Monday, April 01, 2019

Satchmo On Jazz: 'Man, If You Have To Ask What It is, You'll Never Know'

Writer and essayist Gerald Early once wrote that when American civilization is studied two thousand years from now, there there will only be three things that Americans will be known for -- the Constitution, baseball and jazz. 
"They're the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created," Early said, and I could not agree more.  
The Constitution is a remarkable and remarkably enduring document that has been amended only 27 times in 227 years.  Six of those amendments are technical fixes, while contemporary efforts to pass "family values" amendments have flopped.   Baseball is my favorite sport bar none, notably because of its languid pace, atmospherics and inter-generational nature.  My father introduced me to the game and I to my son.  
This brings me to jazz, the only uniquely American art form and one that I embraced from the first time I heard Dave Brubeck's Take Five album when I was in my early teens.  
My musical tastes have become fairly sophisticated in the intervening half century. I enjoy classical, opera, rock, soul, R&B, funk, blues, bluegrass, folk and reggae, but as my ear has matured, my hairline receded and my paunch grown, I find myself listening to jazz more and more.  
I have come to believe that it is no accident that my adoration of jazz -- from the early syncopation of ragtime and blues to swing, big band, bop and bebop to fusion and avant-garde -- is substantially because I am a student of American history.  
Jazz, after all, is the soundtrack of our society and its myriad themes of boom and bust, world wars, human relations, sex and drugs, assimilation, discrimination and immigration.  It is about opening your mind, moving your behind and tapping your feet. It is about despair and joy, breaking free, breaking up and falling in love.  And more recently about escaping from the horrors of the Trump presidency.  
Does any of kind of music evoke all these things while often making itself up as it goes along?  I don't think so.  
Jazz would seem to be thriving, especially if you tune into or webstream a jazz station and hear about all the gigs in this burg or another.  But the dirty little secret of jazz is that while it might seem to be more popular than ever, most jazz artists and the clubs where they play are struggling to survive.  Show me a jazz artist who has been able to quit his day job and I’ll show you a hundred more who struggle to just get by. 
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. So go get yourself some!

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