published: April 19, 2017
Read "Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016" Live Reviews Buenos Aires Jazz Festival 2016
by Mark Holston
Published: January 9, 2017
Read "In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians" What is Jazz? In Praise of Young Jazz Musicians
by Steve Provizer
Published: September 30, 2017
Read "The Dazzling Alexis Cole" Catching Up With The Dazzling Alexis Cole
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: October 19, 2017
Read "Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda at Blue Note Milano" In Pictures Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda at Blue Note Milano
by Carlo Mogavero
Published: October 20, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!