Do Ya Like Jazz?

Jazz is one of the earliest, uniquely American genres. Jazz often features instruments without singing, so it’s hard to imagine music that could be any more different from contemporary pop. Variety is the spice of life, and I think everyone should explore as many different types of music as they can. Sadly, very few young people appreciate Jazz in the 21st Century.

Before you continue reading, please put on “The Girl from Ipanema,” particularly the version by Stan Getz.

“Jazz” refers to a diverse array of musical styles that developed across decades. Personally, I prefer Modal Jazz, a style that developed in the 1950s. The distinction between Modal Jazz and other forms is a technical one. Most people are familiar with the idea that songs have a key and are centered around a given pitch. Modal Jazz refuses this convention and will organize the song around a variety of pitches. The most prominent artists in this subgenre are John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Generally, these songs will follow a format where a chord progression is introduced, and then each musician takes turns soloing over those chords, introducing variations on the melody. Here’s a selection of artists and songs you should check out if you’re not familiar with Jazz and want to expand the horizons of your music tastes.

A Saxophonist

The first artist you need to listen to is John Coltrane. His most famous work is “Giant Steps.” It is widely regarded as one of the most challenging jazz pieces ever written.  He also collaborated with many famous musicians, including Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. A good first album to check out is simply titled “Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.” A saxophone player, Coltrane is known for his unconventional melodies and blazing ability to follow chord changes. Fans of “The Sound of Music” will enjoy his cover of “A Few of My Favorite Things.” Coltrane was one of the first popular musicians whose music was influenced by psychedelic drugs.

Thelonious Monk played the piano. One good song of theirs to listen to is “I’m Confessin’ (that I love you).” Despite the absence of any lyrics, it is still very clearly a love song, and the gentle nature of his adoration shines through the keys. He also made an album with Coltrane that is simply titled with their names. My favorite track from this album is “Ruby, My Dear.” Many songs composed by Monk have become Jazz Standards, which just means it is very common for other groups to learn and build upon them.

A less famous but still remarkable Jazz Musician, Sun Ra is one of the most unique people ever. He was a band leader/composer who played the keyboards. His music is very experimental and often flies in the face of classical conventions for what music should be. His music is avant-garde and bizarre. Sun Ra was not his birth name, and he chose to name himself after Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun. He also acted like an alien sent from Saturn to preach a message of peace. Sun Ra’s music is inseparable from his cosmic oriented worldview and his social philosophy. His song “Nuclear War” is written about the terror and destruction of modern warfare, in a frenetic, poetic style. He was an innovator in the music scene as well, pioneering methods of improvisation and modal mixture. You should listen to “You Never told me that you cared” as well as “Dreaming” and “Enlightenment.”

Today, Jazz lacks the massive popularity it once enjoyed, but modern audiences can still appreciate the classics. Very few people realize how much variety there is within Jazz.  The songs I have recommended today represent a narrow slice of the genre. Ideally, this article can be a stepping stone for you to explore other Jazz musicians. Regardless, Jazz has a lot to offer, especially to musicians, and more people should appreciate it.