Rediscovering Jazz

This year I finally rediscovered my love of jazz. This comes after jazz as a genre spent many years in the wilderness in terms of my musical muse. I first heard jazz as a child and remember listening to the Bossa nova of Stan Getz and the gypsy jazz of Stephanne Grappelli and thinking just how amazing that music sounded to me then. But as I entered my teenage year’s jazz largely disappeared out of my life, as I gravitated towards blues, rock, indie and other styles. In fact, I completely went off jazz and remember feeling quite bored by it.

Well, that has all changed now and I have fallen back in love with the mastery and mystery that comes with great jazz music and the players who make it. In the last twelve months or so three great jazz musicians, in particular, have enthralled me and represent some of the best music I have ever heard. Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis have captivated me significantly and in particular the albums Time Out (Brubeck), Blue Train (Coltrane), and Kind of Blue (Davis), all of them jazz classics and representing some of the best albums of all time. Davis is arguably the most influential and important jazz musician ever and was at the forefront of key developments in jazz from the 1950s to the 80s, helping especially in the development of bebop, cool jazz, and jazz fusion. Coltrane was a key player in the development of free jazz and helped to pioneer the use of modes in jazz music, while Brubeck was the pioneer of cool jazz and experimented significantly with unusual time signatures, as well as using contrasting rhythms and tonalities in his music.

To me, these people and their compositional abilities, not to mention their abilities on their instruments are the jazz equivalents of Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Much like those composers were geniuses in their time, the likes of Davis and Coltrane are the musical geniuses of the 20th century and had they been around alongside the greats of classical music they would have been right up there with those greats. In many ways, jazz is very similar to classical music in that it can be highly sophisticated musically, structurally complex, while the emphasis on composition is at the center of the jazz process. Not just anyone can compose and play jazz, while the great jazz players are set apart from their peers because of their un-matched genius musically much like the Bach’s of this world.

So what is it about this music and in particular these albums that makes it so amazing. Well for me this music has beauty, beauty in the way the pieces are carefully crafted and constructed with great attention to the smallest details like most great art is. This music is calming and has the ability to relax you completely after a few seconds, helping also to eliminate the stresses of life in one listen. This music has mystery and intrigue in that when you listen to a great Miles Davis track such as “So What”, or Coltrane’s version of “I’m Old Fashioned” you don’t know where it is going to go next and what direction it will head in. Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” starts as a fast-paced Middle-Eastern styled piano flourish before developing into a downbeat cool jazz number. It’s this intrigue which makes you want to listen and helps to draw you in even if the piece itself is seventeen minutes long. Finally, for me what makes this music amazing is the strong emphasis placed on improvisation and how jazz players are encouraged to play up a storm and showcase their skill and mastery of their instrument. Players like Coltrane, in particular, have this incredible ability to freestyle, an ability that is based on intuition, feeling, and skill of which the results are incredible and make listening to jazz just that more interesting.

I’m glad I came back to jazz all these years later and I am now probably more into jazz than I ever have been. The great thing about jazz is that anybody can listen to it and get some appreciation out of what they hear. It transcends all ages and all musical tastes, while the enjoyment one can get out of jazz music shouldn’t be restricted by misguided views that its music for old people, or high brow in nature. Jazz is one of the best musical styles and can be enjoyed at all times irrespective of the mood, whether one is feeling down or up. It draws you in and once you’re hooked it becomes very difficult to escape its hold. I tried to but failed and I have a feeling now that that hold will not relinquish any time soon.

– Sam









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