I was in my late teens when my friend Dave gave me a copy of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and changed my life. No jazz album before or since has spoken to me as much as it did, and it was the record that made me want to learn everything I could about jazz, and understand exactly why it makes such a visceral connection with my soul. I'm not a huge jazz geek -- I'm probably only at level four -- but jazz is the only musical style I can consistently listen to, no matter what I'm doing. While I love me some old Metallica, lots of Joy Division and Bauhaus, Pink Floyd, Tool, Soul Coughing and Boingo, there are always times where I just can't listen to them. Not so with the jazz; it's almost like it speaks a secret language to me that I can't understand on a conscious level, but can't live without on an organic, unconscious level.
A few weeks ago, I asked for suggestions about adding some new Charlie Parker to my collection, and had to seriously restrain myself when I previewed all the suggestions that came in. I ended up with the Complete Savoy And Dial Recordings (thanks, Tiltmom) and I've been in quite a bebop phase ever since.
(As an aside, I wonder what it does to the music center of my brain to switch frequently among all those different types of music? Is it like cross training, or is it more like combining all sorts of food at the buffet, that is just going to make me sick later on? Time Life needs to do a series of books on this great mystery.)
As June Gloom descended on Los Angeles last week, I found that the bebop jazz that worked so well in the warm and bright sunny days of spring just didn't seem to fit with the long, cool, misty mornings and humid afternoons that are so frequently accompanied by the sound of distant thunder booming over the San Gabriel mountains, so I started looking for something a bit more appropriate (and new. As much as I love Blue Train, Kind of Blue, Round Midnight and Time Out, I desperately need to expand my collection.) But finding new jazz is crazy hard for me, especially when I only get to preview thirty seconds at a time on iTunes, and don't have too many friends who I see regularly that love the jazz like I do.
Yesterday, in a singularity-creating moment of blog-o-phonic synchronicity, Boy Genius posted a huge list of jazz recommendations on his blog, and one name shot off the page at me: Sonny Rollins.
Duh. I fucking love Sonny Rollins, and I couldn't believe that I don't own a single one of his records. In fact, upon discovering this gaping hole in my collection, I took two levels away, and dropped myself to a level 2 Jazz Geek. I also took away my +3 beret of finger poppin' until I earn it back.
Before I even made it to the end of his post, I went straight to iTunes Music Store, and picked up Saxophone Colossus. While I was there, I grabbed Dig (with Miles Davis) and Mingus at Antibes.
Wow. Rollins on Moritat and Blue 7 is just phenomenal. Mingus on Prayer for Passive Resistance? Incredible. Miles on My Old Flame? It's like it was written specifically for 12:05 PM in my office on June 8, 2006. How have I gotten to 33 without hearing these tunes? I need to turn in all my cards and go back to start. Seriously.
In his jazz post (which currently 404s for me, so I can't link it) BG writes about Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street:
Listening to Rollins counterpoint with Clifford Brown on this set
gives a perfect look at two different sides of genius. Clifford was
hot, Rollins was cool. Brown wanted to blow you out of the water,
Rollins didn't seem to give a shit if you didn't get him. Brown was
steadfastly aggressive, Rollins was so fucking hip it hurts. I'm really
going to have to buy more Sonny Rollins...
That point of view about one's art, and one's relationship with the audience, is what separates truly great, memorable, and lasting performances from everything else, I think. Years ago, I watched a special about MST3K, and someone asked Joel if they worried about people getting all their jokes. Joel famously said something like, "we don't ask ourselves, 'hey, will anyone get this?' We just say, 'the right people will get this.'"
After reading BG's post, I think I understand why I love jazz music, and especially guys like Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis so much. It's not just that they're some of the best in the world at what they do, but it's their whole attitude about their art: either you grok it, or you don't, and they don't care one way or the other. It's not really arrogance, either, it's just the supreme confidence that they're doing something cool, and they know it. They make music that speaks to them, and they let the audience come to them when the audience is ready for it.