I like jazz. I like the word ‘jazz’. I like the instrumentation and musicianship. I like the fact that on a landmark jazz album, all of the players can play. I mean, really play. I like the fact that each musician gets to solo. I like the fact that the music played is mostly – if not always – impossibly cool. It’s the only true American art form, and the sound of it always brings to mind that other art form, that although not invented in America, was made an American institution – cinema.
The word ‘jazz’ means a lot to me. I probably first heard it as the name of an Autobot Porsche in Transformers (surely it isn’t a coincidence that one of the coolest Transformers was called Jazz?), and then no doubt it came onto my radar as the name of a musical genre, generally played by black musicians, that old people like to listen to.
More recently, seeing a jazz band play in a bar in Manchester – led by an extremely gifted guitarist – prompted me to stop playing guitar for a while (there was just no point when other people were that skilled). That minor infatuation with jazz in the mid-2000s then led to my most amusing association with the word jazz – watching a drunken Moo stagger around a late-night Amsterdam bar asking the clientele, in hushed tones, if they knew anywhere that he could get some hot jazz.
What I don’t like about jazz is the freneticism in playing that sometimes spoils the genre. Good Bait, the opening track off Soultrane, starts off really nicely. It swings like a motherfucker. But then Coltrane’s later passages, in which he tries to play every note under the sun as speedily as possible, really spoil the mood. I know he can play, but does he have to sound like he’s trying to blow an unwanted insect out of his saxophone? Whilst having a seizure?
And it isn’t just Coltrane. Miles Davis is the key suspect in this style of playing. I remember once reading an interview with a pre-fame Amy Winehouse (promoting her first album, Frank), where she claimed she had a hard time listening to Miles Davis because his music was so intense. I know exactly what she meant – but that didn’t stop a raft of complaints coming through to the letters page of the same publication the following month: How dare this young wannabe sully the name of the great Miles Davis? As if, once an artist is considered great, it becomes outrageous to claim anything to the contrary. Recently, a post on Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book prompted a reader to tell me that I wasn’t a Stevie Wonder fan – presumably because I mentioned in the post how I prefer Stevie’s upbeat, funky output to his dull-as-dishwater ballads. A pretty extensive Stevie Wonder collection in my record collection would point otherwise, but maybe I’m just holding onto these for a real Stevie Wonder fan, somebody without the nerve to have a preference or an opinion?
There’s an old joke I love, the subject of which you can interchange with any jazz bandleader, but I probably heard first about Ray Charles: That Ray Charles mustn’t pay his band very well, I caught two of his musicians in the toilet and they were so hard-up, they were sharing a cigarette!
Hit: Good Bait
Hidden Gem: I Want To Talk About You