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What is with Jazz music?

  1. Oct 16, 2011 #1
    I'd been requested to listen to some Jazz artists - Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other 'giants' of the field. I decided to give it a shot and started off with Coltrane's Love Supreme and all I could hear was random jarring noise. I honestly do not understand why this is so famous. I first thought that it started out with them tuning their instruments but it continued like this all the way through. I then picked up Hancock's Headhunters and this left me with the same unsettling feeling. I can't seem to make sense of all this noise. The only one I've liked so far is Dave Brubeck's Time Out. What is it with Jazz? Can someone break down for me why these albums are so famous?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2011 #2
    A lot of 'jazz' music is an acquired (or maybe not) taste ... even for musicians. I don't especially like a lot of it either, and I'm a musician ... of sorts.
    Here's McCoy Tyner doing a solo jazz piano rendition of "My Favorite Things". I like this.

    Here's John Coltrane's group (with Tyner on piano) doing the same tune, which I also like, but not as much as Tyner's solo piano version.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  4. Oct 16, 2011 #3


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    Have a go with this classic Herbie Hancock track. If it doesn't get your foot tapping then perhaps jazz isn't for you. Or perhaps it is, but you haven't listened to it for long enough to build an appreciation of it yet. Not all music is 'catchy' after the first four bars.

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  5. Oct 16, 2011 #4
    The people you mentioned seemed, more often than not, to be satisfied with really sloppy performances and a general lack of focus, and represent an era/movement in jazz I don't enjoy listening to. Here and there you get glimpses of what might be if they pulled together and tightened up, but more often than not all you get is experimental meanderings.

    This was the background music of a particular sub-culture. If you liked the culture, you endorsed the music. Not because it was enjoyable to listen to, but for the attitude and lifestyle it represented, which, like most sub-cultures, was fringe and anti-establishment. If a sub-culture gets big enough, certain people get shuffled to the top as representatives and/or pioneers of it, which is why some albums attain fame.

    You're not necessarily missing some esthetic gene if you don't like it. All it means is that that sub-culture doesn't speak to you.
  6. Oct 16, 2011 #5
    I think you nailed why classic jazz, hard bop, etc. and the practicioners thereof became and are famous zoobyshoe.

    I don't enjoy listening to, or playing, sloppy experimental meanderings. But some jazz I do like. When a group or soloist is 'on' and 'in the zone' it can be enjoyable. But it can also be just more or less unpleasant noise if they're not.
  7. Oct 16, 2011 #6


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    As others have said, there are many types of jazz and chances are, no one is going to like all of it. The examples posted here are good, try this too.

  8. Oct 16, 2011 #7
    As I mentioned above,
    @Zooby, thanks for the tip! Since you seem to be comparing these against other artists', could you tell me what you listen to?

    @ThomasT, thanks, but that didn't sell on me. It wasn't bad like the others, but it just didn't sell.

    @brewnog, I know. I will dabble around with this for a little longer before I make an opinion.
    EDIT: That Hancock piece is very nice, but the album version of Watermelon man I have is god-awful! Mine is from the album Headhunters. This one's from Takin' Off.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2011
  9. Oct 16, 2011 #8
    I notice that the performers you mention are all disciples of "progressive" jazz, particularly bop. This school of jazz deliberately set out to break away from traditional rhythms and traditional melodic scales. This style has always been more popular with musicians than it has with the general public. I've been listening to jazz for sixty years and I don't care for most of this style either.

    Try some of the "giants" of "mainstream" or blues-based jazz. This style reached levels of worldwide popularity unmatched by the later progressive style. I suggest sampling Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Bessie Smith, Sidney Bechet, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and other jazz performers of the '30s and '40s. I suspect that you might find this type of jazz more to your liking.

    I know I do, but then I guess I can be legitimately called an "old fogey"!

    If you must have Coltrane, try his album with singer Johnny Hartmann. These numbers are all standards done with both style and freshness. "Lush Life" is a superb blend of the progressive and the mainstream.
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2011
  10. Oct 16, 2011 #9
    I agree. It's hit or miss. Monk's studio recording of 'Round Midnight is sublime, but all his live performances of it on youtube are terrible. I think a lot of these post WWII names were very erratic performers. I've heard excellent performances by unknowns in clubs, and here and there on the radio, so groups with integrity are out there, but none are really famous.

    The music from this general ballpark I actually like is swing, but hunting for that got me exposed to some jazz. (Swing is a subset of jazz, of course, but stands apart for being much more mainstream in its time.)

    The kind of stuff Brewnog and LisaB linked to is what I enjoy running into, and probably the most accessible and famous Jazz piece would have to be Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, (although the Peanuts theme is a close runner up).

    For something edgier and more dangerous Duke Ellington stretched the boundaries, usually without going too far (unless you think he goes too far):


    If you listen to that one you'll see where the post WWII groups probably got the inspiration for their flights into atonality. I'm not sure what Ellington was up to with a lot of that, but it's obvious it wasn't sloppiness or lack of focus.

    This infectious, Bolero-like thing, is more palatable, but still challenging:


    I guess I think of Ellington as a margin. Go beyond him and the stuff is not enjoyable to listen to anymore.
  11. Oct 16, 2011 #10
    I took (and take) my time getting into jazz music, but for me, it's been a matter of finding the right jazz, at the right time. My musical background is electronic (techno) for the most part, and I like 1970's psychedelic rock, blues in general, and other bits and pieces so when I listen to jazz, I like it to join a few of those dots. Also, in terms of "listening advice", I recommend tuning out the melody for a while. Focus on the drums and the bass. Get a feel for the groove, click your fingers, tap your feet. Then the melody seems to make a bit more sense. :)

    My brother is big into jazz (and a guitarist) so I let him filter out things that I might like, and he's got me onto some really good stuff over the years. A few of my favourites:

    Miles Davis - Bitches Brew

    I have the 4xCD "sessions" release of this, with some extra tracks that aren't on the general release. Anyway, this is probably my favourite jazz album. It took me a few spins. The grooves are relentless, and it's well spaced out man. I love this little ditty.

    Scott Henderson - Well To The Bone

    My brother really likes Tribal Tech. I quite enjoy them too, but I particularly like Scott Henderson (the guitarist), and his solo stuff is my kind of music. It's blues fusion I guess, and it's totally awesome! Here's a slow-burner.

    Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit

    These guys are from .. Norway I think, I can't remember off hand. They're a 7-8 piece jazz ensemble, and they play big bold super funky awesome tunes, and remind me of Frank Zappa. I have a bunch of their albums, this is their latest one, and here's the title track.

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  12. Oct 16, 2011 #11


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    Try Brubeck's "Take Five". Even THEY were amazed at how well they did on that one (you can hear Joe Morello laughing in delight as the piece ends).

    Pick your own favorite type of music and I GUARANTEE you that there are people in the world who think it's hideous. Music is a matter of taste.
  13. Oct 16, 2011 #12


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    If you tell us what sort of music you DO like to listen to, you might get some more specific suggestions. Jazz is no different to anything else that is more challenging than "background noise" - you have to get used to it before it makes much sense.

    If you aren't familiar with classical music, you probably wouldn't make much "sense" of say Guillaume de Machaut or the late Beethoven string quartets either, the first time you heard them - not to mention 20th century composers like Milton Babbitt or Elliott Carter. (But then I can never understand why anybody wants to listen to Rachmaninoff - it all sounds like mindless drivel to me...)
  14. Oct 16, 2011 #13


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    Here's a modern piece - Stevie Ray Vaughn, Riviera Paradise:

  15. Oct 16, 2011 #14


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    This one's fantastic!

  16. Oct 16, 2011 #15
    What you say may be true to some extent, but there are certainly many people (including me) who enjoy the music just for what it is: music. I don't care about the culture attached to it, I just enjoy it on a musical level. You make it sound as if people only listen(ed) to it because it is/was cool, and I disagree with that. The people of that era (Monk, Coltrane,...) each had their unique style, one might also include sloppyness or experimentalism as attributes, but if one reduces them to that, one misses the point. The great achievement lies in the tunes themselves, not so much in their interpretation.
  17. Oct 16, 2011 #16

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    I would actually argue Hancock's Cantaloupe Island is a little more accessible than Watermelon Man. For Miles Davis, in my view his best work was his collaboration with Gil Evans. Miles Ahead and Sketches of Spain are both classics. Blues for Pablo, off Miles Ahead is one of the most beautiful songs of the 20th century. The Manhattan Transfer did a vocal version which is also outstanding.

    For Coltrane, I highly recommend Naima, which is on the second side of Giant Steps.
  18. Oct 16, 2011 #17
    If you listen to modern classical music you will probably have the same problem. Coltrane in particular was almost religious about stepping 'outside' of what anyone else was exploring at the time. Of all the writers of that era he is the most challenging, for me at least. His (chord) changes are not intuitive unless you analyze where he is going with them and then keep that model in mind when you play until the form becomes intuitive( you don't have to think about it and you can just play). The listener has a similar problem but not as difficult... as a good player-like Coltrane walks you through the changes if you let him (- listen more than once.)
    If you even have trouble with Hancock and Davis, jazz may not be for you. Brubeck? feh
  19. Oct 16, 2011 #18


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    I'm also a musician who doesn't like pure jazz. But many good rock/blues bands integrate jazz sounds into their music. I always liked the way Pink Floyd breaks out into modern jazzy sax in this one (around 2:45):

    And this one incorporates jazz and funk really nicely:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  20. Oct 16, 2011 #19
    Being part of a fringe sub-culture is not about being cool. It's about making the most of having been marginalized by the mainstream for one reason or another. At the same time, there are outsiders to sub-cultures who do, in fact, try to mix in and rub elbows with the locals, and that's really all about being cool. It was cool, "hip" and somewhat dangerous,for a well-off white person to go down to the Cotton Club in Harlem, and it remained that way probably till the beatniks made an institution of affecting Black attitudes and mannerisms.

    If you, yourself, are not part of that, that's fine, but you can't deny that, historically, being "cool" was what the white interest in black music was all about.

    It seems to me if someone likes a tune, they won't appreciate a bad performance of it.

    Moreover, jazz, more than any other music, is improvisatory:


    The tune is, therefore, not what the performers are trying to get across, rather they are interested in their in-the-moment, spontaneous, unique spin on that tune.

    If you are selectively listening for the core tune in all this, and merely enjoying it for what it is, that's fine, but you are completely missing what jazz is all about.
  21. Oct 17, 2011 #20
    Good grief! Just give me a bit. I'll listen to all of what you guys have suggested and get back to you.

    @AlephZero: I don't have one particular favorite genre.
    Michael Jackson has been a childhood favorite. I can't help but move to Don't Stop Til' You Get Enough. Classic song.
    Santana always get me groovin'.
    And in order: Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Glass.
    Some of the old RUN DMC.

    Depends on my mood. I can keep going with this list, but hopefully this should give you a taste.
  22. Oct 18, 2011 #21
    I'm glad you mentioned this. It's one of my favorites. Here's a great (imo) performance of it that WiFO215 is sure to like:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  23. Oct 18, 2011 #22
    My father is a big jazz fan, so that's what I spent my childhood listening to, but I have never liked it, and my father used to listen to all types of jazz. I still can't stand it to this day. It's the one type of music I absolutely can not listen to.
  24. Oct 19, 2011 #23
    The other day I found a fun Jazz interpretation of Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name...

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  25. Oct 19, 2011 #24
    How about some Ernest Ranglin? He plays a nice combination of reggae and jazz, amazing music for sunny afternoons. :)

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  26. Oct 19, 2011 #25

    "Not for everyone..."
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