The great documentarian, Ken Burns, strongly suggested that Jazz is not only America's greatest artwork, but our greatest creation. Period. Mic drop.
I am in total agreement. Of course, if you have signed up for my year-long Ukulele Jazz Club, that's what you'd expect to hear. That hasn't always been the case, though. I've been listening actively for around 25 years and studying jazz in-depth for the last decade. Not in the hopes of ever really being a great jazz musician, just, to understand the idiom, songs, forms and players more deeply. This exploration has sharpened my knowledge, musical thinking, playing and composing to an infinite degree. I highly recommend learning jazz.
I'm not sure if there is a more divisive word in music than Jazz. So many times I hear people say "I don't like jazz, it's too chaotic." Listen to Miles Davis' version of Nature Boy, Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo, Johnny Smith's version of Moonlight in Vermont or Idle Moments by Grant Green. Pure mellow transcendence.
What is jazz? It is the story of America from the early 1900's to the present. This story is told mainly by black Americans. This story includes its predecessors blues and ragtime music. This story has produced new rhythms, new chord progressions, countless melodies, the art of improvisation, geniuses galore and an influence on every musical form to emerge since its inception. Jazz has evolved as the times have. WWI, the Roaring 20's, the Great Depression, WWII, art deco, the New Deal, abstract art, baseball, basketball, automobiles, tv, movies, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights era-revolution, rock music, and the list goes on and on. I'll leave it there as far as the futility of defining jazz goes, but, hopefully you get the picture. It's complex. Much like the last hundred+ years of America are.
The music itself covers everything from the most gentle and languid moods to high volume, atonal shrieking, and every sound in between. To truly tell this story in an honest way, jazz has to include the widest range of tones, tempos, rhythms and emotions.
David Crosby, recently departed rock music legend and a very intense character in his own right, described hearing John Coltrane soloing in a jazz club in the 60's " I've never heard someone be more intense with music than that in my life." Crosby's impersonation of Coltrane soloing is priceless.
On this 4th of July, I'm putting on some Coltrane and thinking about the amazing storytellers of America's greatest creation. Jazz.