True stories from the world of jazz, 2012.
One. I am at a place where jazz was about to be played, and a very good-natured man perhaps twenty years younger than myself, turns to me in conversation and asks, “Do they [the band] play only covers or do they play original material?”
He says it in such a sweetly inquisitive way — clearly a real question coming from someone (I assume) deeply versed in the conventions of popular music, that I explain that the split between COVERS (i.e., your band imitates Billy Joel performing X or Bob Dylan performing Y) and ORIGINAL MATERIAL (you write the music and lyrics yourself: the subject being your last breakup, the state of the world, or your childhood) does not exist in the same fashion in jazz.
I think he understands, and I do my best to be gently enthusiastic, neither didactic or condescending. And when he leaves the room, about an hour later, he has had a very good time. The music has won him over; he is now convinced that those categories — any categories, in fact — are not as fulfilling as the sound and energy he has been part of.
Two. I am at a place where jazz is being played, and a woman perhaps twenty years older than myself turns to her companion after four songs have been announced by the leader and performed by the band — one of the songs was SWEET SUE, so you know we are not deep in musical esoterica.
In a middle-register wail of puzzlement and frustration, she says, “I don’t know ONE SONG!” (I think in this context that “know” stands for “recognize.”) Her companion, soothingly, in the voice one uses to a fretful child, says, “That’s because they’re all jazz tunes.”
Three. David Weiner sends along this Facebook link to a blogpost and documentary about the peerless 78 RPM record collector Joe Bussard, who has some fifteen thousand of the shiny flat artifacts.
But Bussard says plainly that the last jazz record was made in 1932 (by Clarence Williams, by the way), and that anything else was a mere sham. See for yourself here.
I am not going to mock these three people, although I am at a great distance from their perceptions.
But I hold out much more hope for the young man of One, who didn’t know but was willing to learn and enjoyed the music.
And the older woman of Two, perplexed by it all, stayed for the whole performance.
Mr. Bussard, to most people, is an authority on the music, on recordings. His collection, lovingly obtained, catalogued, and preserved, is a treasure-house of sacred sounds. But I wonder if his mind is much more closed to possibility than the first two people I have described — whose misconceptions were innocent and could be expanded through gentle discussion.
At least One and Two were seen out in the real world, listening to actual musicians, rather than seated at their shelves, admiring row upon row of neatly vertical Brunswicks and Vocalions.
The moral? Must there be one? I don’t think so.
May your happiness increase.