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I say I don’t like the genre called jazz….and yet,…..and still…..

The Knowledge JazzThese sorts of statements are fatal as of course I have jazz music in my collection (mainly Jan Garbarek) and there are pieces of music which are definitely jazz embracing which I adore (Rhapsody In Blue), not to mention singers and musicians who bring their jazz roots into other areas (Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis) and demonstrate – as jazz aficionados delight in reminding me – their extreme musicality and sophistication. AND I have been known to go to jazz concerts!

So it would be true, in my case, to say that I could appreciate a helpful and kindly guide to identify what it is that I do like in jazz music, and open this out for me, offering other little staging posts along the way, and possibly introducing me to unexplored new directions, highways and byways.

Now I do believe John Fordham may be that helpful and kindly guide. Fordham writes beautifully, and is erudite, engaging and clear about his passion for Jazz. Currently jazz critic for The Guardian, he rather got me in the introduction, explaining his own early revelation of being grabbed by jazz…

I can hear a surging rhythm, powered by the hiss of a drumbeat flickering on a cymbal and the heartbeat of a deep and steady bassline, that made me want to dance for the first time in my life. I can hear a trumpet being played as if it were a seductively cajoling tone. I can hear a piano played with a strange, jarring clang, as if the notes of the chords are being clashed too close together. And I hear the entwining melodies of several musicians merging into one voice, even though there are ragged edges to the music that suggest they just thought it up as they went along. I think I fell in love with jazz because it sounded just like life, as it’s lived and improvised from moment to moment: imperfect declarations of wonderment or love, fevers of anguish or anger, cool confidence in a sauntering walk, despondency in the purple tones of a slow blues

Jan Garbarek

Jan Garbarek

Okay, okay, I have rolled over and surrendered – it’s as if Fordham has opened a door.Especially when he reminds me that what I often DON’T like in some of the `live jazz’ concerts I’ve been to – the improvisation (it often seems, to my untutored ear to be indulgent and meandering) exists within the genre which always spoke to me, from childhood – classical music. Those consummate musical geniuses, Bach and Mozart, to name but two, were not only improvisers themselves – but left space for live musicians, playing their works, to `deviate’ and introduce their own cadenzas! So, perhaps, when I say `I don’t like jazz and the boring improvisations, I should really say that the particular musician, on a particular night, isn’t really saying anything which connects to my ears, heart, mind and guts.

Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet

Yet here I am, now listening to Sidney Bechet, riffing away and improvising over a New Orleans jazz version of Summertime. And, hey I have suddenly discovered that I seem to like New Orleans jazz and am delighted by Bechet. And how did I get to Bechet…….why Fordham reminded me how that cool, spacious and Garbarek melancholy Norwegian sax (it’s the sax, the gorgeous, dirty, blue, longing filled sax) takes American free-form jazz and links it with his own traditions. Or, to quote Louis Armstrong ‘Jazz is what you are’ And Garbarek was inspired by Coltrane, so another journey beckons. (Bechet, as I discovered, was also a master of the clarinet)

Fordham’s slim, jammed full of goodies book is excellently structured. He gives the reader a breathlessly fast whistle stop jazz history tour, from origins to now, and then backtracks by breaking down each genre/movement in jazz, introducing us chronologically to the visionary innovators. He looks ahead to jazz’s future journey, provides a glossary to those confusing terms, and even a listening guide, which thanks to YouTube, streaming and all means that it gets possible, in the comfort of home to dip and pick and shimmy and mix hearing a track here and a track there – hence the Bechet.

This is a brilliant book!

John Fordham

John Fordham

I do have one serious (makes frowning face) criticism of this book, but it can’t prevent recommendation. Some daftie (all style over content) has decided it would be no doubt a cool and groovy idea to have a few pages which are coloured pale grey, rather than white…and to text them with white, rather than black, type. I almost flung the book, hard across the room. The only way to render this readable was to raise the book to eyelevel and hold it horizontal to my eyeline rather than the normal vertical reading of a text. Klutz! Idiot! Did they think this was `jazzy?!!. (Curiously this is LESS problematic on Kindle’s ‘Look Inside’ version. Occasional typos also litter the text – Jan Gararabek at one point! Fortunately there are not TOO many of those wretched white on pale grey pages, but each is an aberration to the idea that form and function should together be a thing of beauty.

‘The Knowledge’ is a series of slim, short books on various topics written by specific experts in their fields, eg ‘Red Wine’ I would like to offer myself as an author of a forthcoming book which they could publish, called, simply, The Knowledge: Liqueur Filled Dark Chocolates. I do hope the commissioning editor of the series is reading this, so that we can discuss how much and precisely which chocolates I am going to suggest they send me for my research………….

I received this for review from Amazon Vine, UK. Any chocolates consumed in the writing of this review were my own

The Knowledge: Jazz Amazon UK
The Knowledge: Jazz Amazon USA

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