It’s a Tuesday night, in a small smoky bar. Burning licks, walking bass-lines, scats and melodies permeate every corner and crack of Tagore’s in Observatory, Cape Town.  Filled with its regulars and the occasional lower main road stumbler, Tagore’s is one of the few jazz clubs to be enjoyed in Cape Town-“few” being the preliminary word of focus here.

Of course, there is a reason for everything- a reason why more jazz venues don’t fill our city- there is no demand for it. Jazz may be loved by many but to most people, it is a genre that lies on the outskirts of music. Unless you grew up with it, it is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.  We don’t hear it on the radio, in clubs or in most restaurants. So our perceptions of jazz become that of either the slow cheesy saxophone that plagues romantic scenes in your favorite day-time soapy, or the idea that random nonsensical notes are simply thrown together and called a solo.

Yes, jazz may sound different to any other type of music you have ever heard. You can’t always hum along or find the beat and that makes you terrified. When you first heard JOHN COLTRANE it sounded wrong and un-coordinated. When you find yourself in a jazz club (if you even knew they existed) you are surrounded by closed eyes and tapping feet and the occasional “oh yeah” from members of the crowed that you just don’t seem to understand. If this sounds at all familiar, the last thing you should do is to sum jazz up based on your current understanding of it. There might just be something somewhere in it for you.

In most cases music has been, over the years, linked to a lifestyle. In the 60s and 70s popular music supported the hippie lifestyle or hardcore anti-establishment culture. Today there are a number of different lifestyles associated with different genres of music. The hipster, the gangster, the indie-kid, the goth… and so on. (You get the picture) But jazz is something different all together. It couldn’t be more about the music. Jazz musicians don’t scurry on a Tuesday morning to make sure everyone at the gig that night will be wearing their hip “jazzy” attire. Most of them don’t lead conventionally idealistic lifestyles that are trendy amongst the youth. They are not promoted enough in the media to be associated with consumerist products and ways of life. This gives Jazz the space to just be what it is without the pressure of pleasing the mobbing masses. So if you claim to be all about the music then jazz should really be the genre for you. Still not convinced?

Listen, listen and listen more. That really is the key to getting to know about jazz. There is something so magical about forcing ourselves through a process of hearing something so unknown to our own ears- so different to the sounds of the many clone bands that adorn the screens of most of our IPods.  When asked to define jazz, the famous trumpeter LOUIS ARMSTRONG said “Man, if you’ve got to ask you’ll never know.” Jazz can require so much understanding that sometimes only the musicians themselves will truly get it… but the more you listen, the more you’ll understand, the more you’ll learn, the more you’ll love and the more addicted you will become.

What I didn’t know just a few years back, is that jazz has a number of sub-genres which are all so vastly diverse that they are hard to compare at all. I’ll admit jazz is that of an acquired taste. I’m not saying that you’ll like it all (maybe you will) but I’m almost certain 9/10 of you who read this article have something waiting to surprise you… if you just listen.

So where do you start? It is impossible to cover all of the jazz styles out there in this short article. It is something that can be studied ones whole life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start small. Depending on the type of person you are… why not try the following recommendations.

If you love vintage cars, bow ties and head scarves, you think you could swing dance and could see yourself living in a slightly simpler time then big band Jazz should bubble your bath. Listen to the likes of COUNT BASIE, DUKE ELLINGTON AND ELLA FITZGERALD.

If you’re passionate about cultures and music from different parts of the world, you’d love to travel and find yourself drawn to the strange indigenous sounds of instruments like the Didgeridoo. Believe it or not, there are a number of jazz genres for you. Start off with a little Latin Jazz. (With this you can never go wrong)For an introduction listen to BUENA-VISTA SOCIAL CLUB or the KLAUSS BROTHERS.  On top of that the New Wave Jazz style of AVISHAI COHEN should tantalise your taste buds.

If the idea of jazz scares you a little and despite my brilliant convincing you are still a little unsure, look into modern jazz fusion. Try listening to THE BAD PLUS who play jazz renditions of BLACK SABBATH, NIRVANA and BLONDIE. If that’s a little too frantic for your liking BRAD MEHLDAU’S smoother sound should excite you.

If you loved the 90s, old school hip hop and like your pants baggy, acid jazz is a seamless combination of jazz, funk and hip-hop. The great thing about acid jazz is that you have the opportunity to hear it from a band and even a DJ. It has strong elements of electronic music and the use of the loops. THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES and INCOGNITO might just get your love for jazz started.

If you like things energetic and on the go, you like to be spontaneous and in the unknown-there is only one word you should know- Bebop. It’s inventive; it’s fun and even a little crazy ay times. CHARLIE PARKER, THELONIUS MONK and DIZZY GILLESPIE are the artists you want to get your hands on.

So there it is… starting small. You may decide that you hate jazz to its core, but if you’ve listened, listened and listened at least you’ll be making an informed decision. Droning on with the masses unaware of what you’re missing shouldn’t even be an option in any area of your life. You have the opportunity to hear something new. If you are a music lover, that alone should get your talent receptors buzzing and ready for action. As famous jazz singer NINA SIMONE says. “Don’t let me  be misunderstood.”

By Sarah Farrell

 

 

 

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