Friday, July 8, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 8 - The "Me" part of "Jazz & Me"

My story about jazz and me has been more about jazz than about me. If you’ve made it this far, perhaps you’ve asked yourself why a person would dedicate this much effort into studying music without wanting to make it. It’s a question I’ve asked myself as well. So after years of thinking about all this and months of trying to figure out how to write it, I tried to put a proverbial coda on all this modal contemplation.

I bought a bass.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 7 - The New Sherriff in Town

Jazz’s evolution toward rock fusion naturally generated a backlash among musicians, but none were more damning that a young New Orleans trumpet player named Wynton Marsalis. A rising star in the 1980s who played with Herbie and Wayne while also showing impressive talent as a classical musician, Marsalis led a revival of the traditional jazz as it was known between the early swing days through the bebop era and into the 1960s.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 6 - The Twilight of Modal and the Dawn of Fusion

A musician doesn’t owe eternal allegiance to any style of genre of music any more than a listener is required to pay lifelong obeisance to any artist. This tends to generate cantankerous outrage among fans who accuse musicians of “selling out” when the fact is they simply wanted to do something different. It’s one thing for a fan to fall so head-over-heels for an album that they listen to almost nothing else for weeks on end, but it’s quite another to be that musician who has to eat, sleep, breathe and dream those same songs for months or years on end.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 5 - Wayne Shorter

It’s rare that a musician’s most famous song is also one of my personal favorites. Wayne Shorter’s Footprints is one of those unusual exceptions. The intro bars on the bass sets up an ethereal and enigmatic calm that I find a constant in Wayne’s music.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 4 - Herbie Hancock

I was listening to Herbie Hancock a full two decades before I knew who he was or what jazz was.
Herbie in 1983 wrote the chart-topping hit Rockit that was one of the first radio singles to use turntable scratching. When I was eight years old, Top 40 radio stations were so into this song that I probably heard it four or five times a day. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized the song came from a piano prodigy who by his early 20s had composed some of the most ground-breaking jazz that the genre had seen. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 3 - McCoy Tyner

Isa and I got married on a beach in a small town in eastern Venezuela in 2005. We did the whole thing on the cheap largely because we did almost everything ourselves – from sewing the tablecloths and writing the ceremony to figuring out the menu and choosing the music. I spent a day with my brothers burning CDs (that’s right), including one with a selection of jazz. This was long before I began this informal study of jazz, but two of those songs were by my now-modal-hero McCoy Tyner. The first was this one, called Contemplation:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jazz & Me - Part 2 - What do you mean “modal?”

Jazz can be trying on the ear because it has a harmonic complexity that is foreign to most musical ears. To put it another way, jazz arranges chords in ways that go against the grain of the unwritten rules that govern most rock, pop, country or classical music. Listening to jazz often left me feeling lost for precisely this reason.

Jazz & Me - Part 1

It came across the radio as I was flipping through stations on a bright yellow Sports Walkman. A walking bass rumbling from below, a piano tinkling from above, a snare and high-hat holding them together.  I don’t know what songs I heard, who performed them or what era or style of jazz they came from. I was sitting on a bus in Bogota in September 1996, heading toward the university on a college semester abroad. I was expecting those months would leave me well-versed in Latin culture and music. That day, instead, I felt like I had discovered jazz – even though I’d been listening to it for years.