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

AAJ Staff By

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Date: 13-Jun-2001 22:11:32
From: DeRayMi ( )
I am not trying to be a troll (maybe I am being one, but I'm not trying to be one!); however, I'd like to confuse the issues a little here. I do not consider myself a jazz fan, though there are three figures in jazz who made a lot of music I really like, and there are other things I have heard here and there that I have liked. Here is my case history. I grew up listening primarily to pop, rock and R&B, plus the music I heard at church. My mom had a few records of big band music, but not many. When I was in 5th or 6th grade I started to listen to (probably fairly mainstream jazz) on the radio, on my own (from what I can remember). Around the same time I had my first exposure to a punk rock (cover) band and liked it. Around this time my family moved to a new area and at some point I went looking for the station I had been listening to and ended up stumbling onto an entirely different station, which introduced me to an incredibly eclectic mix of music: modern classical/avant-garde/experimental, free jazz, electronic music, various obscure progressive rock from Europe, reggae, punk/new wave/industrial, traditional forms of music from around the world, and other things I didn't take to as much, including a lot of folk music from closer to home (home being the U.S., in my case). Anyway, in junior high and high school I tended to gravitate to whatever was avant-garde. It's hard for me to sort out how much of the avant-garde (in all the arts) I really liked, and how much I was simply intrigued by, but I definitely liked some of it. In fact, I can think of some free jazz and fusion (e.g., "Bitches Brew") records I liked then which I don't especially like now. For a long time I considered myself someone who liked free jazz, but who didn't especially have a taste for anything from earlier phases of jazz. I think the thing that finally killed that illusion was going to see Charles Gayle play live. It made me realize that I didn't really love free jazz, as such, after all. Charles Gayle made me cry "uncle!" I have also seen the following widely recognized performers, live (and possibly others I am not remembering): the Sun Ra Arkestra (with and without Sun Ra); Don Cherry; Oliver Lake; Steve Lacey; Pharoah Sanders; Max Roach Archie Shepp and Odean Pope; John Zorn (if you consider him jazz); George Russell; McCoy Tyner; Cecil Taylor; and Byard Lancaster. This past winter I bought a "starter" set of jazz CDs from 1201 Records, focused mostly on big band and bop. While I certainly respect the skill and artistry involved, very little of the music actually grabbed me. In fact, I was relieved to finish an initial listening to the whole collection, so that I could go often and listen to things I wanted to be listening to. I have taken a couple group swing classes, but that did not seem to make me enjoy the music more (where learning to salsa had quickly turned me into a salsa music fan).

Despite years of exposure to jazz of various sorts, much of it self-initiated, I still don't like most of it. Incidentally, the three people who have been at the center of a lot of work that I especially like are: Billie Holiday, John Coltrane (whose sound always stood out for me even back in high school), and Sun Ra. On the one hand, I think I am able to enjoy their music without really digging jazz a whole lot. On the other hand, I have to admit that appreciating how their work relates to jazz more broadly would add depth to my appreciation and perhaps enjoyment. I don't find that I get anywhere by pushing myself, and I'm not even sure why I should want to, except that, well, for one thing, it would be nice to like this form of music which grew up in the U.S., instead of being more at home, overall, with Arabic music, for example. (Let me tell you, if you have not learned to enjoy Oum Kalthoum's singing—YOU are missing something!) I will keep trying, but not very hard. Tomorrow night I go see Andrew Hill for the first time, Saturday Jimmy Bosch (also for the first time—but he really is more Latin than jazz), and Sunday the Arkestra (always a treat). And then maybe I'll get around to buying those Carpenters CDs I want (no joking).

Date: 22-Jun-2001 11:40:10
From: John
Although many others have said it repeatedly, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis really is one of the best jazz albums ever. I would rec. it to anyone just starting to get into jazz. Its mellow, but exciting.

A few other albums I would rec. for the jazz beginer: Saxophone Collossus, by Sonny Rollins and Ballads by John Coltrane.

One other thing I would impress upon anyone just starting to get into jazz is that there is a LOT of great jazz out there, w/ all different kinds of styles and variations. You probably won't like all of it, but you just might find something wonderful and fall in love w/ it!

Date: 25-Jun-2001 15:14:04
From: Deek
Sometimes what doesn't kill you makes you dumber.


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