Jazz And Other False Dichotomies
A friend’s father once put me on the spot about the kind of jazz I liked to listen to. It was an odd experience.
One of my oddest high school experiences came early in Grade 12. I had gone over to a new friend’s house, after school, to listen to some records. Back in those pre-digital days, teenagers would descend on someone’s place, put some vinyl on the turntable and, get this, listen to music.
Heck, there wasn’t much else to do.
Music Fans Ask The Oddest Questions
It was my first time over at this friend’s place. They clearly had more money than my folks (although my parent’s Hi-Fi was better than theirs!). As I came into the house, my friend’s father hit me with the twenty-questions – where was I from, what classes did I take at school, did I play sports – that sort of stuff. Then we got onto music tastes.
“Do you like Jazz?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied eagerly. He then stumped me with his next question – “Trad or Modern?” “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” was my weak reply.
I’ll never forget his next statement. “Traditional or Modern Jazz son. You have to choose. One or the other. You can’t like both.”
I can’t quite remember what I said after that. I know my fumbled answer did mention Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But, the truth was that, for the rest of the afternoon I was wondering what the difference was between Traditional and Modern Jazz.
The WWOZ Thing
In recent months I’ve taken to listening to online radio. In particular I’ve fallen in love with WWOZ, which broadcasts from New Orleans. WWOZ advertise themselves as a Jazz and Heritage station, but the range of music they broadcast is impressively wide.
The other night I was listening to Jelly Roll Justice’s show and he programmed a solid hour of Jazz Guitar, which turned out to be an encyclopaedic survey of the genre, from acoustic Gypsy Jazz to funky Jazz-Rock. A few hours later there was a typical turn where, in the space of five songs the programming went from edgy Electric Blues to sweet Big Band Swing.
I love the wonderfully eclectic programming on WWOZ. Sure, it’s unfashionably wild and unpredictable at times, far from the genre-focussed narrowness of most radio stations. But, it reflects the way musicians listen to music.
Every musician I know listens to a far wider variety of music than the stuff they actually play. They tend to spend more time sharing and enjoying the music they discover rather than debating questions like what is jazz?
I visited that friend’s place quite regularly for about three years, before, as often happens at that age, we drifted apart. The odd thing was that for all the posturing about Traditional versus Modern Jazz, I never once saw (or heard) my friend’s father listening to music. I saw him reading the newspaper, watching television, doing a jigsaw puzzle, but never listening to music, or Jazz, either Traditional or Modern.
Update: Sadly, David Averbuck, AKA Jelly Roll Justice passed away in 2019. Here is a tribute to him from WWOZ.