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What's the best way to introduce someone to Jazz?

AAJ Staff By

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So there I was one day looking at my record collection and the logic just hit me like a bat around the head. I'd already discovered jazz, and that I actually knew quite a lot about it too. Why? Because I really dig Frank Sinatra (Capitol years) and others like Basie etc. So I already had my intro., I just hadn't worked it out. I still didn't know who was who or what was what in a big band etc. but I started from there and eventually worked my way around to Miles, Bird, Diz and the BeBopper's which is what I'd actually been craving all that time. As the UK jazz journalist and broadcaster Benny Green outlines in his book 'Jazz, the reluctant art,' everybody understands diatonic sounds, even non-musicians, but it's the chromatic sound which has everybody running for cover, but if you persist in listening to chromatic music, eventually you will begin to warm to it. It was only then did I realise what I was actually looking for. However, now I found what I wanted, I soon grew tired of it because all I had was a limited choice.

It wasn't until I was in New York and a chance meeting with a fellow Sinatra enthusiast at Birdland (Jazz Messengers All Stars—May 1998) that proved to be the real turning point for me. Once we exchanged email and started swapping tapes etc., I knew my education was really kicking off. I then read everything I could get hold off such as 'Miles—The Autobiography' (excellent information, rubbish writing style) and 'Straight Life' by Art Pepper did I actually know where I was going and what I actually wanted to hear.

My advise to any newbie is to buy a copy of the New Grove Jazz Dictionary. It has really helped me a whole lot. It's an expensive volume, but well worth it. Since then, I have 'spun off' into big bands, sidemen, soloists, West Coast, bebop, you name it. I can't honestly say I dig Orenette Coleman and such, but maybe that's for another time.

My advise to anyone wishing to 'turn-on' a newbie to jazz is to find out what they like first of all. Start with the obvious, in my case Sinatra, and then work from there. Let's be realistic about this, if you're own personal taste is Bird n' Diz, and some kid asks for somewhere to start in jazz, but Bird n' Diz ain't their thing, you're both wasting time and energy on something which could potentially put the newbie off. If they don't have the foggiest idea what they do like, stick on some Kenny G or Courtney Pine and hope they don't like it—then you've got 'em!!!


Date: 02-Aug-1999 14:24:58
From: Vendy Voo
If the newbie is someone close to you, give them a gift of the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. It's a 5 CD set which has everything from Jelly Roll Morton and Louie Armstrong to Eric Dolphy and the World Saxophone Quartet. Included in the set, Martin Williams put together a great little book with comments on all the cuts/players/styles. It really is a wonderful collection. If someone wants to know what Bessie Smith sounds like or Basie or MJQ or Miles or Ornette Coleman or Bill Evans or Ben Webster it's all there. This is simply a great anthology to wander around in with a first rate guide—Martin Williams (who has written several excellent books on jazz—also highly recommended).


Date: 08-Aug-1999 08:21:27
From: Zeke
I'd like to second the above recommendation of the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. It's a history of jazz that usually represents major players/composers by at least a cut or two. I think the best way to learn about jazz is to get a sense of its development and spend some time listening to the major figures. Then you have a framework/context to understand new players and styles. Seems to me all jazz is a dialog—with other players in a particular group, and with the great players/composers of the past, in short, the history of jazz. I've been listening to jazz for 20 years and still pull out my trusty Smithsonian vinyl because the selection is so good—the best of the best—enjoy!


Date: 11-Aug-1999 08:19:41
From: Joe
In our house the kids can either listen to jazz or other adult music or put on their headphones and listen to whatever they want. They all have headphones with 20 foot cords—Christmas gifts.

If the Spice Girls are heard—they hear "headphones" and that's it. If they want to put the Spice Girls on the public air waves, meaning the house stereo, arrangements can be made for them to pay their percentage of the mortgage and utilities. So they grow up with jazz—any complaints and "In a Goda Da Vida" and other carefully chosen rock classics replace jazz on the public airwaves—very few complaints.


Date: 11-Aug-1999 20:34:21
From: Cheevoomba
Joe you're a crypto-fascist, if your kids don't grow up hating jazz, they'll at least grow up disliking you. But you probably don't care—you're the type that enjoys pulling the legs off of insects.

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