A friend once said that the only musical genre she didn’t understand was the one that happened to be my favorite. I thought her choice of the word “understand” was interesting because it implied a puzzle solving of sorts. Music is highly correlated to math, but can it be figured out? Does it need to be? There are classes that teach musical genres, usually focusing on their origins, history, and the artists who embody them. Courses on the particulars of each classification exist as well. However, when it comes to music, I, probably like most people, connect more through feeling, than thinking. It’s the rhythm that sets my hands and feet moving to the beat, it’s the memorable melodic sequence of notes that keep me following along, and it’s the harmonies that add depth to my state of relaxation or excitement. And if there are words in a song I’m listening to, I may ponder them, but for me jazz is much more of a sensory experience than a cerebral one.
From my journal: February 20, 2016, Newbury Park, California
“Saw Herbie Hancock with Terence Blanchard & Wayne Shorter at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last night…been to at least four of his concerts, but every one of them is so different! Such energy! Such fun!”
Jazz Appreciation Month or JAM as it is appropriately named, kicked off two days ago and is being celebrated throughout April for being the iconic art form that it truly is. Yay for all of us jazz lovers! Born into African-American communities in New Orleans, Louisiana about one-hundred years ago, jazz has roots in blues, ragtime and march form music. Bebop, soul, R&B, swing, Dixieland, and boogie-woogie are subgenres that fall under this umbrella, too. But what sets jazz apart from other types of music is its blending of ethnicities and, especially, its improvisation. When performers play their solos, they are fully in the moment and offer the audience what they create right there, on the spot! Talk about skill, talent, and intuition!
Founded by John Edward Hasse, a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, this 30-day event began in 2001. Its purpose is to honor the history and cultural significance of jazz and give people the opportunity to participate in jazz-related activities, as well as appreciate the musicians of this genre. Louie Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis are just a few in a very long line of many.
As a kid, I was first turned on to jazz at home. My parents were mainly rock and country fans, however among their stash were records by Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass, George Benson, and Ramsey Lewis. But now that I think about it, one or more of those albums could have belonged to my older brother Ray, who has influenced my taste in music from the get-go. Nonetheless, my exposure to jazz continued through high school and college when I was introduced to the music of Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour, and Wes Montgomery. Later on, I became familiar with John Coltrane’s saxophone featured tracks, Thelonious Monk’s piano runs, and brassy tunes from trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie. Currently, I listen to contemporary artists whose music is considered “smooth” jazz like Boney James, Norman Brown, and Mindi Abair who may cover other musician’s songs, but stylize them as their own.
Most days, vibrant sounds of jazz emanate from my radio tuned to “Watercolors” Sirius XM in my studio office where I work. It fills my space with positive vibes and me with enthusiasm to handle my tasks at hand. Interestingly enough, the term jazz is devived from the word “jasm” meaning spirit and energy. How fitting! And the only thing better than my daily dose at home is enjoying jazz in various venues. One of the best places to experience this music has to be summer nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Come spring, when our season Jazz tickets are up for renewal, we can’t wait to see who will be performing. This year’s series includes: Diana Krall, the Canadian jazz pianist known for her contralto vocals, Gladys Knight, the “Empress of Soul” singer who I grew up listening to, Buddy Guy, the legendary blues guitarist and an evening with Floating Points and Shabaka Hutchings performing songs from the 2021 widely-acclaimed album called “Promises”. Wow – what a line up! Really, how cool is that?!
Now that it is Jazz Appreciation Month, I think I’ll extend my daily listening by digging out some CDs I haven’t heard for some time and just kick back and relax while sending up gratitude to all of those who create this feel-good music. I’m also looking forward to a few months from now when I’ll find myself with Robert and a couple friends relaxing in our box seats, leisurely catching up on life, dining on fresh deli sandwiches and green salads, sipping crisp white wine, waiting for the evening to envelop us in cool darkness while the stars shine above and musicians take the stage to treat us to their spirited performances and…all that jazz.