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Jazz Suggestions for the Newby. August 8, 1997

Music Ramble: Jazz Suggestions for the Newby

From the usenet jazz discussion group Rec.Music.Bluenote, August 8, 1997:

“Any suggestions when it comes to introducing someone to Jazz?”

For a brand new jazz fan, I would suggest:

1: Forget about a "historical perspective." Interest in history comes naturally after someone gets turned on to the music. Few people get into a form of music because of an academic interest, but because they hear something that turns them on.

2: Avoid virtually anything recorded prior to the late '50s. Unless someone is coming to jazz after being seriously interested in other forms of music and collecting that took them into pre-stereo recordings (I was very much used to the sound of bootleg Mengelberg/Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra recordings from the 1930s by the time I got interested in pre-1950s jazz), dusty old Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, or Bird recordings will probably sound quaint, or even unpleasant to listen to. Just because we love those recordings does not mean they are a good place to start. Sure, I've heard stories of people who had epiphanies hearing jazz for the first time as recorded in the '30s, but frankly, I do not personally know one person under the age of forty who is now a jazz fan that came to it through historic classic recordings from the mono era. When you grow up used to stereo “hi-fidelity,” it makes a difference.

3: Forget about the avant garde, unless you're talking about somebody who already loves some other form of music that has plenty of atonal, dissonant or arhythmic qualities. A rock or fusion fan is accustomed to harmony, melody, a steady pulse, etc. Ornette's Free Jazz or Shape of Jazz To Come makes most people I know wanna puke. At a much earlier time in my life, the same held for me, and if someone had given me those records when I was just starting out in jazz, I might have stayed away altogether.

4: Avoid recordings with twenty-minute tracks, again, unless the person is already used to sitting through ninety-minute Mahler symphonies that have single movements that are twenty minutes long, or Grateful Dead or Phish jams that never seem to end. A very new fan will usually grow restless.

5: Go for accessibility coupled with quality. Some of my own personal suggestions typically are Lee Morgan's Sidewinder, Abdullah Ibrahim's Water From An Ancient Well, Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins, Dave Brubeck's Take Five, and Cannonball Adderley's Something Else. There are many possibilities, but all of these are discs that have worked for friends and acquaintances of mine.

WD responded: “My main piece of advice these days is go see some live jazz.”

And I think that's probably the best advice of all. You also find out a lot about people's misperceptions. An amusing example is when my wife and I went with a couple of jazz-novice friends to the Jazz Showcase. I believe we heard Joe Henderson. When it was finished and we were in the car, they said they liked it, but they were amazed that the band could do all that without sheet music. I explained that the basic heads were memorized long ago, at least by Henderson. But how, they wondered, could the band and Henderson have memorized all the long solos? Their epiphany that night was the concept of improvisation. They had always thought that all the jazz they'd heard was through-composed, note for note.

Dave Royko

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