Monday, June 16, 2008

People Don't Get It

They just haven't the ability to discern good jazz from bad jazz. I've discovered that the most popular music form in this household is unappreciated, and certainly under-appreciated, but most people who consider themselves Jazz Fans.

Both my husband and I are musicians. I listen to music that's more Bartok and Neil Young- and yes that combination is very workable. He is more apt to listen to Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, both for influences and for sheer discovery of the proverbial soul of this music format. Just as some people can tolerate Kate Bush yet disdain Tori Amos, I am likely to put forth a Patti Smith tune the same day I write a four part choir piece. The hubby is far more inclined to push Caravan to places that are virtually impossible for any other human to master. It's who we are as musicians, and where we are in our skill, and comprehension.

Golf. I say the phrase, "He's Tiger Woods" whenever I'm asked how the most skilled player of the game manages to astound the masses. My husband understands the nuances of the game, can sit for hours discussing the traps, the eagles, and of course, the lack of beer involved. I am better suited to the stands in Fenway, screaming the disdain to the OTHER team, and drooling as Varitek and Ramirez round bases. That is the sport that seems sportsmanlike to me- Men sweat, teams bond, and the crowd is as in tune with the hot dog vendor as they are with the outfielder. It's the same with Jazz.

My husband has an ability to concentrate. I am what is kindly referred to as distracted, at best, and diagnosed improperly as Attention Deplete. Frankly, I enjoy things that have black and what outcomes, but spend most of my day drifting from writing, to music, to singing, to emails, to becoming entranced by the latest exploits of one, Anthony Bourdain. My goal in life is to not miss out on anything, and that leads me to many different venues, many different creative ventures, and far more greetings and meetings with the public.

The sidekick carrying the male version of our wedding ring can decide to do something and nothing in any way, shape, form, or design can move him from that notion. If he says, "I am going to lose some weight", he is deployed on a seven month mission to become the thinnest him there could be. For any artist he cares to hear, he doesn't become a fan, he becomes a historian. You can ask him any question regarding movies, and he can certainly out trivia any game show. His passion for the cinema is only second to his passion for chocolate- for which he can name sixteen varieties, the locations of the best shops in several continents, and will tell you the nuances from African beans to south American ones. When he states knowledge of jazz, he does so with authority, experience, and minute detail.

My taste in music is multicultural, multi-class, and very rarely excludes any tone of any sort. I've listened to shinai with the same aplomb as a Ringo Starr solo. The one tone that bothers me, surprisingly so, as I've studied the instrument as a child, is that of Violin. The shrill of the wires doesn't sit in my ear, or nestle in my head- instead it takes my ear drum and sizzles it like bacon, wearing it away like the ocean eats sandcastles. And yet, I am also a jazz fanatic.

My knowledge of the music was limited at best when I met Ravi Coltrane- who eerily appears as a clone of his late, great, father. He practiced his soprano sax in my living room at Calarts, and I had the balls to ask him "What kind of clarinet is that?" As I am a comedian, it fortunately fell like a joke in a great club. But, from that point on, my mission was to understand, learn, and devour jazz as some would decide to become parents. After several months, I understood that Dave Koz, and Kenny G are certainly not comparable to Stan Getz, nor Kurt Elling. In fact, I was so enthralled by the singers of this breed that I quickly bought any and all I could find- except Diana Krall or Billie Holliday, both of whom I have grown a bit weary.

It's been twenty years since I snapped on a 1- 3 measure. It's been just as long since I've listened to anything remotely titled "smooth jazz". And, thus comes the topic of this very blog. This is the music that the hoi poloi aren't able to comprehend. This is why a majority of jazz radio is sorely mistaken, and several of the programmers and disc jockeys should be sent to Gitmo. Annie Ross, Eva Cassidy, Rosemary Clooney, Etta- both Jones and James, Julie London, Mildred Bailey, and my favorite, Rachel Gould are in heavy rotation in the iPod and car, as I try to live every note Peggy Lee or Bessie Smith ever uttered. Julie London and Clooney share my range, but Annie Ross has my favorite playful way of making notes sound easy. The youngest member of my collection is carried by Renee Olstead, whose appearances on a comedy sitcom seem to belittle her enormous skill and talent as a jazz songstress.

Billie Holliday changed people's perception of jazz. She responded to notes by giving each personality. In this, she is worthy of history. She does however, grate on me, as a songwriter, for not actually hearing the notes she is supposed to sing, as she changes the reason for a song. Diana Krall once dated my husband, back in the days she was a Berklee student. She makes jazz very approachable, and is highly commended for her ability to take a tune, and make it available to the general population- especially those which were lost to history. However, she hasn't got the vocal range to carry off some of the better lost songs, so she kind of misses the mark with me. I think if she pulled out some Ada Jones, I'd be more impressed. But, I have heard a few dozen Diana Kralls-a-likes, and they really aren't changing the medium. Even Dana Owens, aka Queen Latifah, recalls Lush Life with the charisma and charm that demands attention. I'd take ten Dana Owens albums to one Krall, any day.

Rachel Gould isn't a household name, and doesn't get much rotation on any jazz radio. That's abominable. She has a voice that seems to tell the world, "This song was written JUST for me, and you will never hear it again without thinking of me." She seems to say this, but doesn't. She should. She's right. Eva Cassidy, who died far too young, as if there IS a right age to die, brings a bluesy feel to all her work, and has become what Janis Joplin aspired to be. When Eva carries a tune, you feel as if you want to be in her house, having coffee, with a cat on your lap, and doing nothing other than hearing that voice.

Don't forget, I like some pop musicians. I think Joss Stone, despite the vocalese, has mastered her voice that brings timelessness to songs. Alicia Keys, one of my favorite songwriters, pulls a punch as quickly as she seduces. Amy Winehouse, drugs be damned, works her shimmy out of nothingness. But, jazz radio has determined these artists are under the same umbrella as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and aforementioned, Coltrane. That's like saying my husband and I play the same music.

He has jazz critics come to the shows, leave jaw dropped, and writing reviews which would put tears in anyone's eyes for the joy of it. I have a habit of making people believe there are seven members to my band, that I am seeped in Earth Wind and Fire, and oh yeah, should be on a Motown label. Culturally, he's from Buffalo, and that's one step closer to Oscar Peterson-ville. I'm from Boston, and it seems I've learned much of my craft from the days spent with a guitar in a subway station. Yet, we're both considered jazz musicians.

The one thing that does frustrate him is my ability to write a song in as long as it takes him to think up a melody. I usually have all parts, done. All of what I write, I've written a million times for every artist I ever admired. He writes for himself, and it's always as if he spent years on something that takes him a few hours. He's Tiger Woods, and I'm the other guys. His sounds is timeless in ways that leave people heart-pounding and lost for words. My music is more pedestrian, and people often wonder what 1970's band I was in. I write music I wish I could get my favorite singers to sing- and he writes what only he can play.

And that is the power of jazz. It removes all pretense and turns to the heart for its purpose. It isn't some pretty little tone you hear whilst dining in an upscale restaurant, which spins around giving you a better view of the city. It isn't the comprehensive tonic to the fifth to the tonic that leaves the listener satisfied. It can be gritty, or interpreted. It can be followed the way a teen ager follows a cast member of a popular movie. It's the music which decides where we have left our broken heart, our secrets and our long lost relatives. It's Tiger Woods.

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