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You Too Can Be A Jazz Fan!


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I had completely lost sight of the music. I had bought into this image that defined 'jazz' as either music for rich snobs or an atonal mass of experimental squeaks...
No jacket required—no SUV or Ph.D., either...

Jazz is intimidating. Now I know those of you who live and breathe jazz are probably shaking your heads in pity, but speaking for those who haven't been fully initiated into the mysteries of jazz, trust me—it's intimidating.

Part of the problem is that, for an art form that had relatively humble beginnings, jazz has picked up some rather lofty icons along the way. Luxury sedans. Custom kitchens with granite countertops. Expensive, European sound systems. These are the settings against which jazz is played, or at least that's what advertising agencies would have us believe.

I don't drive a Lexus. And I can't afford a house (not in the Bay Area, anyway). I am not, I thought, the "jazz demographic." To me, a jazz fan would be someone standing around at a cocktail party observing that the latest Mosaic boxed set is sublime? and by the way, will we see you at Umbria again this year?

"I'm too middle-class to be a jazz fan," I would think to myself, letting my deep and abiding fear of conspicuous consumerism stand in the way of my truly getting to know the music. But then, like all good cynics, I fell in love. And imagine my surprise when I fell in love with a man who loves jazz. Of course, before I got to know him, I just knew I wasn't his type. His type was a tall, sophisticated Versace-draped woman who hung out in basement clubs sipping martinis. It would not be a short, suburban woman in Converse high-tops who hung out in bookstores, sipping coffee and talking avidly about the Giants.

But the biggest surprise was not the love thing; it was the discovery that I already was a jazz fan? I just didn't know it.

You see, in the midst being judgmental, I had completely lost sight of the music. I had bought into this image that defined "jazz" as either music for rich snobs or an atonal mass of experimental squeaks (or both). I didn't read about it because jazz writing always looked so pompous and obtuse. I didn't go to clubs because I didn't want to listen to extended silences and the dulcet blendings of soprano sax and shamisen (with apologies to all you avant jazz fans).

I didn't wander into the jazz section at record stores because I don't wear Italian shoes. So I had no idea that "jazz" comprised a vast variety of sounds, some subtle, some earthy, and some, quite frankly, beyond me. I was intimidated by the stuff I didn't like, and so I didn't take the time to explore further.

It wasn't until my fiancé took the time to teach me about jazz that I realized how much I already loved it. I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman—but because my parents never referred to this music as "jazz," I had no idea that it was jazz. It was just old pop music to me. How could anyone fail to realize that "swing," "big band," and "jive" were terms that applied to some of the jazziest jazz there is? You'd be surprised.

I'll probably never pass one of those "blindfold tests." I can't listen to fifteen seconds of a song and tell you the artist, the date, and what they ate before the recording session. But I'm getting better. And I love the education.

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