I’m Really Into Jazz Now
A few years ago I read Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz, Second Edition (2011) and made a playlist including every artist mentioned. It is my magnum opus and why I won’t leave Spotify for a different corporate overlord streaming service. Actually, I tried to transfer my playlists to Apple Music and lost 30% of this playlist so I’m staying. The jazz back-catalog (and the anthologies and compilations) is (are) too good to leave. (You can read my review of it here.)
Then I read Gioia’s West Coast Jazz, Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960 (1992) and made a playlist including every artist mentioned. It is my second magnum opus. (You can read my review of it here.) (Yes I know Amazon owns Goodreads.)
I built these playlists chronologically but I like to listen on shuffle because that way you can appreciate the depth and variety of the genre.
I deleted my Fakebook, or AHEM, excuse me, my Meta(data), years ago (and Instagram and Whatsapp) because I do not participate in Zuckerbird productions. He is a billionaire fascist who spent $44 million to buy the houses surrounding his so he can have privacy. So my profile is a jumble of numbers. It me. Life is a corporate, capitalist machine and we all live inside it no matter how much we hate it here.
I love jazz! (It was the most popular genre in America until the 1950s.) The only jazz I can’t handle is free jazz. That shit is too chaotic for my anxious brain the same way hardcore and (most) heavy metal is. I love big band. I love swing. I love bebop and bop and hard bop and ragtime and cool jazz. My freshman year of college I decided I couldn’t take the every other Tuesday 4a-6a modern rock shift so I signed up to be a jazz DJ (weekdays noon-2p) and taught myself the genre through the CD collection at the station (92 WICB Ithaca forever!) and started writing my history papers to the Charlie Parker bop anthology. I grew up around bop and cool era Miles Davis via my Beatles-elitist father. It took me a minute to get to A Love Supreme (1965) but I’m still not sure I can do Bitches Brew (1970). Strangely I can fuck with Miles’ Agharta (1975). The best part about music is there’s always more, and I’m lucky enough to have time on my side.
So the difference between “jazz” and “west coast jazz,” as I learned through Gioia, is west coast jazz musicians worked like composers, delicately writing out arrangements and scores. The songs have movements (like classical music and its child genre, prog rock) and, well, once Dexter Gordon and Ornette Coleman showed up, anything became possible to everyone. Unfortunately like most Make It Big scenarios, it took west coast jazz artists a trip to New York City to find national recognition and success. If you can make it here… (Unless your Brubeck and tour colleges. Brubeck’s Jazz at Oberlin (1953) is not to be missed.
The songs on these playlists were chosen at random, or because a song title called to me. There are a few records I return to frequently aside from the core jazz artists I find myself returning to as a fan (Miles, Monk, Mingus, Charlie Parker, Brubeck, Goodman). I’m not at a place (and I doubt I ever will be) where I can hear a jazz musician and place them, admittedly, aside from the aforementioned big, bop-era artists. I love Stanley Turrentine and Cannonball Adderley and Lee Konitz and Bill Evans and Stan Getz and Vince Guaraldi but I can’t tell you who’s who without my trusty Shazam. (Never underestimate Shazam!)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some favorite records of mine you can start with:
Shorty Rogers’ Martians Come Back! (1956)
Toshiko Akiyoshi’s Toshiko’s Piano (1958)
Miles Davis’ Miles Smiles (1967)
Thelonious Monk’s Underground (1968)
The piano is my favorite instrument because it is percussive and melodic. And I love a horn section. Those are two of my favorite aspects of jazz. But mainly, I love listening to jazz because I don’t have to think. It’s good music that I can trust. It’s not background music. It’s freeing.