Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jazz and Jackets

I complained a few days ago about the work involved in being a band parent. It also has its rewards. For Band class, my son is required to go to two concerts a year and write reports and the U2 concerts we drag him to don’t count. A rival local high school hosts a Maynard Ferguson concert each year, so we bought tickets and went. The show warmed up with the really superb high school jazz ensemble and then some solo work by members of Maynard’s band, the Big Bop Nouveau Band.

After a break, Maynard himself joined the band for several very high energy jazz numbers. MF’s contribution seemed to be that after every member of his young talented band took a solo, he would bleat about 10 notes of his trademark ultra high notes to end the number. Not bad for a guy pushing eighty.

The show ended with all hands on stage including the high school group doing Maynard’s rendition of "Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky)" to send everybody home humming.

Now here is where my peeve/rant begins. The definition of Jazz has been stretched beyond all traditional meanings of the form. While Maynard has a right to record pop hits in the jazz idiom, he is doing a disservice to his young audience by blurring the line so fuzzily.

The local "Oldies" station recently switched formats from mostly late fifties and early sixties pop to “Smooth Jazz”. This station’s definition of jazz includes such legends of the form as Marvin Gaye and Hall & Oates. I saw Daryl Hall and John Oates (as they prefer to be called to avoid the “Haulin’ Ass” pun) at the peak of their pop cheesiness in 1984 and I guarantee you no one in the Charlotte Arena thought they were at a jazz recital.

I like jazz but don’t have a lot of it because it all sounds pretty much the same to my tin ear. I don't know why jazz artists insist on giving their instrumentals titles since that is no help in telling them apart. I own two jazz albums, Pat Methany’s Still Life (Talking) because I love the Publix jingle "Last Train Home" on it and The Best of Yellowjackets. I have the Yellowjackets album because I kept getting asked in music web forums if I was a fan. I am now, but I was led to them by my nom de web yellojkt, not the other way around.

And I promise that this is the last red herring concerning the origin of yellojkt. The next time I discuss it, I will reveal once and for all the very anti-climactic reason for this obscure handle. Hint: I need a barrel of rum and sugar three thousand pounds next week.

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Unknown said...

I used to play the trumpet and I hated it. Luckily after I got my braces off I "lost my lip" and there was really no playing anymore. Boy was that a godsend, at least in my opinion. Allowed me to focus on my piano and guitar.

I've never been a big jazz fan because, like you said, it all sounds alike to me. And it makes me nervous with all the sudden changes and the dissonance.

Anonymous said...

It probably is a generational thing, but Maynard Ferguson's music was huge 20-30 years ago exactly among young musicians in HS-college-DCI marching bands. Every band had an arrangement of Chameleon, Gospel John, and those uneven reformulated pop themes. And every band had a "squealer," some Maynard-wannabe trumpet player who would practice climbing into the stratosphere. Ferguson could have stayed in the 1950s (e.g., the "Message from Newport" album) but he moved on and kept a band together. His albums introduced countless young musicians to ensemble arrangements and who knows how many of them then investigated other artists. Some of the stuff is lame, but give the man some credit!

[Conquistador from Achenblog]

Bonvallet said...

I never cared for jazz until I went to a Jazz concert. Now I can at least put up with it.

trusty getto said...

It's funny, but I have never "gotten" jazz, and I used to play in a Jazz Band myself. It's the only type of music that I have never understood and that has never appealed to me.

Maybe if I keep trying, though, I'll get it some day.

Mooselet said...

I've always thought of jazz as a lot of brass instruments and a good drum beat, singing optional. Hall and Oats, Marvin Gaye strike me more as "soul" music, or perhaps even blues. Not jazz.

Like many others, I don't care for jazz. My stepfather listens (or used to) every weekend to a jazz show on the radio, and it all blended for me. Not my cup of tea.

Your Mother said...

When the rum is delivered, call me. Sadly, I can only listen to a limited amount of Jazz. Then I'm lost. I need to study this...

Anonymous said...

My brother and sister both "took band" in school and I took piano lessons and either sang in or accompanied the choir. I also played accompaniment to various instrumentalists at band contests through the years.

Sometime in the early 70's, our whole family went to see Al Hirt in concert, because at that time my brother played the trumpet (he later switched to French horn). I don't even know what kind of music Hirt was playing, but he was one heck of a trumpet player. It was very inspirational, especially to my brother. Not long after, he and two friends went to a band contest with the song "Buglers' Holiday" and I accompanied them, which meant that I listened to it a couple hundred times and it became seared into my brain. I still love that piece. It's really great. Also, when I listen to any kind of music, my ear picks out the brass section, and I appreciate it in a way I'm sure I wouldn't without the experiences of my youth.

I hope your son was inspired by Ferguson. Being able to make your own music is a gift that is more and more rare these days.

Anonymous said...

Yeh, that Smooth Jazz station...boy, I don't know. Hall & Oates (which I always thought of as something they do down on the farm), and I hear them play Motown now and then as well. The hell?

When it comes to jazz, I like the much older stuff: Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington. Throw in a little bit of vocals from Ella Fitzgerald and I'm happy.

Oh, and I totally want a prize for my guess a couple of weeks back.