It’s 7 am on 5/22/08 and I am packing to go to Germany to play some gigs with Bennie Wallace’s “Disorder at the Border” Coleman Hawkins tribute band. The band has some of the finest players in the jazz world today, so this is a real treat!
Everything has it’s price, and to prepare for this gig I had to set the acoustic down and really spend some time wrapping my head and hands around playing straight ahead jazz. Shifting gears so to speak!!!
Music is like anything – the more you listen, think about and play a certain “bag”, the more you attract similar ideas and thoughts. The thoughts and musical language gain momentum and creativity.
Electric jazz with a band and solo acoustic guitar are basically 2 different languages. Just think “english” and “chinese” and suspend judgement for a moment.
What’s interesting is that no matter which “world” you happen to be in at any given time, it seems like the world you’re in is ultimate reality, that nothing could be better, and that you look at the other side of the fence and go “blecchhh!”
This gives me a keen appreciation of what listeners go through when they are not accustomed to a certain genre of music. What I am asking you is this…don’t stay stuck. Whatever side of the fence you are on, give the other kinds of music a try – yet – trust your gut!!!
A fan of my acoustic playing just emailed me this, and I think it speaks on behalf of many people:
“I’m not hugely into jazz (I pretended to be in university 🙂 but now I have nothing to prove and have realized I am not musically sophisticated enough to appreciate any of it). I’m kinda thinking jazz is music for other musicians. Too complicated for us non musicians. Smack me awake if I’m wrong.”
Interesting! Part of the problem here is that A LOT OF JAZZ REALLY FRIGGIN SUCKS!!!! In fact most of it makes my skin crawl, and I love jazz – the right jazz!!!
The jazz world today has provided an environment in which some musicians can get away with intellectual crapola combined with good instrumental chops. I say this – if you want it to feel good, want to groove to it, tap your foot, and hear that yearning of the blues in the jazz – you simply need someone to tell you who some great artists are.
Another way of saying this is that a lot of today’s jazz is “up in the head” rhythmically, the notes being ear candy. Everyday folks – you want more, I know. Jazzheads take note, everyday folks don’t like that crapola!!!
So – I will recommend a few jazz artists to you who I think you’ll dig. Mind you, listen to a few CD’s because quite often jazz artists change styles and you may enjoy an earlier or later period of a certain artist.
Take Miles Davis for example – there were 4 or 5 stages (at least to me) in his playing. 1) Playing and mentoring with Charlie Parker 2) Venturing Solo 3) leading various bands, with Coltrane & Cannonball 4) Leading the 60’s band with Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock & Tony Williams 5) Electric madness, “Bitches Brew” and all that.
This is a HUGE overview, but the music varies so widely that if you picked up “Bitches Brew” you may hate it, but you may really love “Kind Of Blue”.
Anyhow here are a few soulful, bluesy places to start checking out jazz:
Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”
George Benson Earlier Stuff
Dr. Lonnie Smith (organ)
I must say, my generation of jazz musicians has been totally supportive of my acoustic direction, because many of us grew up on 60’s rock, 70’s rock & pop, hip hop and so on. However, for the “musically sophisticated????” it’s very easy to slip into a mindset where other types of music sound as if they are falling short. I am aware that some musicians think I have had a lobotomy in taking my acoustic direction.
Here’s the problem. A lot of non jazz (rock pop blues etc) is particularly strong in one area, but certain areas of the music are lacking to a musicians ears. Regular folks take note – classical and jazz listeners have perceived music that is like fine dining, and when you hand them an aural “cheesburger” they may be more in the mood for “sushi deluxe”.
James Brown’s music – well it does not get any funkier!!! But, there is not much melody….heavy on the groove and the blues element. People can FEEL it, but a musician won’t necessarily enjoy any kind of melody and harmony. Personally I love it.
Folk songwriters music – may sound repetitive to musically trained ears, yet there can be a very human message in the lyrics, behind the music.
“Earth Wind and Fire” – just soak it up for what it is, allowing it to not be jazz.
“The Eagles” – great Americana rock, perfectly executed, perfect tunes, memorable and enjoyable. No, it ain’t a “Love Supreme” but they are EXCELLENT!!!
When I describe my guitar hero du jour – Tommy Emmanuel – to my fellow jazz musicians, I tell them the following:
“When you hear Tommy you get a total listening treat and fun experience. Great tunes, ferociously and impeccably played, variety, and total entertainment for non-musicians!”.
It’s easy to poo-poo a guy like him from a jazz point of view. I say this – show me one jazz guitarist that can hold the attention of an audience by playing solo for 2 hours, and make people freak out because they loved it so much. I know of only one – George Benson. (And now that I have a solo act together, hopefully I will be the second :-))
A fellow guitarist said that TE sounded too “country / hillbilly”. My reply – the hillbilly tunes serve a purpose in the set, offer contrast to the ballads, aggressive fast & loud tunes, and so on. In the name of crafting an evening of entertainment – they have their place.
In conclusion –
Regular folks, rockers & folk lovers – try some new stuff and gravitate towards any jazz artist you might like. Slowly you’ll expand your appreciation for different rhythms and harmonies. You are learning a new language, so just savor it!
Jazzheads – expand and listen for the good in all types of music. Listen to James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, Tommy Emmanuel, Hendrix, and Glenn Gould.
Allow it to be what it is and pay no mind to what it’s “not”. For years I heard what certain genrres were “not” rather than whet they “were”. Try to hear what others love about it, and take a look at what everyday folks like. Music is about communication, right?
Alright, gotta run to the airport!!!