I was born in the mid 1950’s but did not discover jazz music until 1982 when compact discs were relatively new. I grew up with the Motown sound and didn’t realize any other kind of music existed that could make my soul dance. By accident, I tuned into a jazz radio station and heard some music that blew me away. It was from “real” jazz artists like Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and others. Some may call it the Big Band sound but I dug it and wanted more of it. I started to visit local record stores and buy up as much of this “new to me” music as possible. I soon amassed a huge collection of jazz ranging from the 1940’s all the way up to the present. I began to study and research individual artists I liked and learn about the history of jazz that I had not been exposed to before. I soon considered my self a jazz master or a jazz connoisseur of sorts. I began to associate improvisation with real jazz as I learned a lot of this jazz was created on the spot by some of these musicians like Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others who knew instinctively how to play and what to play. The birth of jazz has a long history and it continues to this day, although the definitions of jazz are now widely varied.
When you ask a lot of today’s hip young people if they like jazz they immediately say yes and begin to name their favorite jazz artists. One young 24 year old told me they loved Boney James, Rick Braun, Michael Franks, Kenny G, et al. I asked him what about the real jazz masters like Parker, Ellington and Davis and he just looked at me. Like him, my jazz education may have started late but I went back and researched jazz so I could understand what it was. He thought jazz began with these so-called new jazz artists that were on the smooth jazz radio stations. I am not going to argue about what is real jazz and what is not because that would not be fair to the casual listener. Yes, there are jazz purists out there who will fight you about what jazz is and what it isn’t. I won’t because I know what I like and so does any other listener. But I urge jazz lovers to go back and listen to some of the earlier smooth jazz masters from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s to fully appreciate jazz’s impact. A lot of this music was on vinyl albums and never made it to compact disc but it can still be found and copied onto MP3 players.
There is a wealth of jazz music out here from traditional jazz to avant-garde to smooth jazz to whatever. And don’t forget all the great ladies of jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington and others. So what is jazz? I’m not exactly sure but I really enjoy listening to music that makes my soul get up and dance or float away on the clouds when I want to relax and just chill.