04/16/10 By Brenton Plourde
Miles Ahead, Miles Behind
For someone who is new to the “jazz game” like me, I often get asked by newer people “Where is a good starting point to listen to jazz?” and for this question, I answer “I do not know.”
To recommend big band or modal or swing or fusion is like recommending which child you would choose as your favorite. This would leave the other children behind and you would miss out on all of their strengths and all of their weaknesses.
Big issues have been made about Miles and big issues have been made about Armstrong and big issues have been made about Ellington. Could you put jazz on a timeline and point to one certain era, one certain year and one certain artist and album and say start there?
Buy this album, buy that album. My jazz connoisseur friend says it is the best album. If you want to hear piano, man, you gotta buy that album. If you wanna hear tenor saxophone, man, buy this album. Everyone has a God. Everyone believes that “John Smith” is the Eric Clapton of their chosen instrument or vocal range. But if Eric Clapton is God to some, does that not make “John Smith” a lesser God?
People meet at jazz clubs because they not only want to hear good music but because it appears to be the “cool” place to be. It is “West Coast Cool” even though you live in the central United States or a prairie province in Canada or the Midlands. Has jazz lost its actually listening audience? Haven’t there been enough articles and discussions and debates on this very topic? When will contributors like me stop writing these types of pieces and just shut-up and pick an instrument and learn how to play? This is now a question piece.
People say jazz is dying and people say that jazz is not dying; it is the artists, the performers making the good jazz who are dying. That may be true. That may not be. Just because Herbie Hancock or Jeremy Pelt or Kurt Elling do not come to your town, no matter how big or small, does not mean that jazz is dead to it. Jazz travels. Jazz expands. Jazz hits the roads and jazz is taught in the schools in the big cities and in the small cities next to you. There are many young Hancocks and there are many young Pelts and there are many young Ellings playing at small clubs, you just need to find them. Let the music take you there.
I am in the middle of reviewing a CD for JazzTimes Magazine Online but I wanted to take a time out because I was kind of blue. Not because of the artist I am reviewing but because this artist has a good album but is only confined to staying in his hometown and cannot tour with his Quartet because there simply is no money in it. It is the age old music question or Catch 22: How do you play Madison Square Gardens if you do not have an album out and no one knows who you are? And how will anyone buy your album if you do not play a place like Madison Square Gardens and people will know who you are?
Next time someone asks you about jazz and where to start, tell them you do not know. It is all about feeling. Are you feeling modal or are you feeling swing? It is said that (jazz) music is what you feel on the inside, not what you hear on the outside.
In closing, next time someone asks you what jazz is and where to start, maybe you could suggest to them to write Ken Burns and ask him to come over to their house and put on a pot of coffee and tell you about this thing we call jazz. What a wonderful world that may be.
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