In the 1960s, you could turn on the television and see Duke Ellington on the Ed Sullivan Show. Or Miles Davis on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
I was a kid. I was watching. I was hooked by jazz, and soon I was in the clubs, nurturing what would become a lifelong obsession.
Jazz was in the mainstream cultural rotation back then. You could walk into a bar and find jazz tunes on the jukebox – trumpeter Lee Morgan playing “The Sidewinder,” slinky and danceable. The biggest rock bands — the Grateful Dead, the Doors – worshiped saxophonist John Coltrane and, into the early ’70s, major rock radio stations played 20-minute tracks by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane’s ecstatic disciple, and Davis, who had gone electric. I remember those radio days; they were one of my entryways into the music.
But today I worry about this music, which has enriched my life. Jazz is vibrant and evolving, but it’s largely unnoticed by
mainstream culture, except in watered down form — and even then only occasionally, in a movie like “La La Land.”
Newcomers have few of the entry points I had.
Fortunately, if you want to learn about jazz, there are new, digital paths to the music. Streaming music sites, internet radio stations, blogs and more can help you get your feet wet, and then take you deep into the tradition. Here are some of my recommendations.
In the old days, you’d go to a record store and flip through the jazz racks, waiting for something to catch your eye. With streaming music services, the discovery process has obviously changed. One is confronted with tens of thousands of recordings, stretching from jazz’s distant beginnings to the latest hip-hop-inflected disc by keyboardist Robert Glasper.
Spotify and Apple Music have similar ways of bringing jazz to your ears. As with pop or rock, they allow you to search for jazz artists, albums or specific tunes. When you click on “Charlie Parker,” each service will highlight music from related artists. And each offers radio stations or automatically generated playlists that can lead you to new music and acts.
It can be cumbersome — ever try streaming YouTube in your car? On the other hand, YouTube is the place to find essential out-of-print or rare recordings that can’t found on Spotify or Apple Music. And there’s no more enjoyable way to explore jazz: This video leads to that, and that to the other, and pretty soon you’re into the most unexpected nooks and crannies of the music.
A few suggestions: Search on the late Ralph J. Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” TV show from the early 1960s and watch performances by Earl Hines, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae and more. Then search on “Freddie Hubbard at Village Vanguard” and watch a 50-minute set by the trumpeter, leading a sterling quartet at the Manhattan club in 1985. Or search on “John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy” and watch the saxophonists play “Impressions” with mystifying energy on German television, again in the early ‘60s.
Live from New York:
Small’s Jazz Club in Greenwich Village streams all its nightly performances live. Just sign up and register. It’s free, so you can devote your evenings to watching performances by some of New York’s best musicians — many of them young — in this basement club, which has been a jazz incubator for more than 20 years. The camera angle is a little weird, but that only adds to the charm. (Shows typically start at 7:30 p.m., East Coast time, and continue until around 4 a.m., so West Coast viewing isn’t a problem.)
Search the web for “Gilles Peterson” and explore the British curator’s radio shows and website; he’s famous for connecting the dots between musical genres, including jazz.
Then take a look at Soundcloud and Bandcamp where many new artists post their music. Both services are free and have apps, but they function differently. Like an iTunes for indie artists, Bandcamp is ideal for delving into an artist’s full discography. You can stream or download music — and when you buy a track or an album, the artist receives a higher share of the proceeds than on other services.
Soundcloud lets you stream, but not download. Generally oriented toward even younger artists than Bandcamp, it has a bit more of a social network vibe. Rather than releasing full albums on the site, musicians tend to feature a few tracks, hoping one will break out and find a wide audience. It happens.
Follow a few musicians. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton (@paynic), pianist Matt Mitchell (@mattmitchellus) and saxophonists Charles Lloyd (@charleslloydsax) and Chico Freeman (@chicofreeman) are all known to post performance videos and to preview their new music.
Writer Hank Shteamer (@DarkForcesSwing) and pianist/writer Ethan Iverson (@ethan_iverson) will take you down all kinds of rabbit holes. “Do The M@th,” Iverson’s blog, makes for some of the most essential reading in jazz. His wide-ranging interviews with other musicians are an education.
Hosted by the great bassist Christian McBride, NPR’s “Jazz Night in America” presents hour-long episodes on artists and trends.
“On the Corner,” a blog from SFJAZZ, features essays and curated playlists, including a recent one from pianist Vijay Iyer: “Resistance as Music,” tracing the lineage of protest music in jazz. Via its website, SFJAZZ also streams video of its family matinee shows from its San Francisco concert hall.
Mosaic Records has its own online Jazz Gazette that’s regularly updated with terrific archival interviews and videos.
KNKX radio in Tacoma, Washington, features a remarkable series of videos of in-studio jazz concerts, many by leading artists: McBride, Abdullah Ibrahim, Catherine Russell, Fred Hersch, Hugh Masekela, Terence Blanchard.
Even in the digital era, radio deejays still carry the torch for jazz, and you can hear most of them online, spinning discs. Some stations have their own apps, including WBGO and KCSM, the Bay Area’s jazz station. The TuneIn online radio service makes it easy to find jazz programs worldwide, letting you search by genre and location.
Finally, don’t miss WKCR-FM, the New York college station that has been at the forefront of jazz programming for decades. It features daily shows devoted to Charlie Parker and is known for special marathon broadcasts dedicated to Louis Armstrong, Albert Ayler, Coltrane and many others. There’s a steady stream of interviews and live performances from its studio, a good many of them now archived online. There’s nothing like it.
After all this digital preparation, go hear the music where it thrives and grows — in clubs and concert halls.
Fortunately, the Bay Area has a lot of live jazz. The San Jose Jazz Winter Fest runs through March 3 at a number of venues, including Cafe Stritch in downtown San Jose (https://sanjosejazz.org/winter-fest). The San Jose Jazz Summer Fest is coming up, August 11-13, with dozens of acts on multiple stages.
A world-class organization, SFJAZZ stages hundreds of concerts each year (https://www.sfjazz.org). There arguably is no finer jazz festival than the Monterey Jazz Festival, which returns this fall with its 60th edition, Sept. 15-17 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds (http://www.montereyjazzfestival.org). And plenty of knowledgeable people will tell you that the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz is the best week-in week-out club for jazz on the West Coast (https://www.kuumbwajazz.org).
Online Jazz Resources
Apple Music: www.apple.com/music
Ralph J. Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” archive on YouTube: bayareane.ws/2kCfEQB
Small’s Jazz Club: www.smallslive.com/events/live-stream
Ethan Iverson’s Do the M@th blog: ethaniverson.com
NPR’s “Jazz Night in America:” www.npr.org/series/347139849/jazz-night-in-america
SFJAZZ’s On the Corner blog: sfjazz.org/onthecorner
SFJAZZ’s family matinee concerts: sfjazz.org/live
Nate Chinen’s blog: wbgo.org/people/nate-chinen#stream/0
Mosaic Records’ Jazz Gazette:www.mosaicrecords.com
KNKX’s in-studio performances: knkx.org/term/studio-sessions-0
Published at Wed, 22 Feb 2017 15:00:09 +0000