Jazz, there, I’ve said it, the J word, I’ve posted it, I’ve blindly wandered down that perplexing path where genius has never been less understood. It’s another world, an alien landscape, Astro Physics makes mores sense than this. The rhythms, the time structures, the improvisations that last forever, the band members taking solos that are so hard to follow and yet they seem to be totally under control. A genre that mere mortals cannot fathom, it’s been called, drab, intellectual, self indulgent by the outsiders but Jazz is also challenging, innovative, deeply felt and one of the most polarising styles of music.
Jazz has spawned some of the most invigorating music and important artists that have ever lived – Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Errol Garner, Charles Mingus, Jan Johansson, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mose Allison, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker (oh dear, a list that misses out hundreds of important musicians and singers).
So where do you start? Jazz guitar is something else, if you are a guitarist – chords you’ve never seen. But maybe it’s easier to relate to Jazz through the guitar for me, because I play the instrument – then again I love Stan Getz, Chet Baker and that’s sax and trumpet. Wes Montgomery was a self taught Jazz guitarist that played with his thumb. He had his own sound, his own style and in this clip you hear him playing Thelonious Monk’s Jazz classic ‘Round Midnight written in 1944. We just heard that B.B. King had died at the age of 89 but Wes Montgomery (March 6, 1923-June 15, 1968) died young and unexpectedly of a heart attack at 45 just three years after this was filmed. When I watch this not only do I admire Montgomery’s playing but listen to the the band and how they accompany him – how on earth do they know where they are, how do they work out their parts? How do they make it look so easy and sound so relaxed? (Wes is accompanied here by Harold Mabern on piano, Arthur Harper on bass and Jimmy Lovelace on drums).
It’s not easy to get into Jazz when you have grown up without it, grown up with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin or The Smiths and Cocteau Twins or Oasis and The Charlatans or Radiohead or First Aid Kit. But there was a time when Jazz was popular with ‘normal’ people, with normal white people, not just black people or elitists or nerds or really smart people that get it.
So, give it another chance, the range of Jazz is immense and if sax isn’t your thing, then piano might be. Chet Baker is incredible, Miles Davis is unbelievable, Bill Evans or perhaps Swedish Jazz legend Jan Johansson…oh no, not another list. To avoid any more list’s pick any Jazz artist and listen closely to any album that they made because after all the things you have to work at are ultimately the most satisfying.