Archive for February, 2011

Jazz Odyssey: My Attempt to “Dig” Jazz

February 19, 2011

I’ve long felt like I should like jazz but, despite the occasional half-arsed effort, it’s never quite clicked with me. And this bothers me a little. Many of the artists I love wear their jazz influences on their sleeves. Steely Dan’s love of jazz isn’t so much on their sleeve as constituting an entire appendage. XTC has always managed to work a bit of jazz in to their work here and there. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa were more beatniks than hippies and consequently jazz was their keystone.

It left me feeling like I was only happy with the watered down, less authentic version of the music. And that seems like a shame to me.

So what’s kept me away from jazz? Well, It seems alien, with it’s own language and rules that seem utterly bizarre to any outsiders.

I think this clip from The Fast Show sums up most peoples feelings about jazz pretty well:

Sure, it’s a joke (and one I love) but the details seem pretty much on the nail. Note the presenter listing the bands personnel, all of whom have rather odd names, and assuming that this will mean something to us. He then goes on to explain the structure of the music in technical detail as if this is helpful to the viewer. This is not natural territory for your average rock fan – even someone with my slightly odd and obsessive tastes. When the music starts it’s absolute chaos. Oddly the audience seem unbothered by the spectacle before them and the presenter even seems to be enjoying it.

Of course The Fast Show specialised in presenting us with incomprehensible people such as the Channel 9 presenters and Rowley Birkin QC so it was inevitable that the jargon of jazz would find a home there.

I’m not interested in the jargon myself, I just want to get into the music. But even that seems quite difficult if you don’t know where to start.

Now, it could be argued that if you have to work to get into it then it’s not worth getting into. This is an attractive idea but any music fan has an album that they love today that they were indifferent to when they first heard it. In fact I often miss the old days when buying a record was a big event because this was a purchase I was going to have to live with. I’d save my hard earned cash to buy an album and then I’d have to keep listening to it all the way through even if I wasn’t entirely convinced that I liked it. If I’d invested my money well it would start to click. I figure the same might be true with jazz.

In fact I recently came across an interview with Harvey Pekar (the American Splendor guy) who was an obsessive jazz fan. He was asked how he got into jazz and this is what he said:

I was 16 years old and I was just flailing around, looking for an interest. I heard, you know, these jazz records. They were modern records, at the time in the ’50s, and I realized that I didn’t fully get what was going on. But I liked a lot of what I heard. What I felt was, if I listen to this stuff enough, I could train my ear so I could hear what was going on. I kept on buying records and listening to them. Finally, I was able to hear the relationship between the jazz improvisers’ solos and the underlying structure that it’s based on, the chord progression. That was pretty easy to do in the swing era, y’know, when jazz was, like, pop music, you know. It had made the charts and everything like that.

I want to work this stuff out too.

So I’ve started going on Spotify and trawling through possible records. I’ve tried to live with them for a bit and I’ve been working out what I like and what I don’t like. I thought I might start posting some reviews of jazz albums on this blog (under the banner Jazz Odyssey after the dismal Spinal Tap jazz workout). There aren’t many jazz primers out there for the rock fan so maybe this will help anyone out there that’s interested.

If you are interested then stay tuned daddio.