On the Radio: Jazz

So, a few months back the Family J moved from one city to another in our gargantuan state. It wasn’t as much of a life change as one might think since I had been commuting between the cities and basically existing part time in each place. Now the wife and I work in the same city and spend (relatively) less time in automobiles.

I still drive around a lot with our offspring; and they still love music. In our old town, the local alt-rock station was my go-to choice every time we got in the car. In this city, the FM dial is dominated by bad hip-hop stations, country, Christian stations, Spanish-language radio and JACK FM.  The radio landscape is so barren that I cannot even choose six stations available for my pre-set dial (I can’t even conceive of filling the FM2 list as well).

There is one notable exception to this wasteland. There is a local, listener supported jazz station that plays the best  selection of jazz I have ever found in one location. The programming ranges from early be-bop well through modern fusion and afro-cuban jazz. I can’t get enough of this station.

I don’t really ever write about jazz because I find myself to be so ignorant about so much of it. Liking jazz is kind of like having a taste for scotch: you can know some specific preferences and dislikes, but just when you think you have a handle on the issue, you see a scotch menu and 95% of the entries are a mystery to you.

(Jazz and Scotch both tend to attract connoisseurs who look down their growing and purpled noses at anyone who doesn’t quite match their level of knowledge. Jazz stations and musicians tend to alienate possible fans before they have a chance to know they are fans).

To be more frank, jazz can be challenging to listen to. Sometimes you really do need to take a class to know where even to begin to start. Modern and Classic jazz can have diffuse and often dissonant form. The length of jazz songs can be overwhelming and too much bad jazz makes us think of slowly moving elevators and interminable waits in doctors’ offices. But what I love about jazz music is the balance between improvisation and form, the expansive style of individual musicians, and the surprising paths taken through familiar songs. In fact, the very nature of jazz standards calls into question much of my musing about covers and pop songs.

My children, I am happy to say, don’t suffer from anxiety or any alienation when it comes to jazz. They don’t know what music is supposed to sound like and they don’t know that they “need” to know the history of jazz and music theory to enjoy the music. When I get in the car, if I haven’t turned the radio on immediately, my daughter starts to make the ASL sign for more and shouting “music”. When I turn up the volume, she claps, laughs and listens.

When it comes to jazz, I prefer earlier varieties like be-bop and big band. I also have a penchant for piano and string compositions over anything with the saxophone (which has been featured way to much on popular jazz). Miles Davis and the Marsalis brothers are heavy hitters, I know. But give me Django Reinhardt or Thelonius Monk any day of the week.

I like a good trumpet player, though. I once saw Maynard Ferguson live and his playing blew my mind. It isn’t that I hate everything brass, I just find horns to be ill-used at times. And, if you give me some tuba, trombone and a little bit of Delta Blues in the mix, I am happier than you can imagine.

Over the past two weeks, I have had “Bourbon Street Parade” by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band stuck in my head. Jazz historians, I suspect, love this number for its engagement with a particular period and place in Jazz’s history. Modern Jazz lovers will probably find the composition too repetitive and the horn ensemble a little shrill at times. But when the band breaks down near the end of this song, the sounds are just sublime.

The melody of this song is memorable; each instrument has its own place and fills it nicely. The length of the song is just right too: it leaves you wanting more. But most important of all, this song has a mood evoked well by its name. The jubilance and brightness of both the composition and the voicing is simply contagious.

So, as I walk from my car or move between classes during the day, lately there has been a bounce in my step. This song is the reason.

What about you my brother? Favorite jazz song? Of the two of us, you’re the better educated one on this one.

15 comments on “On the Radio: Jazz

  1. professormortis says:

    It’s funny, our taste in jazz is shockingly similar, as far as it goes, though I think I like brass more than you do. As an ex-trumpet player son of a Marine baritone bugler, I think I have to. I also agree 100% about both Scotch and Jazz fans, and my relationship to them and the booze/music they love. I know what I like; I know I don’t know jack about 95% or more of what’s out there; I wish they’d stop trying to keep me away instead of beckoning me in. Oh, and to really get to experience both (as in great Scotch and live jazz) is way too expensive for me.

    • theelderj says:

      Again, come visit. we will indulge in Jazz and scotch.

      I suspect that our similar penchants combined with parallel suspicion has to do with our class backgrounds covered over with our ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ veneers. We are products of uncomfortable compromises…

      • professormortis says:

        Clearly I need to visit! Thanksgiving and Jazz and Scotch! Though I can at least enjoy the Jazz recs over the web.

      • theelderj says:

        Listen to KRTU online. A great station. Seriously.

        And safe, peaty and not too expensive scotch: Ardbeg.

        Oh, and please threaten to punch anyone who insists it is absolutely necessary to brine turkeys. Put it in a plastic bag and fuck it.

      • professormortis says:

        KRTU-got it! I get my Scotches as Christmas gifts from my in-laws and I like them peaty, but I am definitely up for Ardberg.

        I was a plastic bag man; now I am a baster. Though I don’t get to do that much; I mostly get to sit while my brother-in-law deep fries the turkey. It’s vaguely amusing, but not Thanksgiving. Which is okay, because actual Thanksgiving would make me sad that I’m not with my family, that there is no after party at my aunts, no cousins, and that my dad and grandfather are gone. Better it be completely different.

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