Sunburn and shorts are familiar sights during the summertime for most kids. On the other hand, some kids spend their summers hopping from music camp to music camp, practicing for hours on end. There are also those who immerse themselves in jazz and listen to it day in and day out. That describes my summers for the past few years. This summer, I had some personal revelations and observations that I would like to share.
I boarded a plane in late June after the school year ended heading for Los Angeles. I proudly looked in my carry on at my jazz collection that I had brought with me. After getting comfortable I sat in my seat, slipped on the headphones and once again got lost in the music that I love so much. That was the beginning of my realizations. Listening to the music gave me pleasure but it always got to the point where I got sick of it. All the CD's had the same concept, a concept that hadn't changed in almost 40 years. The plane ride ended and I went about listening to it and then getting sick of it.
So with that in mind I decided that I would try and open up my ears and see what else is out there. I remembered reading a Greg Osby article which asked what was in his stereo right now. The names Madonna and Ol' Dirty Bastard, of Wu Tang Fame, were mentioned as his listening pleasures at the moment. That compelled me to try other things besides just jazz. My idea was: If Greg Osby listens to other stuff, he probably gets sick of listening to just jazz. That opened up new doors for me but at the same time I was thinking about making a decision that I thought I would never make.
Techno, alternative, hip-hop, R&B, folk, and bluegrass/Americana were filling my CD collection now. I felt refreshed and I had also decided that I didn't want to pursue music. There is all this good music out there and millions of people are producing it, so what makes me think that I could actually make it?
I also realized that Jazz isn't the hottest selling music genre either, so trying to be a jazz artist would be even harder. My time in Los Angeles made me decide that I didn't want to become a musician or be involved with music. I told myself that I had had enough and I wanted to do other things, to be a well rounded person. I was tempted to sell my saxophone and do other outrageous things but of course my parents would not be very happy with that. The vacation on the west coast was coming to and end and I was still certain that music was not for me.
Once I got back I told about two people about the decisions that I had made. In about three days, hordes of people were asking me if I was quitting music. They thought I was crazy because if anyone knew me well they associated me with music right away. I ignored them and just went about my own business.
On an extremely hot day, I was in the car waiting for my brother. I turned on the stereo and turned to a pretty bad college radio station that played jazz every so often. This had been one of those rare times that they would be playing jazz. Upon hearing that it was the jazz/blues show I gave it a listen. The first thing that I heard was the Clifford Brown tune "Delilah." I didn't know who was playing it but it really blew me away; I found out later it was David "Fathead" Newman, but it just blew me away.
In conclusion, I did change my mind about pursuing music but I learned a lesson. The lesson is: Kids my age that are so into jazz won't open up their ears to anything else. They become closed minded about music; that was what had happened to me. But one's playing could be influenced by music other than jazz. Students pursuing jazz or music in general need to open up their ears and realize that there is other music out there worth listening to, and that music could influence they way they play jazz.
I love jazz because it is both challenging and exhilarating, and the endeavor of improvisation is the highest form of art.
I met so many great musicians--including my two earliest heroes, Maynard Ferguson and Dizzy Gillespie--by attending concerts
and being willing to treat them with the respect they deserve.
The best show I ever attended was the Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman Song X concert at Cornell University.
The first jazz record I bought was an RCA compilation by Dizzy Gillespie.
My advice to new listeners is to not be afraid to listen to something because you're not familiar with the artists or the band or
the genre or anything - this is music that is best experienced through discovery.