Another fine road trip is behind us, and Monsieur Stick once again settles in to the bunker. Glenn asked me to say thanks to Follower Brad for the hospitality in Seattle. But Brad done nothin’ for The Stick, as usual.
Despite all the irresistible good vibes of the Pac NW, Pop Survivor returns to the airwaves with a gripe, a beef, and an itch dying to be shredded with a dental instrument.
Have you ever been in a conversation with somebody at a party, or maybe on a first date, and heard him or her say “I love jazz”? Sure you have. Next time you hear that, spin on your heel and hit the highway pronto. And Mister Stick offers this advice sitting in a room with hundreds of great jazz albums just inches away.
Why? Because that statement, “I love jazz”, can mean bad news in two ways. Either the person making this declaration has a definition of America’s greatest art form that is hollow and simplistic and incomprehensibly incomplete, or, perhaps worse, they have their ‘jazz cap’ on. The ‘cap’ is really a helmet, and the owner uses it to head-butt any even-minded person who may have ever championed any form of more popular music. In either case, “I love jazz” is what they say to show off, and is often part of the FaceBook profile of shallow dullards, and creepy, spiteful snobs.
How they say it tells you a lot about which category they fit: If they say it with a wry smile, drag out the word ‘jazz’ or dreamily underscore ‘love’, and if they are catalog-dressed and have a nice haircut (or hair at all) they probably like what has come to be known as ‘smooth jazz’ (sorry, I meant to say ‘Smoooooth jazz… Music for Sperm Whales that sip Chardonnay’). These folks think that this pallid plate of common fruit is the width and breadth of it all; That Dave Koz and Lee Ritenour and other Sunday Brunch Soundtrack-makers are really improving the purity of the planet’s oxygen.
However, if the person is cheaply bespectacled and wearing ill-fitting corduroy, and if they sneer or look past you when they say they love jazz, and sort of spit the word ‘jazz’ at you, then they probably are an anti-populist malinger who socializes mostly with a keyboard, and had a strong emotional connection to Quantum Leap.
What’s really fascinating is that these two tribes, who speak the same phrase, have next-to-nothing in common musically. Both groups use what they define as jazz to define themselves, yet neither has an open mind. One explores only vertically, while the other doesn’t explore at all.
‘Smoothies’, whose favorite radio station is likely known as ‘The Wave’, feel sophisticated for their choice of elevator music over anything with any kind of soul. ‘Jazzbos’, of course, are bigger fans, and dig deeper into the music, but they build a moat around themselves. The more time they spend memorizing Art Tatum’s discography, the more they alienate people who don’t know who Art Tatum was – and they seem to enjoy it.
Both groups feel superior to others, but in different ways. The first group like themselves way too much, and hope you will feel the same. Smoothies are far too easily satisfied. They take pride in having settled down with the most comfortable, easily digested kind of music around. It goes well with their wardrobe, which came first. Smooth jazz is like flavorless post-surgery Jell-O: No one would choose to eat it, yet it won’t make you barf, and it’s forgotten seconds after ingestion. Music is not fuel to smooth jazz fans; it’s not even aspirin. It’s a Mojito in a really nice glass. It’s just a rationalization for being 100% white bread.
Jazzbos, of course, take the opposite side of the bi-polar divide – They hate themselves, and they’re not real wild about you, either. They don’t wish to be liked, just admired for their intellectual stoicism. Life is a cold bitch to them, and they blame their woes on rock and roll and country and western and anything else that makes others happy. Then they despise others for being happy in the first place. We owe them something, and they want us to understand that.
Granted, the tastes of serious jazz freaks are way, way more rewarding than those who groove to the vapid lightweight drizzle of Kenny G. Lite Jazz from Miller is, obviously, the worst music on the planet, if for no other reason than it is made by the laziest of blow-dried, freeze-dried, just plain DRIED musicians. To be fair, this kind of jazz, if you accept it as such, is sometimes the only way instrumental writers and musicians can actually eat. No doubt that Larry Carlton drives a nicer car than Roy Hargrove. But just because many succumb to this cultural injustice is not reason enough for the crime family to exist. The only possible rationale for God allowing smooth jazz to thrive is that Chuck Mangione can be a gateway drug. For some of us, the most accessible, easily palatable jazz, the kind that seeped onto AM radio in the 1970s, had something that set a hook in our mouths. Of course, it was a tiny hook and we weren’t satisfied for long. So, rather than settling for just ‘feeling so good’, or pulling out the hook, we went looking for the hard stuff, on the theory that our parents might hate Pharoah Sanders as much as they hated Deep Purple or The Ramones (turns out, they hated it even more).
And once you are into heroin, you never crave pot again.
Those junkies who use hard jazz as a badge of honor surely have great tunes at home, and they certainly won’t deny that jazz is the center of the musical universe of the last 100 years. But they will resist the idea that there is any kind of universe beyond the center. To jazz jerks, the farther you get from Louis Armstrong, the stupider and more painful the world becomes. And, let’s face it, the land of serious jazz has its con men, too. There are musicians who can’t offer anything more than atonal squonks, but will call it ‘free jazz’, knowing that many serious jazz-heads will pay homage rather than admit confusion.
Do yourself a favor. Deny both the Jazzbos and the Smoothies access to your personal space. Jazz, while smelling funny, as Zappa put it, is such a rich world that it needn’t be hyped or pigeonholed at all. And if you don’t allow it to connect to every other worthy moment of music, your plate isn’t full. Jazz was made to mingle, to set alight every other kind of peoples’ music we have. You can get from Sidney Bechet to Rob Zombie in less than 10 moves, because Chuck Berry dug Charlie Christian. Therefore, we ALL love jazz, because it gave birth to everything after it.
If jazz is the coolest music, as those at both ends of its tether claim, then how about just being cool about it? Surely, it must be better to let your musical taste define you, than to use a brand of music to forcibly define yourself to others.
So, never say you love jazz. Instead, just listen to it, play it, buy it, read about it, and more than anything, be sure to mix it with everything else. You’ll be more interesting without even trying, and one hell of a lot easier to put up with.
Last album: Mozart, Sym. 32, 35 and 38, Berlin Philharmonic, Karl Bohm