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Getting to the Jazz Point: An Exposé


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Jazz... famous for complex harmonies, syncopated rhythms and an emphasis on improvisation. The music at its best is a form of personal expression, valuing non-conformity and freedom. It has birthed and is to an extent, defined by musicianly quirks, idiosyncrasies and singularities. There are also a great many non-musical threads that bind the tradition together and perhaps none is more lasting and pervasive than the finger point.

Ever notice how jazz musicians love to point at one another in photos? Publicity, candid or otherwise? It seems peculiar but it has stood the test of time and after years of research we hope to shed some light on this unusual phenomenon.

The whereabouts of some photos are unknown. If you can identify them, please notify us so we can credit them accordingly.

Here, Joe Locke and David Hazeltine go finger to near finger on the back cover of their Mutual Admiration Society album (Sharp Nine, 1999). Touché!

Two living legends and collective owners of 42 Grammy Awards and a whopping 114 Grammy Nominations... so why isn't Herbie Hancock pointing back at Quincy Jones?

Research revealed jazz finger-pointing predates the 1955 Blue Note album Horace Silver Trio and Art Blakey-Sabu. Hard bop pianist Horace Silver—though not pointing in the direction of a musician—is clearly a part of the firmament. To date, no one has mastered his flawless left-handed three finger technique.

The history of the point comes into greater focus with Dizzy Gillespie, a trendsetting hipster and preeminent trumpeter for the ages.

The father of acid jazz with the "no look" point.

Jimmy Smith in the studio pointing at legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder (off camera).

After shaping a new sound for jazz organ in an abandoned Philadelphia warehouse, Jimmy Smith applies the Philly touch "wit whiz." At times pointed, at times, not so much, but it is always sunny, baby!

Andrew White points at Russell Perry (broadcaster) on April 28, 2015.

Andrew White poses with his quartet after performing on April 26, 2017 at Blues Alley. Courtesy Bill Brower.

Legendary D.C. saxophonist and "man of various artistic gifts of excess" Andrew White played a lot of gigs and did a lot of pointing at Blues Alley.

Miles Davis was incontrovertibly one of the greatest music innovators of the 20th century. That said, Miles was not above scrutiny for his haphazard pointing approach. This photo clearly illustrates "the point."

Two giants of jazz piano exchange pointers—the late Hod O'Brien (left) and Rossano Sportiello (right). The perfect illustration of jazz pointing mentorship.

Peerless execution of the bandstand point by enthusiastic drummer Xavier Breaker while flanking Dr. Lonnie Smith with Jonathan Kreisberg at the 2017 Berlin Jazz Festival.

Joe Locke (strikes again!) with an "uptown" point with a "where am I and who are all these people" David Sanchez on a NYC rooftop. From left to right: Thomas Chapin, Howard Johnson, Dennis Chambers, David Murray, Mitch Watkins, Lonnie Plaxico, Randy Brecker, Frank Lacy, Barbara Dennerlein, Don Alias, Joe Locke, and David Sanchez.

Mekala Session, leader of the Pan African People's Arkestra, receives an enthusiastic point down from Dwight Trible.

Percussionist Munyungo Jackson pointing out Derf Reklaw's quality lid.

The east coast may own hard bop, but they don't own the point. Here, Los Angeles musicians are every bit their equal, with an innovative flair they call the "Central Avenue Point Down." (i.e. pointing down at the top of a fellow musician's head—see LA resident Quincy Jones above).

Here's how it is done in Europe... bassist and pointing instructor Barry Guy helps pianist Agusti Fernandez improve his technique at the 2017 Copenhagen Jazz festival.

Pedrito Martinez and John Beasley

José James and John Beasley

Grammy winner and MONK'estra leader John Beasley with the give and take.

Publicist Scott Thompson points to drummer Roy Haynes at Dizzy's Club, circa 2010.

Vocalist Ed Reed (center) along with producer Bud Spangler (left) and music director Peck Allmond (right) pull off a rare triple point in 2006 at Bay Records Studio near Oakland.
Industry people are not immune! What comes around...

Courtesy Clif Payne's Mother

Kurt Elling is a 5-time winner of the prestigious AAJ "Coolest Cat In Jazz" award—turns out he's a pointer too. Here, Elling points to fellow jazz vocalist Clif Payne after a 2016 SFJAZZ Center concert.

This is not their first (pointing) rodeo. Bassist Gerald Cannon and late vocalist Al Jarreau are at the top of their game. A monumental moment in virtuous virtuosity.

Saxophonist Bill Evans with the timeless cross point to guitarist Robben Ford and bassist Darryl Jones... as drummer Keith Carlock rambles on about the time Wayne Krantz pointed at random strangers on Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Courtesy Jim Eigo

Highlights In Jazz producer Jack Kleinsinger presents omnipresent trumpeter and Brecker Brother Randy Brecker with their annual award. We've found jazz appreciation is often expressed with the point.

Courtesy Joseph Vella

NYU Director of Jazz Studies Dr. Dave Schroeder with Bad Hombre Antonio Sanchez at the 2015 NYU Steinhardt Jazz Pointing Series at SubCulture.

Courtesy Lona Dion

Return to Forever founder Chick Corea executes the classic Horace Silver single point towards fellow pianist Mike Bogle at the 2020 Grammy Awards After Party.

Courtesy Wulf Müller

Jazz Pointing Inc. CEO Jose James with Jazz Pointing Inc. Senior Advisor Sergio Mendes backstage at North Sea Jazz Pointing Symposium in Rotterdam on July 10, 2015.

Courtesy Rosemary Hancock

Guilty as charged! Even All About Jazz people have been assimilated. AAJ Founder Michael Ricci points at Super Contributor John Kelman at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival. Reasons are unknown.

In Conclusion

As evidence suggests, there's a clear connection between pointing and improvising. We've also determined that though digits are involved, there is no relation to "jazz hands." Call it a jazzy impulse for now but we plan to collect and study more data over time. If you stumble across a "jazz pointing" photo, please post it to the comments section below.

Gotcha! April Fools!



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Jazz article: Getting to the Jazz Point: An Exposé
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