I am not entirely clear of when I first got into jazz. And yes, this will be one of those retrospective essays where the writer always knows where they are heading, but pretends to discover gems along the way, walking blindly towards an obvious outcome. Yes, indeed.
In all honesty, it wasn’t until writing this down that I remembered the first story about myself and jazz. I was back at school, during assembly, and a friend of mine played a song on piano entitled something titular like Jazz for Teens or Jazz Hearts Start Young– something stupid. I remember thinking it sounded awful.
And that was my earliest memory of live jazz. Not a great one, but it sparked a series of moments that formed my early understanding of the genre, as follows:
1. Lisa Simpson of The Simpsons
Lisa is at a venue called the Jazz Hole. She is in the crowd watching an electrical violinist on stage.
Guy: [Unimpressed] Hmph, sounds like she’s hitting a baby with a cat.
Lisa: You have to listen to the notes she’s NOT playing.
Guy: [Still unimpressed] Pssh, I can do that at home.
When I was younger, and I refer to my early adulthood too, I thought jazz was a wanky form of music. I thought, based on the above quotation, that I would never be able to understand jazz because I couldn’t listen to the notes that weren’t being played. I couldn’t understand an art form like that. My reaction was similar to “Guy” above.
2. Guns N’ Roses and You’re Crazy
I also had a warped understanding of what jazz actually was. There featured on ‘G N’ R Lies’ by Guns N’ Roses an alternative version of the punky You’re Crazy (originally released on 1988’s ‘Appetite for Destruction’). I always referred to it as the ‘jazzy’ version. Why would I do that? Does Axl blow a horn? Does Slash drop a John McLaughlin-style solo? No and no.
I thought it was jazzy because it was slow. I didn’t know about bebop or hard bop. I thought jazz was slow- that was my limited understanding of it.
So, jazz music was made up of notes you didn’t hear, and that meant people didn’t understand or appreciate it. In my mind, since no one liked the slower version of You’re Crazy, then it must have elements people didn’t appreciate or understand, which kind of made it jazzy. I thought jazz was for intelligent people who could hear things normal people couldn’t. I thought You’re Crazy fit that incorrect definition. In my head, I was smarter for liking that song.
3. Some crappy compilation
A dear friend lent me a jazz compilation when I was 18. It was called ‘Jazz in the Summertime’ or something equally painful. It was soft, but it was the first time I had heard Take Five, and even though it’s not my favourite jazz track of all time, it definitely left its mark.
I never listened to the whole CD (‘Really slow, safe jazz for old people to listen to on a Sunday afternoon’ is not a bad name for it), but it inspired me to seek out Melbourne jazz haunts. It was around this time that I went to the Night Cat in Brunswick for the first time (my 19th birthday) and other jazz bars like Manchester Lane where I was introduced to a wider variety of jazz. I still didn’t understand it much, but I liked it. I liked the feel of it. I liked to dance to it. I also liked being 19 or 20, sipping martinis, smoking cigars and listening to jazz in dark, smoky venues. I liked that a lot.
Sebastien de Robillard
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of ‘The Story of Me and Juzz (I mean Jazz)’.