Just some jazz about…jazz!

About, um, eleven-twelve years ago ? (gosh, that makes me feel so old!), in some discussion on a music group on Orkut (see what I meant about old), I said something about liking XYZ jazz album/artist.   And a guy who I wasn’t on the best of terms with then and who I get along with like a house on fire now (the nice part about getting old, maybe?) immediately said now that I had got the taste for jazz, I wouldn’t be able to stop listening to it.

It took a long time for me to see the truth behind that prophecy but it sure did come true and how.  That conversation came to mind as I was telling somebody else just now that I couldn’t possibly attend Western classical concerts day in day out whereas I would love to be able to do that with jazz (I don’t, though, and I will get to that later).  I also recall saying, while discussing Rahman’s Taare Ginn, that jazz is the one style of music that never goes out of style.

So…what is it about jazz?  Just why doesn’t it go out of style?  Yes, we are a long way off the pomp and prime of jazz but it’s still malleable in a way that other ‘serious’ music isn’t quite.  And that’s really what I am talking about.  I am not comparing it with popular music genres which go in cycles.  Rock had a long run and then it was hip hop and so on.  But jazz, while not as accessible as popular music (at least not a lot of the time), still has some of the hip-ness of popular music while also being technically challenging in a way that commands the respect you usually accord to classical music.

I could humour you with an answer to that question but I am not a musicologist and have not studied music otherwise in an university.  Alex Johnston on Quora is probably your best bet for a meticulous and objective attempt to answer that.  Instead, I will talk about my journey to where I got to today with jazz.

I never had that eureka moment with jazz that you can have when you discover certain rock or pop artists who ushered in a new sound.  I had that, for instance, the first time I heard Metallica’s Ride The Lightning.  I had never heard music that heavy, that crushing, that angry and even if I didn’t completely know what to make of it, I liked the very fact that this was so different from what I had previously understood to be the boundaries of music.  I had a similar experience in my (eventually successful) endeavours to get into Gentle Giant.  I didn’t know something so complex as their track Experience could be composed, indeed that it had been done way back in the 70s.

I never had that with jazz because one grows up being exposed to some sort of jazz or at least something that passes itself off as jazz.  Now that something could be Eena Meena DeekaKaisi Paheli Zindagani or Rum Pum Pum.  As a result, I didn’t necessarily find Kurangu Kaiyil Maalai revelatory even though it was a more serious stab at jazz.

After the conversation I mentioned at the start, I began to listen to some of the classics of jazz – the usual suspects like Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme, Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, you know the drill.  Note here that I was coming from a progressive rock background and was already aware of jazz rock/fusion classics like Birds of Fire, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Holdsworth’s Metal Fatigue and the early Pat Metheny albums. Because of this, even while I enjoyed my time listening to the above and other jazz classics, it was the melody and structure of Dave Brubeck’s Time Out that appealed more to me.

I also came to realize that if some rock bands fared better live, live was almost always THE best setting to see/hear jazz.  The period I speak of is the period when copious archives of amazing jazz footage got built up on Youtube.  So I could catch up with the many concerts of great jazz artists that I didn’t get to attend.

These are some of my favourite live clips:

The incredible Barbara Dennerlein, who plays keyboard with her two hands AND bass pedal with her feet simultaneously.


Dennerlein again but the highlight here is really Mitch Watkins who burns on guitar:

Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny coming up with a modernised, ‘fusion’ interpretation of an old Hancock composition:


And this is ‘brand new’, I mean I discovered this clip today.  The late, great Emily Remler:


I THINK I may now venture to offer a theory about what makes jazz, jazz.  It’s that it’s the most light-footed and nimble of the ‘serious’ genres.  In fact, it often doesn’t sound very serious to listen to and instead is a lot of fun.  Yes, you can basically go to a jazz show to have a good time, just the same as you would with blues or pub rock.

This is also reflected in jazz vocals (or even musical theater or cabaret which sort of blend into a jazz repertoire).  The idea is to have a good time.  Swing is more important than intensity.  If you’re paying attention, you can enjoy the specifics of unbelievable improvisations.  But even if you aren’t, you can nod along to the beat.

This concert given by Linda Eder and Michael Feinstein is a good exhibit.  The collaborative singing in duets is brilliant but it’s not brilliant in a way that calls attention to itself.  This side of the musical hemisphere wears its greatness lightly.


So…how many jazz shows have I attended in person?

Just one.  Yeah.

I attended this show that had a double bill featuring guitarist Russell Malone’s band followed by saxophonist Igor Butman’s band.  It was brilliant, especially Butman’s set.

But I wasn’t excited by the lineup next year and thereafter lost track.  Then I got married and while my wife likes a good tune in any language, she is not quite so obsessive a Western music aficionado as I am and would get bored in an instrumental gig.

And earlier this year, the pandemic struck.

I don’t know when, if ever, gigs will come back.  Gigs by foreign jazz artists in Mumbai looks a really, really long way off now (and we are nearing September, mind, six months since covid).

But when they do, I am going to attend.  No more being selective, being lazy.  One thing this house arrest has clarified is what are the things I love and cherish most and I realize jazz is one of them.   If I get a chance to, I swear to God I will make amends.

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