SKF NOTE: “I’m stuck in the 60s,” Eileen explains her choice of music on her iPod and car radio. Lots of Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Motown, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and so on. Now and then — almost as if the iPod is weary of hearing the same tunes — the song rotation plays Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie,” Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” or Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy” — some wonderful 60s songs that, to my ears, never grow stale.
There’s no telling on any given day what’s on my personal MP3 player. Those of you reading my column recently won’t be surprised when I tell you my MP3 player includes several podcast episodes. Music? It depends on my mood. But chances are excellent I’m listening to one or more jazz albums, usually a Miles Davis album. Recently, I’m discovering vibist Cal Tjader’s albums with percussionists Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria.
Jazz as a music genre is tough to define. One reason is the way jazz has changed and continues changing over time, always a reflection of the times, with a small number of visionary musicians leading the musical stylistic changes. So Louis Armstrong was a jazz pioneer starting in the 1920s with both his trumpet playing and singing. Thirty years later trumpet player Miles Davis began emerging as a different sounding visionary.
Some self-proclaimed jazz fans feel that little, if anything, good in jazz happened after Louis Armstrong. Similarly, some fans of Miles Davis’s 1950s music have no use for Armstrong’s music, and sometimes no use for Miles’s music in the late 1960s and beyond.
I listen to all kinds of jazz. In my years as a professional drummer/singer I played jazz. It is often challenging music to play. Jazz is largely improvisational music that functions at its highest level when musicians are literally communicating with each other — and to the audience — intuitively. Improvisation (thinking on your feet) and communication (listening to others, responding to others) are my favorite aspects of jazz.
The long hours of study, often in tandem with periodic falling flat on my face in public, are also — I can’t say “favorite” — but, welcome parts of learning to play jazz, which is historically a merit-based music. A musician either rises to the musical challenges or not. It’s a personal choice. But, as I’ve heard it said, “Nobody slides, my friend.” Do your best to prepare, falling short sometimes is inevitable. It’s a lousy feeling serious musicians respond to by picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and starting over again.
Jazz is a music of individuals. I like that too. Developing your own sound is a prime, prized musical goal. And it’s not an easy goal. Most musicians start out copying other musicians, favorite musicians. But echoing another’s sound is, at best, a stepping stone. Why perfect Louis Armstrong’s sound when Armstrong’s already done so? The goal is to learn the general language of jazz and use it in developing your own voice. That’s true of jazz players of all musical instruments — even the voice (singers).
I tease Eileen about her favoring ‘60s music, but I am also a product of ‘60s music, and a fan of the bulk of songs on her iPod. Truth is, I’ve studied those songs long-and-hard. Some of them I played in bands. These days I prefer devoting my music listening hours to music new to me, instead of re-listening for the umpteenth time to songs.
Last week I did load the Essential Kinks music onto my MP3 player. And when Eileen’s four-year old grandson, Grafton, and I are driving in my car, he likes to listen with me to Miles Davis.
Sometimes Grafton even likes napping to Miles Davis.