It’s not often things I do for my music projects seep here to the blog, but over the summer I decided to start educating myself in jazz.
A number of my classmates in the music theory classes I’ve been taking at the University of Washington are majors in the jazz program. They know the literature of the genre the same way I know my classical music history.
The music has always felt a bit like voodoo to me. I dug my training in classical voice leading, but the harmonic language of jazz eluded me.
So I approached it the way I did classical music 30 years ago — learn about the theory and listen to as many recordings as possible.
It’s a lot easier now. I plugged the phrase “best jazz albums” into Google and sought the results on the streaming services. I also dusted off a pair of books on jazz theory I purchased years ago with a similar intent.
By contrast, I depended on Pulse! magazine and a textbook from a music appreciation class my dad took at a community college to get started with classical music. Even when I had Internet access in the early ’90s, it was limited to USENET.
I’m not at a point where I can improvise, but I do understand the ii-V-I progression, and more importantly, modal harmonies.
I’ve also bought a bunch of albums.
So what I have taken away from this summer’s experience?
My favorite era of jazz so far is hard bop
I’m sure I’ll learn to appreciate be-bop at some point, and maybe I’ll disentangle my old Hiroshima albums from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. But for now, I like the soulfulness of hard bop.
I hummed Blue Train for days after first encountering it, and I’m particularly fond of Canonball Adderly’s Somethin’ Else and Art Blakey’s Moanin’.
I do not yet grok Thelonious Monk
I started with Brilliant Corners, and it didn’t grab me. So I moved on to Bill Evans instead. While I haven’t internalized the three Evans albums I’ve acquired, I do like his impressionistic voicings.
McCoy Tyner is another pianist I want to explore. I remember encountering Song for My Lady back in the late ’80s when my brother and I went to Jelly’s Comics and Music. His immediate reaction was disgust, which is why I still remember Tyner to this day.
Holy shit, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
I really dug Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, but then I streamed The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and had my come to Jesus moment with Mingus. I’m hesitant to explore anything else because I don’t want to spoil the one-two punch of Ah Um and Black Saint.
I’m waiting on Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman
All these years listening to John Zorn, Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz without proper context makes me think I should ground myself a bit more into history before I explore the genre’s edges.
I have no idea why I’m ambivalent to Miles Davis
I like Kind of Blue, but I haven’t developed the gumption to tackle the copy of Bitches Brew I got from Lifelong Thrift Store for $1. I think maybe I’m still under the spell of Coltrane.