For some, jazz music is merely a cacophony of nonsensical noise. To others, it is heaven by way of music. Not that I have ever felt the former, but the more I listen to jazz and make it my own, the closer I get to aligning myself with the latter. Jazz is ambiguous and spontaneous. Jazz can be incredibly happy, or it can be devastatingly depressing. It has the ability to take so many different forms, and sometimes many forms in a single song. It doesn’t necessarily follow the usual structures or progressions. Sometimes it doesn’t follow any progressions. It doesn’t play by the rules in that sense. I especially love when jazz is fused into other genres of music, but for this list, I am going to stick with some of my favorites of the basics. One college spring break on a long, late night drive, Wes and I began a tradition of late night jazz sessions on road trips. As of recent, I’ve found myself doing it more and more often myself. Last Monday, I had a nice three-hour stretch of road in which I let some of my favorite jazz artists drive their airy, spastic, beautiful notes straight into my skull and enrich my soul. Here are some highlights from that jazz session.
“So What” by Miles Davis
Generally if I were to pick a single Miles Davis track it would more than likely come from the album Bitches Brew. However, his earlier work is where I gravitated to on Monday. It was more fitting for the mood. The name “So What” derives from Bill Evans’ infamous “so what chord”, but I like to think it stems from the attitude of the song. It floats along calm and cool, as if not caring about anyone, even the listener. If you don’t like it, so what? From the album Kind of Blue, one of the most notable jazz albums in history (which features not only Bill and Miles but also John Coltrane) this modal jazz tune is a standard of the genre.
“In A Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
“The Duke” is non-arguably one of the most historic and influential humans in the history of modern music. This track was originally composed and recorded in 1935 and was epically re-recorded with Coltrane in 1953. It’s a slow-trolling tune that is mischievously quirky. The drums backing the track in this recording in particular are frantic and stunning, and they juxtapose the sax and piano in an incredible way. Not to mention the rest of the instrumentation is just glorious. A perfect tune.
“Doodlin’” by Dizzie Gillespie
Beep boppity jazz can be a lot of fun, especially if your listening to the fattest cheeks that ever blew a horn. Those cheeks belonged to Dizzy if you didn’t catch that, and to be honest they seemingly weren’t even that fat, they just blew up like a balloon when he would blow into that horn. Horace Silver originally wrote this song, and I thought it was recorded by Dizzy for the album Birks Works, but to be honest, I can’t find evidence supporting that. Any help here would be much appreciated. The good news is whatever Dizzy version you listen too, you’re in for a good time. To be or not to bop!
“Hat And Beard” by Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy’s life was tragically cut short at 36, but thankfully he recorded his experimental jazz album, “Out to Lunch” just before he passed. This album was recorded almost 6 years before Bitches Brew and I believe you can hear some precursors to Bitches on Lunch. There are some points on “Hat and Beard”, the opening track of the album, in which it sounds like Eric is literally murdering his bass clarinet like Norman Bates would a shower-curtain victim. Then he just pulls right out of it and acts as if nothing just happened. The timing signatures are so bizarre at some points it sounds like people just hitting instruments, yet it still finds away to tie itself together. The first time I heard this song I was speechless. My reaction still never changes ever time I hear it, and it continually almost brings me to tears. A little bonus side note: Check the player credits for an eighteen year old drummer named Anthony Williams. Aka Tony Williams. #holyshit
“II B.S.” by Charles Mingus
This is one of my most beloved tracks of all time. The opening baseline makes me shutter like a virgin touched for the very first time every single time I hear it. Charles Mingus is an incredible pioneer of avant-garde jazz and everything he did is gold in my book. He breathed more life and soul into jazz than almost anyone. His passion for the genre would sometimes turn to anger which lead to a notoriously terrible temper. No matter, he can still compose with the best of them. This track hard-bops along in a very fun way with more catchiness than the usual jazz tune. The end turns into an insane cacophony of sounds (note sounds, not noise) which leads to a dramatically claustrophobic meltdown which releases at the very last second like a glorious orgasm. Like I said, one of my most beloved tracks of all time.
“Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” by Miles Davis
Ok, so I cheated. I just simply could not leave off a track from one of my favorite albums of all time. In the mid-sixties Miles went crazy. He fell in love with popular music and rock and roll, spun out on drugs, got super weird, and crafted some of the greatest music ever. Some people disagree with his rock-infused-jazz method, preferring his more melodic jazz over the avant-garde whackness that became his latter work. With two keyboards, two bass guitars, and two sets of drums tracking this song (as well as most of the album) it is one of the more unique sounds of ever. This epically long track (like most on BB) begins slow and creepy, and just builds and builds. Everything about the sound of the tracks on this album is incredibly distinct; from the guitar tones, to the sound of the keyboard, to uniqueness of the multiple sets of instruments that I already mentioned. It’s weird, it’s ambiguous, it’s fun, it’s scary … it’s jazz!
Hopefully you enjoyed this write-up as much as I enjoyed my jazz session Monday night. That is, if you powered through the entire write-up. If you did, thanks for listening!