Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Jazz Wednesday

A few weeks ago, I said something that might have suggested to some of you that I dislike jazz. "I dislike jazz," I said.

But that may have given the wrong impression. It's not that I dislike jazz, per se. It's just that I listen to very little of it, don't know much about it, and occasionally deride it as wonkish and wankish for cheap laffs. But underneath all that is, you know, a deep undercurrent of respect for this uniquely American art form. I guess.


Until recently, my jazz collection consisted of seven CDs:

  • A Billie Holiday collection, an Ella Fitzgerald collection, and a compilation called the Great Ladies Sing Gershwin. 'Cause you've gotta love that stuff.
  • Two (2) Dave Brubeck albums. 'Cause Take Five absolutely kicks my butt. Best drum solo ever.
  • An album by Sadao Watanabe. When I was a senior in high school, I taped a live album of kinda fruity, big-bandy saxophone music that I always thought was Sadao Watanabe. And I still love that battered old cassette tape. If I go to a record store with a jazz section and listen to all of the Sadao Watanabe, though, there's nothing that sounds remotely like what I'm expecting. Maybe I labeled my tape wrong?
  • The Best of Ken Burns Jazz. Yeah, whatever.

So, in my eternal quest to drink deep from the well of human experience, I recently started grabbing big fistfuls of jazz CDs at the library (which reminds me, Citizens of Roses, have you joined the Friends of the Library yet? And why the hell not!?!). I used the same criterion that one uses in selecting a fine wine, which is to say, I looked for discs with the coolest covers. Then I listened a few times, and returned the ones that didn't do it for me.
What follows are the ones I kind of liked. I have no idea if these are big names, or small names, or what, in the jazz world. Do they even have big names in the jazz world? Who are alive, I mean?
  • The Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive. Lots of trombone. Interesting sound.
  • Vijay Iyer, Reimagining. Very spacey soundscapy sorts of stuff, which I like, with very complex time signatures, which I like.
  • The Horace Silver Quintet, Doin' the Thing at the Village Gate. The best of the batch. A 1961 club recording, sharp, intelligent, and redolent with the sensation of being happily wired at 2:15 a.m.
  • Coleman Hawkins, Night Hawk. Bluesy oldschool saxophone stuff. Makes you feel all poignantly lonely.
  • Two (2) Bill Frisell discs. These were kinda purty. But I don't know if they were really "jazz."
  • Terence Blanchard, Flow. Trippy trumpet stuff. Makes me wish I smoked.

So, do any of you crazy jazz cats have any thoughts on this situation?
  • Specifically, I'd be very interested to know if there is any coherent pattern to the jazz that seems to appeal to me. Am I listening mostly to representatives of one or another subgenre, in other words?
  • Do you have any recommendations for further listening based on what I've said above?
  • Or, failing that, do you have any general recommendations based on just whatever YOU like?

OK, that's enough about jazz.


Anonymous said...

My two favorites are:

"Peace Piece" by Bill Evans (piano) (a good last-thing-to-listen-to-before-retiring-for-the-night number), and,

"Dancy Dancy" by John Handy (Sax (in a quintet)) (written for his baby son) (a great number to play upon arising).

d said...

oh god i can't even start talking about how much i hate jazz. especially, acid jazz.

ok, ella i can get behind. and leana horne. and miles davis. but that's it. the rest of it blows.

Nichim said...

I don't know anything about patterns or history of jazz, but I highly recommend the Herbie Hancock album Sextant. One of the best records of all time, in my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

I dislike jazz.

Dan Nolan said...

I don't suppose you could give us some examples of the jazz that you listened to and disliked, could you? That might help to narrow down the recommendations. Saying that you like Dave Brubeck's Take 5 doesn't help much - that album is incredible and would win over most anti-jazzers. try:

John Coltrane - Blue Train, Lush Life, My Favorite Things, etc, etc,

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (Blakey was an institution - people would cut their teeth in his band and then move on (eg - Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Donald Byrd)) - try "Moanin" and "A Night in Tunisia" and if you like those try "Free For All" (as the title would suggest, it's a little more frenetic)

Lee Morgan - Sidewinder (my favorite jazz album - unbelievable snappy goodness), Cornbread

Herbie Hancock - Cantaloupe Island -very catchy stuff

I was never a huge Miles Davis fan.

More modern stuff? Keith Jarrett plays a nice piano and a kazoo at times I think. Kermit Ruffins, Irvin Mayfield, The Buena Vista Social Club (and/or The Afro-Cuban All-Stars)

Anonymous said...

Good transition vehicle for the classical music lover: "Blues on Bach" by the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Anonymous said...

So, even though I live with a real live trumpet playing jazz dude I don't know jack about jazz except what I like and don't like.

But what I can do is point you toward a new CD available at Music Millenium called "Way Back Home" - a compilation of jazz performers with 100% of the proceeds going to support Musician's Village in New Orleans. I have been listening to it today and really like it.

Oh, and I designed the CD artwork :-)

Anonymous said...

I tried to like jazz as well at some point, and although it wasn't really a successful endeavor, I now do have a few Jazz feathers in my musical collection's hat.

I don't enough about jazz to comment on your selections so here is what I liked

1. All Thelonius Monk, in particular Monk's dream.
2. All Charles Mingus
3. Memphis Slim (If he's considered jazz)

Again, I can't tell your taste, but my taste was for the more bluesy un-smooth-Coltraney jazz. If that is yours as well, you would probably like my recommendatons.

Michael5000 said...

Damn, what a bunch of hepcats!

@karma, nichim, dan, kilos, chuck: I put holds on your recommendations, or records inspired by your recommendations, until I filled my entire library queue. It's gonna be a friggin' jazzfest!

@d: I don't know from acid jazz, so I looked it up. It kind of sounds like it would be interesting? Maybe I should give it a try. Don't worry; you live like a thousand miles from me, so you won't have to listen.

@Critical Bill: You make a good point.

@Dan: See, this is why its sometimes good to throw a Hail Mary. Detailed, informed jazz advice! Thanks, man!

@Kate: "Proceeds"? You mean, I'd have to PAY for my little jazz experiment? Hmm. Maybe I could buy the cover for its artistic value, and get the contents free that way....

@chuck: Who knew! You, sir, are full of surprises.

Anonymous said...

i bet you'd like many of the duke ellington suites of the late 50's and early 60's

Michael5000 said...

@Austin: Good tip. And I'd probably like Louis Armstrong, too. If only my library queue wasn't full! Might have to make some kind of alternative arrangements....

Ben said...

I would agree with everything dan said exept for the part about Miles Davis, who not only was probably the most influencial jazz musician ever, but also was in the avant-garde of so many styles of jazz.

Which brings me to my next point--there are so many styles encompassed by the broad category of jazz--arguably even more than classical.

Just a few of my favorites:

-Jazz combos (small groups) featuring Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, John Scofield, John McLaughlin.

-Big Band: Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gil Evans.

Oh, I give up. Too much good stuff to list!

Anonymous said...

I don't see much in the way of small, small ensembles on your list, but a lot of quintets and quartets. I am a fan of the trio; some of my favs are the Bills Evans trio stuff--Evans on piano, then bass and drums. You might give some of that a try if you want to experiment with economy of scale. Bill Evans is...Bill Evans is...Ok, I have over six hundred Evans tracks in iTunes, so I guess you could say he is very good, in my opinion.

I prefer Charlie Parker over Coltrane on the sax, mainly because of subject matter. Coltrane can get depressing sometimes. Parker, aka Bird, strikes a happier note.

My suggestion, now that I have rambled: go to pandora.com, build your own radio station with the jazz YOU have really enjoyed, and it will both suggest similar artists and start narrowing down what the shared features are. For me, it's hard bop, trios and quartets, block piano chords, trumpet solos, ad infinitum. Really, check that site out. It's amazing.

Michael5000 said...

@Ben: You kind of hit me with the shotgun, there, but I reserved records from about half of those folks. Didn't know you were a jazzcat.

@in media: Check. Bill Evans. Good idea with the Pandora, too -- I have stations set up for types of music I listen too only occasionally (soul, country) but hadn't thought about doing jazz.