Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Jazz Tourist Takes Off

by Darren Snow

Since I do a lot of our indie buying and I’m obliged to keep a weekly radio show fresh, I’m in the habit of spending a good deal of time every week listening to tons of stuff I haven’t heard before. Around Thanksgiving, two things happened: The record companies did what they do every year, suspending the flow of new material to concentrate on greatest-hits packages and boxed sets for the holiday market, and I read Richard Cook’s engrossing book about the history of Blue Note records, probably history’s most celebrated jazz label. (That book, by the way, is one of many gracing our shelves upon shelves of jazz tomes we offer for sale at Euclid!) Without much new rock to peruse, I instead investigated a lot of the classic Blue Note titles I’d just read about—borrowing them from the city library and listening to used CDs here at the store (we usually have a pretty fine selection). Of course, I also listened to a lot of classic reissues from the catalogs of Verve, Impulse, Bethlehem, etc…Basically, whatever was lying around. Aside from the half-dozen jazz CDs already in my collection, it was pretty much all new to me.

After auditioning a decent cross-section of bop and post-bop, this is the conclusion I’ve come to: While I loved a lot of what I heard, I ain’t on the jazz party line any more than I’m on the rock party line. Just as I was never impressed by Radiohead’s critical touchstones OK Computer and Kid A, I find I don’t particularly care for some of the jazz classics I’m “supposed to” like. Go figure. I invested in the latest massive edition of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD (at around $30, containing an astounding amount of information per penny)—which, in addition to the stuff you’d expect, also covers the Scandinavian jazz scene extensively, and, being written by a couple of Brits, gives a lot more respect to the “trad” scene than I’m used to seeing—and I’m trying to hear at least a sample of every artist in the book. (30-second excerpts on www.allmusic.com are just long enough to give me an idea of whether a particular musician’s style is going to be up my alley or not.)

Some of the four-star records listed in the Guide are given that status somewhat begrudgingly, it seems; the authors’ attitude toward warhorses like Brubeck’s Time Out is basically “This really isn’t too bad for a record that even the peons could understand.” (Hey, if making a Top 40 single out of a jazz instrumental in 5/4 time is just a cheap parlor trick, I sure wish *I* could do it!) Don’t get me wrong; it’s a very, very useful book, and the authors’ penchant for bad jokes keeps them from sounding too pretentious.

It also gave me the crazy notion that I should write about jazz.

Why not? I don’t know a major suspended seventh when I hear one (or even if such a thing exists, honestly), but I can enjoy the hell out of a jazz record as easily as the next guy. I don’t intend to tear down stuff I don’t understand—if a co-worker, for instance, hears hooks in Ornette Coleman’s wildest free jazz (and he does!), I certainly can’t tell him they’re not there! Maybe they’ll hit me someday. For now, I am happy to be in the service of any Joe Sixpack who’s wondering where to go after Kind of Blueand, yes, Time Out. So watch this space for an ongoing journal of jazz pieces, both celebrated and obscure, that reached out and grabbed me by the proverbial lapels for whatever reason. C’mon, it’ll be fun!

(Darren Snow refers above to a radio show; it's called Rocket 88 and it can be heard every Thursday morning from 6 to 8 am on KDHX, FM 88.1 in St. Louis, or streaming across the internet at KDHX.org. He's been sneaking some of that jazz in between his fine rock choices, too.)

1 comment:

tonpatti said...

I'll be interested in your take on something like II BS from Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus.

Mingus walks a line between free jazz and monster hooks.