Logan Walker takes the genre of Jazz to task in the latest instalment of Man vs Critics…
I like to consider myself an equal-opportunities listener. A man with eclectic taste, if you will allow me to be so pretentious. I try not to box myself into listening to only one or two genres of music. I’ll happily give them all a bash.
Well, maybe not all. I don’t particularly enjoy most Pop music. Or Classical. Or EDM. Definitely not Country, as much as I admire the mission statement of cracking open a few cold ones in the back of a pick-up truck while your buddy wheels through lanes of oncoming traffic, singing about wanting to murder his boss.
There’s one genre that stands apart however, even more so than the ones that I have just listed. One that makes my skin crawl as soon as I hear the first peeps of a trombone, the first dissonant melodies of a sax having life breathed into it. The first fucking “skibbity-hibbidy-bibbidy-bop” of some scat-singing psychopath about to go on a polyphonic rampage.
I have never been able to wrap my head around jazz. I find the entire thing deeply unpleasant. I’m familiar with the names of the heavy hitters, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, but their music has always made me want to take a nice relaxing bath with the nearest electrical appliance. I do not get it.
Is jazz too refined for me? Am I too refined for jazz? I often walk by the Jazz Bar just across from the museum here in Edinburgh and see strange, quite haggard looking men stood outside smoking cigarettes and wearing fedoras. They don’t look very refined. Some of them look like future Crimewatch contestants.
Yet, still, when I picture the jazz enthusiast, I imagine someone dressed in a Louis Vuitton dressing gown, sitting in an outrageously comfy chair in a well-decorated study, smoking a pipe and sipping on expensive whisky while a record spins in the background. Their name is probably Sebastian. Or Theodore. Maybe Jasper.
My name isn’t Jasper, or Theodore, and I don’t own a single item of Louis Vuitton clothing. None that are real anyway. But, against my better judgement, I’m going to give this fucking jazz thing one more go. If it is indeed the music of those with refined tastes, I need to get into it. Because I am nothing if not a man of the upmost class and taste.
Thankfully, NME have went and done the donkey work for me and compiled a nifty little list of the 20 greatest jazz songs of all time. I won’t listen to all 20, because I’m not a masochist and I have a life, but I will listen to 5 of them. I’ll give five of the greatest jazz songs of all time (according to NME anyway and depending on who you ask their opinion may actually be less valuable than my own) a spin, write down my thoughts on them and see how my views stack up against the experts. Once more into the fray.
1. Miles Davis – Miles Runs the Voodoo Down
This song is fourteen minutes long. Fourteen. Minutes.
Fourteen excruciating minutes I will never ever get back. And I do want them back, so very badly. It’s everything I hate about jazz. Instruments seemingly appearing at random to throw out one or two notes. Is that a fucking kettle boiling? It might be. The bassline driving you slowly insane. When it was over, I shed a tear of joy. Not a good start. 1 star out of 5.
2. Duke Ellington – In a Sentimental Mood
This one is four minutes long. Thank the lord for that small mercy. I don’t really have much to say about this one. It’s elevator music until the halfway mark when the pace picks up ever so slightly and the drummer starts doing that jazz fill shit. I’ll give it credit for being slightly soothing, especially in comparison to the last track. Fuck me. 2.5 stars out of 5.
3. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – Summertime
The opening notes of this song are suspiciously similar to the opening notes of the Jurassic Park theme. I think they may actually be exactly the same. After you get over the shock horror of hearing one of the most famous movie themes of all time popping up in a jazz track that released 30 years before the film, it is easily the most enjoyable piece of music I have listened to so far. It has singing! Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is haunting and heavenly, her command of the higher octaves being complimented by Louis Armstrong’s ultra-low baritone, which has always reminded me ever so slightly of Kermit the Frog, but in this instance is quite nice. It’s easy to understand why this song became a standard, and why this version is seen as one of the best. 4 stars out of 5.
4. Art Ensemble of Chicago – Theme de Yoyo
This starts so, so well. The cool rhythm of the bass is joined by some tight drums, even the trombone joining in doesn’t ruin things. Initially. It goes from Curtis Mayfield to chaos when the trombonist (?) appears to have a seizure mid recording and the rest of the musicians throw their instruments on the floor to make sure he’s ok. Or that’s what it sounds like to me at least. There are lots of moments in this song where it is very enjoyable to listen to, unfortunately at 9 minutes long there are plenty more moments that make me contemplate what I am doing with my life. 2 stars out of 5.
5. John Coltrane – Acknowledgment
According to NME, this is John Coltrane’s masterpiece. If this is his masterpiece, I think Johnny boy should have spent a little more time practicing on the ole saxophone. This song also clocks in at just under 8 minutes. I really think these jazz artists would benefit from a bit of brevity because, I won’t lie to you, I didn’t make it through the whole song. Who has 8 minutes to spare listening to the wails of brass instruments? Not me. Give me 2-minute punk jazz. If that exists. 1.5 stars out of 5.
Well, I gave it a shot. I listened to five of the greatest jazz songs of all time by some of the genre’s most famous luminaries. And, apart from one song, I hated every single moment of it. Harsh dissonant chords coming in out of the blue. 45-minute-long sax solos. Strange and unpleasant tempo changes. I tried, and it isn’t for me. I prefer my music to make sense.
The jazz enthusiasts can have it. They can keep their jazz and their weird fucking hats and their skibbidy-bibbidy bullshit.
I’m off to listen to some real music. Time to queue up some gabber.