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Jazz, which is believed to have evolved in the 19th from a variety of Mississippi influences, is currently enjoying something of a musical renaissance. This Complete Idiot's Guide instructs readers on everything they need to know about the evolution of jazz, including: its origins in folk, Dixie, African music, and rhythm and blues; the first recordings in 1917; the incredible advances during the "Jazz Age"; the pioneering efforts of musicians such as Louis Armstrong; and present-day infusions of jazz with ...
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Jazz, which is believed to have evolved in the 19th from a variety of Mississippi influences, is currently enjoying something of a musical renaissance. This Complete Idiot's Guide instructs readers on everything they need to know about the evolution of jazz, including: its origins in folk, Dixie, African music, and rhythm and blues; the first recordings in 1917; the incredible advances during the "Jazz Age"; the pioneering efforts of musicians such as Louis Armstrong; and present-day infusions of jazz with reggae, pop, rock, and soul. Features profiles of such legends as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Billie Holliday, as well as career highlights of contemporary luminaries such as Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, and George Benson. Includes numerous CD recommendations, photos, a chronology, discographies, further readings, and a glossary.
Appendix A - Main Men (and Women): Who's Who in Jazz
Appendix B - Counting Time: A Brief Chronology of Jazz
Appendix C - Beyond the Core: Ideas for Building a Bigger Collection
Appendix D - Words on Music: An Essential Jazz Bibliography
Appendix E - Talk the Talk: The Words of Jazz
[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]
You don't need a Ph.D. in musicology to learn how to listen to jazz--not thatyou couldn't use one. At its best, jazz is rich and complex enough to satisfyany college professor, but it can also be fully enjoyed by anyone willing to lendtheir ears, head, and heart. Listening to most jazz is more like listening to classicalmusic than pop or simple rock 'n' roll. It requires a concentration and a certaincommitment. This chapter outlines what you need to help you really hear thejazz you listen to.
At no time in history have people had access to more information than we do. TheInternet, e-mail, television, radio, books, newspapers, magazines, billboards--itall comes streaming in at us. Voices, tunes, songs pour in, too. You hear them overthe supermarket Muzak system. You hear them on your car radio. You hear them overthe phone when you're put on hold.
The fact is, unless you lock yourself in your room, it's difficult to experiencetrue silence these days.
Ready access to information and music is mostly a wonderful thing, of course,but it can bring on a numbing sensory overload after awhile. The noise of the day,day after day, can make it difficult to get in the mood to listen--really listen--togood music.
If you know you have trouble concentrating on music, don't try. At least, nottoo hard. Instead, tune your radio to a jazz FM station and let it play in the background.If you get tired of listening, shut it off. Don't just tune to another station. Shutoff the radio.
Do this over the course of several weeks. Soon, you'll find yourself pausing tolisten more closely to a particular piece of music. Let it happen.
After using your radio as selective background music for awhile, you may get someidea of the kinds of jazz or the particular artists who appeal to you. If not, readthrough this book and take note of the recommendations given throughout. When you'reready, purchase a CD or two. Take it home. Pop it in. Start listening to it as backgroundmusic. Listen to the same CD for the next few days.
Now, one of two things will happen. Either you'll grow tired of the music, orit will grow on you. That is, one day, the music will "suddenly" seem familiarand comfortable, and stimulating.
Listening to unfamiliar music is a lot like looking for very faint stars in thesky. Astronomers know that you can see the faintest celestial objects by not lookingtoo hard. You try to look out of the corner of your eye, wh ere vision is less acutebut more sensitive to low-light levels. When you approach unfamiliar music, try listeningout of the corner of your ear. Don't try too hard. At least, not at first.
Beware of becoming too focused on the radio when you are driving. Mind and eyes should be on the road. If something you hear really turns you on, pull over (if it is safe to do so) and listen. Also remember that headphones of any kind are dangerous to use when driving and are illegal in most states.
Now here is a word of warning. While you can play jazz as background music, goodjazz is not elevator music. It just can't stay tucked away in the background.It makes too many demands. Nor does it deserve to be ignored.
Approaching jazz through the background can ease you into the music--if, harriedby the daily information flood, you need to be eased into it. But don't startthinking of it like the hum of an electric fan. Once you get comfortable with a pieceof music, bring it out front. Really listen. Devote some time and attention to it.The payback is pleasure.
Got a library card? Get one. Many public libraries lend CDs. For free.
You can listen to any Louis Armstrong recording from 1925-27, say, or Miles Davisfrom the early 1950s, the way you'd listen to an old Jascha Heifitz recording ofthe Beethoven Violin Concerto or Glenn Gould playing Bach on the piano, givingit your utmost concentration. But remember from Chapter 2 that jazz is rooted inmusic that was meant to accompany life's basic (and baser) activities.
By all means, give jazz its due, but don't think of it as sacred, to only be enjoyedin private. Much jazz makes great party music--and not just music for the background,but music that creates the party. Listening need not be a solitary pleasure.Call your friends! Have them bring their favorite recordings.
There's a lot to say about jazz, but it's also hard to talk about. Why? Becausethe music offers so much variety that you begin to feel foolish when you try to explainor describe it. Really, we should invent a plural form of the word--call it jazzes--because,whatever "jazz" is, it's more than one kind of music.
At the very least, jazz runs a gamut of moods from intense introspection (takeSunday at the Village Vanguard, a 1961 album by pianist Bill Evans rereleasedon Original Jazz Classics) to full-out extroversion (put on just about anything fromthe swing era--Benny Goodman, Count Basie, you name it).
While enjoying an evening alone, you may naturally gravitate toward reflectionand introspection. But why not try something loud and fast? Make it a party of one.And let's face it: "Alone" may be the only way your housemate(s) will letyou listen to that fabulously frenetic Coltrane At the Village Vanguard album.
When you're ready for something more than casual listening, find the right timeand place.
Much of this book is about "what to listen for" when you listen to jazz.Part 2 explores this subject in some depth. Before plunging in, however, let's getan overview of some basic elements to listen for in jazz.
Think a moment about any nonvocal piece of music that holds your attention--jazz,classical, or otherwise. What grabs you? It could be the beat, the melody, the orchestration.But something else is also happening to catch and hold your attention.
Say you're riding the morning commuter special to work. Same old train. Same oldscenery. Same old stops. Then you catch a fragment of conversation from the seatsbehind you.
"... he's the one, then?"
"Oh, yeah. I think I'm in love. There's just one problem."
"Well, he's married ..."
And now you're no longer reading the paper, you're listening to this suddenlyvery interesting conversation.
At its best, jazz, too, is a conversation, and if we can't fully participate,we can at least eavesdrop. This idea of conversation is basic to most good--and by"good," I mean consistently interesting--music. It's very typical of classicalmusic. Listen to an orchestral piece, or especially a chamber work like a stringquartet, and you become aware of the di fferent instruments trading musical commentswith one another.
In truly classical music--the music of the era of Mozart and Haydn--this "conversation"may be highly structured, like a series of questions and answers. For example, ifthe theme of a Haydn symphony begins with three notes running up the scale (a kindof musical question mark), it will soon be answered by three notes running down thescale.
In jazz, the conversation is usually spontaneous. Whether recorded or on a stagein front of you, it's live at that moment, not read from a script. It's sometimesmore subtle and sometimes more intense, frenetic, and charged than in classical works.Sometimes it's an argument--a brawl, even. Sometimes it's emotionally charged: thedialogue of lovers. Often it's carried on at breakneck speed--rapid-fire syllablestraded back and forth.
But behind what may at first seem like a lot of babble and chatter, there is almostalways a question-and-answer structure. Listen to the thoroughly delightful bossanova classic Jazz Samba (Verve), a 1962 recording featuring tenor saxophonistStan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd (see Chapter 17). Don't just get caught up inthe tunes and rhythms; listen to the exchange of ideas between these two masters.
Keep this in mind when you listen to great orchestral and big band recordings,too--like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Count Basie, or Duke Ellington.It's not just a lot of sound or even a lot of tunes, harmonies, and rhythms. It'sa conversation: lively, absorbing, and provocative.
In Chapter 1, I mentioned the great importance of rhythm in jazz, and we'll returnto that subject repeatedly. I also mentioned the subject of color, which, in music,is the word used to describe the unique sound of each instrument. A tenor saxophonehas a very different color from a trumpet, and Stan Getz on tenor sax creates a verydifferent color from Sonny Rollins on the same instrument.
Listening for the different colors of the different instruments in an orchestralpiece helps you concentrate more clearly on the conversation. It's like listeningto the different voices of a conversation when you can hear but cannot see the participants.If everybody sounded the same, it would be hard to figure out who was talking andmake sense of the whole thing. Fortunately, we all have different voices--and thesame is true of jazz instruments and jazz players.
Thinking of conversation--a give-and-take--and instrumental color can really helpyou get into a piece of music. But the elements of jazz--rhythm, melody, harmony,conversation, color--actually take things one step further, beyond ideas, into therealm of feelings. Jazz is a paramount example of the way philosopher and educatorSusanne Langer (1895-1985) described music: "Feeling as form."
Jazz gives musical form to feelings. Whatever else it is (and it is many things),it is the musical expression of emotion.
That's what makes jazz so exciting, and, ultimately, enables anyone who's willingto listen to enjoy jazz fully. We all have emotions. We're all human. And no musicis more emotional, more human, than jazz.
But as anyone who's ever been in a serious relationship knows, feelings aren'talways easy to share, or understand. It takes commitment.
Allow yourself to feel what the musician s are inviting you to feel. Commit yourselfto getting involved in the emotional world of the music. If you're determined toremain aloof and detached, jazz will always be alien and not a little boring.
The idea of musical "structure" scares just about anyone who is nota performer, composer, or musicologist. After all, you don't have to be an architectto live in your house or to work in your office building. These are structures youenjoy and use without knowing a thing about them.
Or so you think.
Actually, the way your house or workplace looks affects you very much, each andevery day. The structure of these places produces certain emotions in you. Who doesn'twant to live in a pretty house? Who wants to work in an ugly environment?
Like any complex music, jazz moves and affects us, not with sound or beat alone,but with structure. And just as you don't have to be an architect to enjoy your house,neither do you have to be a musicologist to get pleasure from the way a jazz pieceis put together.
If you allow yourself to enter the world of feeling created by a good piece ofjazz, you will start to feel how that piece hangs together. You'll perceivea kind of emotional logic. If you had a Ph.D., you might be able to put those feelingsinto academic verbiage--and, as you get into jazz, you'll find plenty of thaton album covers and in CD booklets (more on that in a minute). That probably doesn'tmatter to you, but don't let it put you off. The point is this: Give yourself overto the music, and it will take on a new reality, the sounds coming together as akind of architecture.
Dig This< /H3>
The great American architect Louis Sullivan called architecture "frozen music." Why not think of jazz as fluid architecture?
But why stop with feeling? Remember, jazz is "feeling as form," notjust raw emotion. While you don't have to be a musical scholar to get a kick outof jazz, the more you know, the more you'll enjoy. In this regard, you're in luck.Most jazz records and CDs come packaged with liner notes, a brief essay usuallyby a jazz expert who illuminates some aspect of what's on the recording. Liner notestypically tell you...
Most liner notes make for very interesting, very helpful reading.
Talk the Talk
Packaged with a CD (or found on the back of an LP), liner notes are a brief essay by an expert or the performers explaining some aspect of what's on the recording.
You don't have to have your own audio system to enjoy jazz, but it surehelps. Sure, there are clubs and radio stations (in most metropolitan areas and collegetowns) that offer a wealth of jazz, but so much of our jazz heritage is recorded--fromalmost the turn of the 20th century right up to the present--that, without a goodturntable or CD player, you're cut off from a lot of the music.
You don't have to go into deep debt to buy a decent audio system, though you c anspend a fortune on a very elaborate system, if you so choose. Here are some guidelines.
Invest a few dollars in a couple of the leading audio magazines, such as Audio, Stereo Review, or Stereophile, to get an idea of the latest products available. Andrew R. Yoder's Home Audio: Choosing, Maintaining, and Repairing Your Audio System (McGraw-Hill, 1997) is a very useful introduction to the subject.
At minimum, you'll need a receiver and a CD player, as well as speakers. If youalready own or plan to collect LP records (you remember, those 12-inch disks madeout of black vinyl), you'll need a turntable as well. If you want a more elaboratesystem, you could get separate tuner, preamplifier, and power amplifier units. ButI'll assume you're just going for a good, basic system.
You might want to purchase an integrated system, which consists of componentssold together. These tend to be on the lower end of the price as well as the qualityrange. If you decide to invest in individual components, choose carefully to matchthe CD player, receiver, and speakers. Don't splurge on one item only to cheap outon the others. As the cliché goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakestlink. In particular, don't be tempted into thinking that great speakers will makeup for a cheesy receiver or a distortion-prone CD player. Speakers are only as goodas the signal going into them.
You can pick up a very good receiver for $400 to $600. Go for at least 100 wattsper channel and look for a unit with low distortion. You'll find this informationon the unit's spec sheet.
CD players range widely in price. You are best off with a CD changer (a machinewith multi-disc capacity), for which you shouldn't have to spend more than $300,unless you are reaching for the highest end.
Varying even more in price are speakers, which can get into thousands of dollars.For a moderately priced system, expect to spend $200 to $400 for a pair. These days,you don't have to buy monster-sized speakers, either. Many very small and elegantspeaker systems on the market nowadays deliver powerful, high-quality sound.
Audiophiles (folks who are fanatics about stereo equipment) will tell youthat a sound system ideal for rock 'n' roll is not necessarily the best for classicalmusic or jazz. The whole area of taste in music systems is highly subjective; however,there is more than a grain of "absolute" truth in what the audiophilessay.
Talk the Talk
An audiophile is someone who is both fanatical and knowledgeable about hi-fidelity sound.
If your main listening interest is jazz, invest in high-quality (that is, low-distortion)equipment rather than in raw wattage and big speakers. You want a system geared toreproducing acoustic instruments, not the amplified guitars and keyboards of rock.While some jazz--especially fusion (see Chapter 20)--uses amplified instruments,it's still primarily an acoustic medium, and clarity of reproduction is your primarygoal. You might also give some thought to what kind of jazz you're most likely tolisten to: big bands and orchestras, or intimate duos, trios, and the like?
Also give tho ught to the room you'll be listening in. If it's small, you won'tneed a monster amplifier or speakers to fill it with sound. Anyway, most jazzdoesn't call for the kind of volume rock fans want.
This brings us to the listening room. It pays to purchase your equipment at astore that specializes in audio and offers a listening room where you can auditionthe equipment. Take along a favorite CD, something you know well, and make your testswith that.
When auditioning equipment, don't be impressed by raw volume. Listen for the following:
A hum in a brand-new audio system is a signal of poor electrical grounding, which is, in turn, a sign of faulty workmanship. Listen for any hum, no matter how faint. Do not purchase equipment that hums.
If you are serious about your music, you don't want to be disturbed when you'relistening. And if you care about your family, roommates, or nearest neighbors, youdon't want to disturb them. Consider investing in a good pair of headphones.
Headphones can help, especially in distracting environments or wherever you could disturb others. You can choose the heavy studio-type phones, which block out most external noise, or the feather-weight designs, which bring the music close to you without totally excluding the outside world.
While headphones come in a variety of styles and prices, you have one major choiceto make. Do you want to wear rather large and heavy phones, which will totally cutout noise from the outside? Or do you want small, feather-light phones that reproducesound beautifully, but do not isolate you?
In recording studios, the heavy, isolating phones are used, and they provide probablythe best-quality sound; however, wearing them for long periods can be fatiguing.Moreover, you're always aware that you have headphones on. For some people, thisinterferes with fully enjoying the music.
There is no denying that the compact disc (CD) has many advantages over vinylrecords. CDs have less unwanted background noise, they're more durable, they don'twear out with repeated playing, and they're far less likely to suffer from manufacturingdefects. They're also easier to store and take up less room.
Nevertheless, many diehard audiophiles insist that digital sound reproductionis inferior to the analog reproduction techniques used to create LP records. Thisis a question of personal taste. Probably a more important consideration is whetheror not you will want to listen to vinyl recordings as well as CDs. While many, manyhistorical jazz recordings have been reissued on CD, many others are available onlyon vinyl, still to be found in used record stores. If you have access to a substantialcollection of LP recordings or you wish to begin collecting them, invest in a goodturntable in addition to a CD player. Put your money in a high-quality basic table--nochanger--with a high-end phono cartridge.
...is another man's poison. In other words, let's not argue about taste. Asidefrom certain basic issues of quality--the handful of points I've just listed--choosinga sound system involves highly subjective choices, just like choosing the music youlisten to. Learn all you care to learn about audio equipment and about jazz, thenlisten for yourself. Give the sound system as well as the music a fair shake. Thenmake your own choices.
But hearing jazz isn't all subjective. The music follows certaintraditions and even certain rules. Now that you have read some ideas about how tolisten to jazz, dig into the next part of the book, which will guide you in justwhat to listen for.
Got a problem CD? A note that "gets stuck" and repeats like a machine gun? Chances are the CD just needs cleaning. Eject it and gently wipe the non-label surface with a spotlessly clean cloth. Be careful not to scratch the CD. Most CD problems can be easily wiped away.