Jazz: Personal Reflections

I take jazz very personally. When at its finest it is intricate and soulful and moving and hot and cool. Listening to great jazz requires concentration and effort but the rewards are large.

Big band music had a place in my parent’s music repertoire and was my exposure in earlier years with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller being the most notable. I could identify “String of Pearls” by ear (which was available on many a juke box in the mid-to -late 1980s).

However I came to truly appreciate jazz in my 20s and 30s once I started frequenting the Jazz Record Mart on the outskirts of downtown Chicago. I became enamored with smaller groups, anything from trio to quintet. It did not matter to me whether the lead was sax, piano, trumpet or guitar. Something about a tight group with an interesting sound fascinated me.

The jazz scene in Chicago in the 1980s was robust. Jazz nationally was in a renaissance and clubs sprang up all over. Judy Roberts was a local favorite, She played piano and sang unique interpretations of jazz standards. At a time in my career when I actually took time for lunch we would go on a Friday to Andy’s on east Hubbard. The food was decent and there was always a band at lunch and later after work. The Oyster Bar at 666 LSD (the address was eventually changed to avoid the devil symbolism) drew nationally known groups. It was a small club and the musicians were just in a corner of the room. One evening I stood directly in front of legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. No more than inches from his vibraphone. I chatted with him between sets.

To clarify, in the music I love you can hear, and often feel, the individual notes.  The synthesized  “smooth jazz” that became popular has no place in my listening universe. That “music” puts me to sleep.

Here are a few recommendations (not intended by any stretch to be all inclusive of my favorites). I have provided brief descriptions. Jazz, like wine can be described in obnoxious detail. I am never interested in whether the music is dry, fruity and has a hint of oakiness. I either like it or not.

  • Bill Evans, The Paris Concerts Part One. This introduced me to this creative pianist. I have his music leading several small groups as well as solo piano. This particular album defines beauty.
  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. The entire album is a must listen but the first track “So What” sets the stage. It is subtle, complex and engaging.
  • Dexter Gordon, The Other Side of Midnight. He is not the most famous of the tenor sax players but one of the most musical.
  • Henry James, King James. Big Band. Some of the songs on this are prosaic but not “Corner Pocket”. I could, and have, listened to this one song over and over.
  • Clark Terry, Ain’t Misbehavin’. Terry has roots in Chicago though a national reputation. Jitterbug Waltz is a must hear for everyone,  jazz fan or not. Only requirement is human and still breathing.
  • John Coltrane, John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman. Not only do you get to listen to the Trane but the unique rich baritone of Hartman. There are many great jazz singers, most better known than Hartman. His soft deep voice is something special. The Trane is considered by many to be the last major figure in the evolution of jazz.

In later posts I will add to this list but get over to iTunes and get started with these.

I recognize that different people have different musical tastes. I am not saying that mine are better, they are just mine. As I said, being able to hear the notes is a core criteria. Also, I do not like Noise. I have heard jazz musicians, especially sax players push the limits of their instruments to show off their technical proficiency. I do not listen to music for technical proficiency unless it improves the sound. To quote one of the towering figures in jazz, Duke Ellington, “There are only two kinds of music, good and bad.”

(The following piece is about the making of Kind Of Blue. In addition to Miles Davis, this sextet included John Coltrane and Bill Evans. The background music is the first track on the album.)

About 48facets
What you read is what you get.

4 Responses to Jazz: Personal Reflections

  1. Frank says:

    Thanks for thos recommendations. I was just talking about how I know nothing about Jazz at all…and then this. You are a Renaissance Man, my friend. Thanks for the pointers.

  2. 48facets says:

    I am best as the one eyed man in the land of the blind.

    Jazz is my classical music. I do not listen much to symphonic stuff so jazz is the complex music in my life.
    You cannot go wrong with these selection. I have some on CD. Can I burn you a song or two?

  3. Pax Romano says:

    I don’t know much about Jazz, but I know what I like.

    Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” – that album/CD just knocks me out!

    Billie Holiday’s, “Lady in Satin” – her voice was just ragged by this time, but my god it works. A fantastic recording.

    Jazz is Dead’s “Laughing Waters” – sublime stuff, a group of jazz musician’s adapt and rework the music of The Grateful Dead, this is their best recording.

  4. 48facets says:

    Pax, I love Billie Holiday too. I will listen to your other recommendations as well. I am like you. I do not study jazz, I just know what I like.

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