Ask me: jazz or blues?

>> Sunday, October 17, 2010

So we're still going through the mailbag for "Ask Shoulders Of Giant Midgets week. And what do we have for today's post? Hang on while I rummage around--hang on--ouch--paper cut--wait--got something!

Michelle asks:

Jazz or Blues

If Jazz, what kind of jazz?


Great question!

When I was growing up, I was easily a blues guy. But this was a direct outgrowth of the kind of rock and roll I like: big Pink Floyd fan, as regular readers already know, and David Gilmour's pretty much a blues guitarist. So were the guitar players I listened to especially through junior high school. As the '80s progressed, I increasingly got into some of what I'd call "antiguitarists," guitar players like Peter Buck and The Edge and Johnny Marr who eschewed a lot of the blues-based and power chord based styles that were dominant through the '60s and '70s in favor of extended techniques and other departures from "traditional" rock guitar playing.

Rock being my gateway into blues, there was frankly a focus on bluesmen referenced by rock musicians or easily accessible to a rock sensibility. So, for instance, I was big on Robert Johnson (a major and explicit influence on Clapton, Zeppelin, and the Stones) and B.B. King (essentially a rock guitarist by any other name...).

In the late '80s I tried to get into jazz, but had trouble with it. There were a few musicians I dabbled in, especially if they were referenced by rockers I liked. U2, for instance, referenced Coltrane a lot in the late '80s, but I don't know that they even really got 'Trane, either, or if it was just part of their late-'80s-era infatuation with Americana and a name they could drop. The very accessible, pop-oriented My Favorite Things was easy to grok, but I remember feeling kind of bad that A Love Supreme was an album I liked but that was it--it didn't blow me away as some kind of soul-shattering, earth-rocking, heart-attacking experience, and--worse still--in some ways it even left me a little cold.

It wasn't until the '90s, and pretty late in the '90s, that I really had a jazz epiphany. What happened was I took a gamble and bought the four-disc boxed set version of Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew, and of course I did it because it was referenced as a rock record: I remembered that about ten years earlier Rolling Stone had called it one of the hundred best rock records of all time (I can't remember where it placed); I took a chance on the box because I figured if I liked it, I'd regret not spending the couple of extra bucks for the full set and if I didn't like it, well, it's just another ten bucks or whatever it was.

So I'm sitting in my living room, listening to the first disc and the first track, "Pharaoh's Dance," and... wow. It was one of those shingles-falling-away kind of things, especially in light of the fact I'd dabbled in jazz appreciation with such lack of success before. It was, "So this is jazz, holy shit," you know?

Since then: jazz. Totally jazz. Miles or Hancock style fusion (which I hate to type just because so much so-called "fusion" is easy-listening shit, it's like typing a really ugly slur just to type those letters in a musical context) and bebop in particular, though there's still an appreciation for those old pop standards from the middle of the 20th Century that have gotten folded into jazz, e.g. a lot of what Ella was doing.

Coming in so late in the game, though it's been a good ten-to-fifteen years now, I still don't necessarily feel comfortable talking jazz. Are my jazz tastes gauche? Jazz remains such a small part of my music collection, relatively speaking--am I shallow? But it's definitely become a love, and there are some discs I'd really want to have if I had a chance to pack a suitcase before being exiled to a desert island (if I could only take one album with me, I'd probably have to stick with Floyd's Wish You Were Here, y'know?). Birth Of The Cool and Bitches' Brew have go-with-me-anywhere status on various media devices, along with Nina Simone's Four Women box and a lot of Medeski Martin & Wood (Tonic is a great place to start with MMW, if you ask me).

So, yeah: jazz or blues? Jazz! (But I still love the blues.)

Thanks for the question!




3 comments:

Eric Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 3:12:00 PM EDT  

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Sunday, October 17, 2010 3:05:00 PM EDT


Wow.

That is the fastest I've ever had spam appear on this blog. I mean, I post the "jazz or blues" piece and within seconds there are two bizarre responses.

My first thought was to delete them both. But, (1) I have to give you credit, K., for some really fucked-up spamology, there, and (2) there's something appropriately jazzy about your random all-over-the-placeness.

But I also can't have your links in here. I mean, seriously, dude, that'll just encourage you. So I'm reproducing your post in this comment. Sorry. Hey, if I ever spam your blog, feel free to be reciprocal.

Random Michelle K Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 10:21:00 PM EDT  

Cool.

I love both, but I tend to listen to jazz more than blues.

I come at my love of jazz from the opposite direction, namely Fats Waller and stride piano are what I first thing of when I think of "jazz."

Not that I don't enjoy Coltrane and Miles Davis, but they don't evoke the same reaction as, say, "Take the A-Train" or "Ain't Misbehavin'" or even "Rhapsody in Blue"

I thought I had more coherent to say, but my brain is blargh.

Also, I was earlier boggled by the spammer. Very impressive.

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