If you ask ten Americans "what does it mean to be an American?" you might well get 10 different answers.
So it goes with America's only original, indigenous art form.
Wait... we have one of those?
Yes indeedalthough it's rarely given the National respect or attention it deserves.
Thus, if you ask ten Americans what our only original, indigenous art form may be, the correct answer might not even make the list.
Baseball, hot dogs and apple pie may represent America... but none of them originated entirely in this country, and despite the defense of avid fansnone of them are actually art forms.
Pizza is actually more American than the hot dogeven though it masquerades as Italian... but that's an entirely different subject.
Basically, our cultural identity is a mash-up of every other culture around the world... just like our art formwhich happens to be jazz, by the way.
If you just turned up your nose, or made a face or derisive sound when you read thatyou are most probably an American.
However, the fact that any ten different Americans could express such varied opinions is part of what jazz is all about. The very fact of our diversity, our differences, outlooks, preferences, and all the various cultures that combined to create these United States are the DNA of America's only original art form.
America is a synthesis of sounds, styles, attitudes, traditions, beliefs and culturescreatively linked through communities, improvised communication and collective democracy... just like jazz.
Anything that can be called truly "American" must represent all the races, cultures, religions, ages and tastes that are part of this great Nation... and we are also free to accept or reject it.
True to form, Americans on the whole tend to reject and ignore jazz. Many have never really listened to itexcept in the guise of annoying background musicand even fewer have seen it performed live. Most Americans have never had any education as to how jazz was developed, why it had an effect on the rest of the world, how it influenced every style of music that came after it and remains embedded in everything they currently listen to, or... what it actually is.
Much of this problem arises from our diversityand the desire to define everything according to demographics. Like any product in our free market economyjazz has been codified, classified, and narrowed down to fit a small spectrum of very specific consumers... even though the essence of jazz appeals to all demographics by its very nature.
Those that have claimed jazz as their own over the years have managed to extricate it from any cultural relevance, and remove all vestiges of it from popular music. Sadly, this is often done in the name of preservation.
I believe the primary problem lies in the definition. "Jazz" is often defined as a singular and specific genre of musicor applied to the popular styles played throughout the 1920's, 30's, 40's or 50's... even though each of those eras had a different definition of the word.
The people playing jazz in the 1920's did not recognize what was called jazz in the 30'snot to mention what big bands did to it in the 40'sand the jazz musicians of the 1950's and 60's claimed the word as their own by rejecting the previous styles developed by their mentors and predecessors.
For the past century, people have tried to put jazz into a narrowly defined boxrather than embracing it as a cultural phenomenon and unique process of shared improvisational creativity. The word is used to define a singular style of music, rather than the foundation and primary link to ALL styles and eras of music developed since the onset of the 20th century.
When someone says, "I don't like jazz," they probably don't realize that they are proclaiming a dislike for every style of music created since the 1890's. If you enjoy anything other than pre-20th century classical music, you do indeed like some kind of jazz... because every style that has emerged in the past century is connected to it in some way. However, jazz remains largely misunderstood, and completely irrelevant in most American's lives.
I'm sure you've heard it said that America is a melting pota conglomeration of cultures that have joined together in a great experiment of democracy. We are a wide collection of every religion, ideology, race and culture known to man; which is superbly represented by our quintessential music... a diverse Continuum containing a century of styles under the banner of one word.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.