What is Jazz, how can one explain it and what does it stand for? These are typically difficult questions to answer concerning this unique musical art form. How can I go about, in answering these crucial questions without further complicating the issue and confusing the curious who ask. Yes, Curiosity or interest are two very interchangeable words and would be the great starting point in deciphering the puzzled ones who simply cannot understand/comprehend Jazz music. There must be some psychological/emotional connection involved when listening to music, no matter what type it is. There should be something going on in the brain cells of the listener with the particular song they are listening to at the moment. There is the rare case when the listener is extremely too busy doing something at the moment and just cannot concentrate on the music playing. The mind cannot transmit any sort of feelings and/or interpretation, so its just background sounds to the listener. This occurs to all of us but most of the times we “tune in” and listen to either an ongoing stream of music or we specifically select a song or songs that we would like to hear. So what makes a person decide to indulge themselves with a Jazz song? What are the feelings, sentiments and emotions that overwhelm the minds of those who love Jazz?
Before I continue to explain what Jazz is, let’s get a little scientific and let’s find the most logical definition of the word “Music.” Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition:
a: the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.b: vocal, instrumental, or mechanical sounds having rhythm, melody, or harmony.
I think the most logical approach to understanding the art form of Jazz would begin with understanding the Blues, its history and how it developed. After one gets an idea of its roots, then everything will fall into place.
Here’s a great example of the Blues (“Straight Ahead,”Donald Byrd with Gigi Gryce):
Developing the capacity to judge and easily distinguish what exactly high quality musicianship is, would be the next step. This will take some listening and fortunately, will be an easy task. It will not take more than a few tunes to understand, just tune in to Jazz Con Class Radio and you will be well on your way! Or you can take a listen to these tracks I placed here.
To get you started, here’s some straight Hard Bop, from Jazz trumpet player Blue Mitchell, the name of the song is “Brother ‘Ball”:
Jazz is very unique in sound and what makes it so much of a complete experience is how it covers the whole spectrum of human emotions. Let’s take a listen to this tune, “Ecclusiastics” by the great Charles Mingus:
How about this very popular jazz song “‘Round Midnight” and played here by it’s composer Thelonious Monk:
Dixieland style of Jazz conveys so many emotions at the same time and is a perfect example. Here’s the instrumental version of the famous song “St. James Infirmary,” done by Pee Wee Russell and his band:
Or listen to “Black and Blue” with Sidney Bechet and his big band:
Here’s the Miles Davis and his band performing “Bluing”:
Here’s Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers performing “Children of the Night”:
Here’s John Coltrane with Lee Morgan performing “Blue Train”:
Here’s “Intrepid Fox” from a 1970Freddie Hubbard album:
Here’s Duke Ellington and his band performing “Tigress”:
And Here’s Duke again with “The Swinger’s Jump”
I find it to be so much more educational, if I may say, to provide these Jazz songs as examples to those who have never been exposed to Jazz or were not aware of. These are great tunes and range from the early 50’s to the early 70’s. This is to get an idea of the diversity of Jazz and its superior quality.
Note: Maybe the readers here only heard songs from the so-called genre “Smooth Jazz” and thought it represented Jazz music. “Smooth Jazz” is nothing else but “Easy Listening Music” and the word “Jazz” should have never been place there. The music industry’s poor choice of creating this genre has damaged Jazz and what it stands for. Smooth Jazz, which began in the early 80’s, has eventually steered the youth away from learning about any Jazz that came beforehand.
Jazz is much more complex than it seems and Jazz musicians are masters of their craft. The more the listeners dwell into Jazz music and its improvisational nature of expression, the more they will understand the purity it treasures. I hope this article helped simplify Jazz and what it stands for. The more one gets involved with Jazz, the more they will understand what “Freedom” is all about, there’s nothing else like it. Spread the word and keep Jazz ALIVE!