Harry Connick, Jr.

BIUL_HarryConnickJrI have some terrible news. There are people in the world who don’t like modern jazz.

Wait… you’re one of them? But then, you’d have to ignore this:

You’d have to be cuckoo not to love that. It’s even got electric guitar, courtesy of John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra). There’s a holy trinity of M’s in modern jazz; Miles, Mingus and Monk. Charles Mingus not only created the following masterpiece, he developed a method to teach a housecat to use a toilet.

I think that’s a fine introduction into the worlds of those two masters. Both Miles and Mingus boast a varied and sensitive discography over decades of time and musical trends. As for Thelonious Monk, I like to put this performance on repeat:

Note that when he isn’t tickling the ivories, Monk is on his feet, spinning counter-clockwise, as does the Earth. That is a wholly exquisite performance. It’s like watching planets align.

That’s what I think of, when I think of “modern jazz”. And that’s merely the tip of the iceberg. Icebergs are cool, like jazz! You dig? (Sorry. I’ll stop.)

There are still jazz bands today that carry the torch. (Not “torch songs”, that’s another genre.) Brian Blade is a jazz drummer with a group that turns the cartilage in my knees to jelly.

If you turned against jazz because you heard something that gave you a headache, you were probably prematurely exposed to free jazz, the sonic domain of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Sun Ra. I’m a huge admirer of Coleman’s, and even I can admit that his music requires a mental warm-up. Of course, you may just dislike it after all, and there’s no shame in that. Does everyone like James Joyce?

I do, and on a different note, I love the work of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and sax player Stanley Turrentine. Together with jazz guitar master George Benson, they performed perhaps the most quintessential jazz piece in history; “Red Clay”.

That’s Herbie Hancock on keyboards. Herbie was a jazz prodigy who performed with Miles Davis as a lad. Many people associate him with his 1983 super-hit “Rockit”, and to be fair, that song did introduce the world to turntablism. But Herbie Hancock is without a doubt one of the most important jazz composers of the 20th century. I could bog down this page with Herbie videos all day to prove to you that he is utterly without peer, but he made it easy for me in one song.

Turn up and play the following:

A party spontaneously started in your house just now, am I right?

If not, play the song again. Louder.

Harry Connick Junior leaned towards Bourbon Street jazz and big band style, so let me recommend two names there: Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. I think a love of Satchmo is genetically hardwired into Americans, and Basie has a brief cameo in the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, conducting the sublime “April In Paris”.

Another timelost secret to properly appreciating jazz is the wooden-box speaker. Radio Shack is out of business, so I can’t teach you how to build a set of speakers anymore. When a woofer and tweeter are lovingly nestled in a hand-crafted wooden casket, the sound has warmth that computer speakers can’t emulate. The inside of the box creates a miniature house for the vibrations to diffuse. The plastic surfaces of modern computer speakers are harsh and unforgiving. They “pitch” the sound like the horn on an ancient gramophone. This is why nobody puts their ear up to the speaker like they used to.

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Another 20th century jazz composer of titanic importance is Frank Zappa, though he’d surely argue otherwise were he alive.

“Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.”

Zappa’s extensive catalog can be as daunting as jazz itself. The most common criticism I hear about the man is that he was an asshole. You know who nobody calls an asshole? The musicians who have fun and party all the time, who say “don’t be so serious, man,” who turn up years later on VH1, talking about what a life they pissed away, thanks to their one big hit. Everyone was doing coke, man! It was the music biz!

See that haggard-looking dude, trying to corral the semi-pro cokeheads and drunks he’s paid handsomely to perform the music he’s painstakingly written and notated?

Everyone calls him an asshole.

Zappa released four quality albums a year during a time when cocaine came in suitcases. Like Steely Dan, he lost one session cat after another to the White Pony. Also like the Dan, he made the 1970s worth remembering with diamonds like these.

Again, not to be crude, but that is just the tip.

If you come away from this page dismissing jazz, try reading it again. There’s always the possibility that you “don’t get it”; I don’t get the Twilight novels, but there they are on the shelf anyway. I doubt I’m missing anything, however, while if you hate jazz, you definitely are.

And there’s nothing I can say about Independence Day that comedians Patrice O’Neal and Jim Norton didn’t say better:

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