Don’t leave jazz to the jazz guys
January 27, 2020 1:12 PM   Subscribe

The music is more than a personality trait. (Shuja Haider, The Outline)
posted by Think_Long (45 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Whiplash is a sports movie in which the athletes compete using musical instruments.

I had this insight myself, then found out that it was not at all original, which is because it is is true.
posted by thelonius at 1:22 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


This is a weird article, and I'm not sure what the hell point it is trying to make. The author seems to simultaneously want to make fun of snobs and also be really snobby in his own way.

Anyway, I just came here to say that it's ok to like Buddy Rich.(his music, anyway. He was a dick IRL, but welcome to the jazz musician club)
posted by selfnoise at 1:39 PM on January 27 [13 favorites]


I wanted to harrumph about the article, but I find I broadly agree with him. I like jazz very much, but...

It's not just jazz though. There are soul guys, and reggae guys, and punk guys and rock guys. And there are prog guys. God, are there prog guys. I have to try very hard not to become one of them.
posted by Grangousier at 1:44 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


guitar solos in rock songs — boring interludes where you temporarily stop paying attention

I was mostly with this author until this line. Good job, jazz guy.
posted by Gaz Errant at 1:45 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


The secret is to allow people around you to have bad taste, because there are no stakes and they are happy liking the music they like. And also, maybe you are wrong!

When you do talk about music, try to channel your joy instead of your inner critic. Everyone's a critic and the value is just not there.
posted by selfnoise at 1:50 PM on January 27 [18 favorites]


Great piece, thanks for sharing. I love that picture of Ornette Coleman on The Shape of Jazz to Come album.
posted by sallybrown at 1:51 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The worst thing about jazz guys, as Kerouac epitomized, is the tendency to talk about jazz a lot without really having much to say about it.
Perfect choice. The amount of words Kerouac and several of his associates spend celebrating the "primitive," "essential" spirit of musicians who had significant classical training, decades of practice, and a very formal musical structure is pretty hard to overlook. As someone who absolutely loved his work as a teenager, I cringe a little when I read those parts today. (Less so than when reading some other bits. In this case, he was dumb, but not mean.)

Really interesting article. The place jazz occupies today - half way between chamber music and pop - is kind of weird. In my life, talking about it has always felt like some sort of class/worldview status symbol, first as an aspirational topic for a working class kid and later as a down-with-the-people gesture from a professional class adult. I mostly don't talk about it, 'cause I don't know how to do it without feeling like a poseur in multiple directions at once.
posted by eotvos at 1:55 PM on January 27 [13 favorites]


I'm a thirtysomething white lady who's always been vaguely fond of jazz but has never really known much about it beyond the standards and a select few random musicians, and recently decided to get more educated, mostly because I realized that I really, REALLY like the random selection of jazz musicians I happen to have heard a lot of, and they have very little in common beyond falling under the "jazz" umbrella, so I have to imagine there are a lot of other artists I'll like under that same umbrella that I just haven't had the luck to hear yet.

I guess I will take this article as an indication that I should go on enjoying it and go on not bringing it up unsolicited. I honestly have no real sense of where jazz fits into modern pop culture; I see it as basically the same as saying you like classical music these days, i.e. most people in their thirties or younger will dismiss you as some kind of hopeless public-radio-addicted snob. Guilty as charged in my case.
posted by potrzebie at 2:15 PM on January 27 [6 favorites]


What Jazz Is - and Isn’t by Wynton Marsalis
posted by chavenet at 3:01 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


This is a weird article, and I'm not sure what the hell point it is trying to make. The author seems to simultaneously want to make fun of snobs and also be really snobby in his own way.

It's a little disordered (mostly because the bits about the perception of jazz as it intersects with class seem to belong to a different essay), but I think the main point is pretty clear: "jazz" as a concept has been packaged for use as a signifier to indicate cultural capital, with the inevitable result that the actual body of work being signified loses any differentiation or intrinsic value. It's not a particularly novel point, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate it.

I don't see the author being snobby in any meaningful way, either. The remarks about Buddy Rich and George Shearing don't seem meant to castigate anyone for liking those performers, they're just examples of a heuristic the author is using to gauge whether jazz is being used more as a Worldliness Merit Badge than anything else. That heuristic -- whom a writer invoking jazz comes up with as an emblematic performer in the genre -- seems like a workable one when the whiteness of that writer's perspective is under consideration.
posted by invitapriore at 3:20 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


“Coltrane,” says Miles. “He was the master of perfectly composed music. And then there was Mingus. He was raucous, free-form, rebellious. Nothing polite about him, rejected the mainstream. I'm a Mingus guy. I get him. I understand him.”

I'm hardly a real jazz guy but isn't this analogy essentially backwards? At least as far as their most famous work goes?
posted by atoxyl at 3:28 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Mingus was the perfectionistic composer. Coltrane was the modal improviser, turned full-on spiritual free jazz acid freak in his last few years.
posted by atoxyl at 3:35 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Ah shit, Haider gets into this.
posted by atoxyl at 3:39 PM on January 27




Huh. I thought categorizing people by the music they liked was a phenomenon of adolescence.
posted by kozad at 5:06 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


guitar solos in rock songs — boring interludes where you temporarily stop paying attention

These are the words of an individual who has never NAILED a Randy Rhoads solo on air guitar.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:42 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


I'm hardly a real jazz guy but isn't this analogy essentially backwards? At least as far as their most famous work goes?

Like you and Haider note, that characterization of Mingus and Coltrane is broadly inverted, but I feel like it edges into not even wrong territory with how it implies that Mingus (undoing the reversal) was by contrast with Coltrane making music that was entirely safe or traditional or contained.
posted by invitapriore at 5:45 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Huh. I thought categorizing people by the music they liked was a phenomenon of adolescence.

The first jazz album I ever owned as a teenage metalhead was Mingus Ah Um. I taped it off the CD copy a friend had, and it was in the regular rotation with all of my metal.

One day, my dad walked into the house and said "I found this in the car," and my blood froze while I did a mental inventory of potential contraband. Fuck.

He held out his hand and in it was the hand-labelled cassette containing Mingus Ah Um.

"Oh, yeah."

"I was listening to it in the car. So you're into jazz now?"

I ran my hand through my mullet while exhaling with relief.

"Yeah, I guess."

I guess the moral of the story is that it can be music you really like and don't need to form an identity around.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:59 PM on January 27 [14 favorites]


One of the joys of middle-age is letting go of the feeling you need to belong to a clique, and letting yourself like what you like and not feeling like you owe anybody any explanations.
posted by signal at 6:15 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


"I was listening to it in the car. So you're into jazz now?"

Mingus may seem harmless, but it can lead to Ornette Coleman.
posted by thelonius at 6:46 PM on January 27 [16 favorites]


Mingus may seem harmless, but it can lead to Ornette Coleman.

Heh. Later on, I'd have a housemate who was heavy into Eric Dolphy and Albert Ayler. That's when shit got real.

Fortunately, I was within radio reach of Ed Love. He helped me out.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:52 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Oh, man. I think I first heard Eric Dolphy on Stolen Moments and was transfixed, and then I listened to Out to Lunch, and after that I was all like "I'm a Dolphy guy. I get him. I understand him."
posted by invitapriore at 7:00 PM on January 27 [8 favorites]


Fortunately, I was within radio reach of Ed Love. He helped me out.

I learned about jazz by listening to H. Johnson on Saturday nights on Atlanta's WABE. My mother used to listen to it. I should tune in again - I see he is still on the air, gettin' older.
posted by thelonius at 7:29 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


One of the joys of middle-age is letting go of the feeling you need to belong to a clique, and letting yourself like what you like and not feeling like you owe anybody any explanations.

The old joke about the three stages of life: First you worry about what people think and expect of you and try to conform to those expectations; then you actively rebel against all that and do the opposite; finally you come to the realisation that nobody was paying much attention to you all along, and that maturity consists mostly of getting to this final stage.

As to jazz, put it this way: maybe half of my 10 albums to take to the desert island are jazz. :)
posted by Pouteria at 7:42 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I love Mingus and Dolphy and Coleman and Ayler (YES! IT WAS I WHO TURNED ON THAT SQUEAKING AND I LIKE IT!) and I will talk to you about my love if you ask. I’m not very ‘educated’ about jazz - I just like what I like - but yes, I do think it does show something about my character that I like these specific artists. How could it not? Music is the most direct, deepest expression of subjectivity there is, and your taste in music says something about you and your way of experiencing and interpreting the world. It matters. Art matters and is not just a random diversion.

This week I learned, as a 40 year old white lady, not only am I a ‘Bernie Bro’, but apparently also a ‘Jazz Guy’. Oh well!
posted by The Toad at 9:11 PM on January 27 [12 favorites]


Like you and Haider note, that characterization of Mingus and Coltrane is broadly inverted, but I feel like it edges into not even wrong territory with how it implies that Mingus (undoing the reversal) was by contrast with Coltrane making music that was entirely safe or traditional or contained.

Obviously it's the "master of perfectly composed music" thing that's really setting us off because that's the other guy's whole thing but yeah - neither is exactly "safe music," Mingus is the more temperamental personality, I'm not sure to what extent either could really be said to be out of the mainstream but this impression on my part is inevitably filtered through what jazz enthusiasts consider canonical now.
posted by atoxyl at 10:16 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to leave this here:

Jazz Schmazz -- Bruce McCullough.

And that's the late Eugene Amaro and the very-much-still-with-us Dave Young backing him up.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:35 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Thinking about all these Jazz Greats is definitely going to get me into a Jazz Phase and I'm cool with that.
posted by atoxyl at 12:38 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Amusing jazz guys play some funk.
posted by metaplectic at 12:54 AM on January 28


If you get curious about what came before the canonical jazz-guy slabs from 1959, I commend to you the David W. Niven collection.
posted by thelonius at 4:16 AM on January 28 [17 favorites]


Bro, do you even jazz?
posted by Bob Regular at 6:16 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I commend to you the David W. Niven collection.

This is awesome, thanks
posted by Think_Long at 7:29 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


wow, that is something else thelonius
posted by pyramid termite at 3:49 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I think I learned of it here, but I did not search for the FPP when I made the comment (just happened to have the thing open in another tab at the time)...let's give thanks to steinwald
posted by thelonius at 5:08 PM on January 28


Jazz finally clicked with me after a lifetime of rock, pop, country, and hip-hop . But I'm currently a closeted fan due to fear of coming off as a jazz guy, as in "white and usually insufferable."

Actual jazz guys sometimes don't seem much better than "jazz guys". I couldn't make it through Ken Burns' Jazz because Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns seemed dismissive of anything recorded after 1970.

My preference would be to find current jazz artists that I like and then work my way backwards by following their influences. But that's harder to do when the powers that be seem to think that jazz ended with Coltrane.

Where do you find the good, young, innovative jazz artists? I mostly see recommendations for Kamasi Washington and associated L.A. musicians which, as mentioned in the article, seems to be based on their work with Kendrick Lamar. I like Kamasi and I'm really enjoying the Planetary Prince album from his collaborator (on piano) Cameron Graves. But there must be more out there.
posted by lumpy at 6:23 PM on January 28


From the AMAZING Niven collection thelonius linked above:
The main reason for doing this rather major project was to put my collection into some kind of compendium form that would attract my children to the music that had been of such significance in my life.

Oh god I can relate so hard! Introducing my kids to music is one of the BIG joys of my life. The little one (4) asks to listen to boogie woogie piano and sings along to Louis Jordan sax solos so I have hope for her to actually get into jazz. The avant garde stuff is not as accessible to kids maybe but they like Sun Ra for some reason and are fascinated with the concept of free jazz. That’s right, I’m turning little girls into Jazz Guys!
posted by The Toad at 7:13 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


That’s right, I’m turning little girls into Jazz Guys!

Then when I am very old I can have some girl or AFAB friends who like jazz!

Sometimes here on metafilter we talk about being lonely. I was just thinking about feeling lonely and part of it is because I really like free jazz and the lefter kind of prog rock (Henry Cow, the Red Krayola, Skeleton Crew, etc) and it's so hard to meet anyone who likes those things and isn't a one-upping jerk, never mind Not A Cis Man Well Older Than Me. I don't even have the expertise to sit around and discuss, like, the finer points of Fred Frith's guitar playing - I'm not a musician - but music is important to me and it's been such a long time since I've had a friend for whom the music I like isn't just giant weirdo music for boring nerds. I'm glad to listen with care and attention to the music that other people like but I feel like there's rarely reciprocation.

Normally I don't regret not getting a PhD, but the older I get the more I realize that the people who care about the things I care about pretty much all got advanced degrees and took themselves and their musical tastes to the coasts.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on January 29 [2 favorites]


But he argues that distaste for Kenny G among jazz fans, along with their preference for the music in the jazz canon, is an instance of contempt for the authentic culture of working people.

No way, my distaste for Kenny G is based solely on his being a purveyor of meaningless drivel.

Anyhow, here are a couple of coincidental but relevant commentaries that came my way yesterday:

Bansuri great Baqir Abbas plays Jazz with the Sokal Jazz Ensemble in London, 2012

Boy, was I in for a shock. UK sax player Nick Homes talks about his Jazz education at Berklee and how that set him up for some unexpected schooling. Compassionate and heart-rending if you're a musician, and fascinating.
posted by sneebler at 10:51 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I freely admit to being a complete troglodyte neanderthal musically; but the one thing I figured out about my musical taste is that I like singing more than instrumental music. It could simply be because I don't know how to play an instrument so I cannot appreciate it deeply, but instrumental music is background music for me. Be it Jazz, Western Classical or Carnatic music (I don't really like Hindustani).

I have gone to many many Jazz and Classical concerts, listen to Classical and Jazz stations in town; but after 20 years of it I realized I liked singing. Now I go to Vocal Jazz Concerts and have an Opera Subscription. I keep emailing the Jazz Clubs in town to put a (v) next to Jazz Vocal shows so I know what to try, but no luck so far!

I tried listening to 'Jazz guys' explain why I should listen to more instrumental Jazz; but I could not 'get' it. I could not discern the things they were talking about, and why I should appreciate the things that seem to excite them. Maybe I was listening to the wrong people all along?!?
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:08 PM on January 29


I don’t think you necessarily need to listen to more instrumental jazz. Maybe you’re just more of a Blues person, where vocality is still at the center?
That being said: As a singer, I definitely require music to have a vocal element. In jazz, I usually find it in the sax. For me Ornette Coleman is very close to a singing voice and Lester Young has some of that, too. Albert Ayler is screaming and howling, if you like that kind of vocality. Jazz piano, guitar, even trumpet are not ‘vocal’ enough for me and don’t hold my attention even if I like what they’re playing. Same with Coltrane - he doesn’t sing, not to my ears at least. Maybe you can find an instrumental soloist who’ll scratch your vocal itch. There might be one out there. Otherwise, embrace it. The human voice is the original and best instrument.
posted by The Toad at 10:51 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Toad. You nailed it. I AM a Blues lover and have been one since I got introduced to it. I am now going to introduce myself as a Blues Guy!!!
posted by indianbadger1 at 5:12 AM on January 30


H. Johnson has a blues show on Friday night!
posted by thelonius at 5:19 AM on January 30


as far as where to discover new and innovative artists, I'd like to find a radio show that helps with this. Unfortunately, Google searches for "contemporary jazz" are useless since this is a synonym for Smooth Jazz (I always feel really really bad for people who think that's a "cool" term for like jazz-guy 50's jazz).....maybe starting with someone like Robert Glasper and following the related artists on Spotify would help.....if you are looking for current artists who play straight-ahead jazz I'd suggest doing the same thing starting with, oh, Christian McBride; and there are also many radio solutions for that, like WNCU in Durham, NC
posted by thelonius at 5:23 AM on January 30


A potentially good place to start could be checking out artists associated with M-Base.
This is by no means anywhere close to an exhaustive list but it should at least be a decent starting point for discovering contemporary players.
posted by Television Name at 12:46 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I was feeling cheeky so I recorded a short bit of bebop improv, which I think of as the genre most wielded by jazz guys. I hope this isn't like comedy where being ironically a thing kind of just makes you the thing.
posted by invitapriore at 11:58 PM on January 31


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