Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What is Jazz?

Simply answered, jazz means different things to different people. To Thelonius Monk, jazz is a spontaneous musical conversation among the musicians performing it.  To the father of modern jazz, Charlie Parker, it is a blend of all different styles of music resulting in an intellectual endeavor and not just a form of popular entertainment.

For me, jazz is a complex language, one that communicates passion and coolness, emotion and common sense, intellect and simplicity and one you need to study to understand.  To me jazz is a musical language waiting to be recorded.
My early influences came from a variety of sources.  I listened to classical music, blues, country, soul, and R&B, but I was passionate about jazz greats like Thelonuis Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday just to name a few.  I learned how to play the piano at 18 and
played in my first band at age 19. I played with and recorded an album with an inspiring funk band named The Poison Band and Show from Richmond, VA in the mid 1970's.  I crossed over from funk to jazz shortly after that and played in my first jazz band, the Southern Energy Ensemble (S.E.E.) in 1976.  After many years of playing jazz songs on the piano I can credit recent influences to Bill McGee, a trumpeter from Richmond, VA with the soulful but mournful sound of Miles Davis. In Taipei, Taiwan, I was impressed by Yu Ying Hsu, an aspiring Jazz pianist with the rhythmical sound of McCoy Tyner who rekindled my interest in jazz training.

I play jazz because through it I can share my feelings and thoughts with friends and strangers without uttering a word.  Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." For a jazz musician, this means using all of their training and studies to capture the audience and leave them with a finger popping, toe tapping and head-bopping unforgettable experience.

Have you ever heard a jazz song that immediately captivated your soul? If not, listen to these tunes, It Don't Mean a Thing by Duke Ellington, Fine and Mellow by Billie Holiday, Every Time We Say Goodbye by Ray Charles and Betty Carter and, I'm Just a Lucky So and So by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  After listening you should understand why jazz artists say "The true message of jazz goes beyond intellect but directly to the heart and soul itself".

For me jazz is an inspirational, recognizable sound that calms the beast in all of us.

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