A visit from a longstanding American friend and his wife, during which we listened to some of the jazz he liked, prompted some thoughts about our preferences for particular forms of music and within those specific sounds. My friend had been brought to jazz by his father and the kind of record collection he had – mainly the small and big bands of the thirties and forties. As a result my friend indicated a preference for a period covering early jazz until – as he put it – Dizzy Gillespie. This latter surprised me – I had expected his taste to end around the early forties rather than the later years in which the then new sound of bebop or modern jazz was making its impact – splitting fans into either ‘dirty boppers’ or ‘bearded traddies’. He chose a number of discs out of my collection -so we listened to trumpeter Red Allen, 1930s Duke Ellington small groups, some Lester Young and early Count Basie, opening my own ears up to sounds which in some cases I had either not heard in a while or even not heard at all – and making me realise that the great alto sax player Johnny Hodges varied his tone considerably over the years whilst trumpeter Cootie Williams’ sound remained essentially the same whether he was in or out of the Ellington orchestra.
Another friend, whose collection begins to rival my own, reveals an initial preference for modern jazz with something of an emphasis on the sounds associated with the Blue Note label of the 50s and 60s – what is called hard bop and so on. But in recent years I’ve noted he is creeping back toward the earlier years in his more current purchases, so that even Jelly Roll Morton or Bix Beiderbecke can now be found on his shelves.
A new member of the Listening to Jazz indicated a liking for the style known as jazz fusion, which mixes jazz with influences from rock, Latin American and other sources – not a form which features heavily in my own collection, so he rebuked me for apparently not listening to the music of a group like Weather Report – an influential 80s/90s group which changed some of the sounds of jazz and his recording ‘Birdland’ most people would probably recognise. Weather Report and other jazz fusion sounds (Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, late Miles Davis) do feature in my collection, but I would readily admit that they do not get played all that often!
As a result of these three people, I have had to reflect on my own preferences, which I conclude largely concentrate on what might be called ‘modern mainstream’ and cover the sounds of jazz from the early thirties through to the early 90s – or putting it another way, everybody from early Louis Armstrong via Buck Clayton and Charlie Parker through to Keith Jarrett and Wynton Marsalis. Like some others I’ve always found the ‘free sounds’ of Ornette Coleman and others difficult to appreciate, whilst the influx of classically trained musicians into jazz and the sounds they sometimes produce often leaves me applauding their technique but wondering if they really could play the blues!
Chacun a son gout – as the French would say, but equally I’m glad I’ve had the Listening to Jazz group over the years. It has made me listen to things I’ve long forgotten, to things I would normally not bother with, and to new sounds which I really enjoy… and I like to think for those other people who turn out once a month it has done something similar. Indeed I know it has, since one member, even older than I but still playing the trumpet, has said that he likes the group because he gets to hear things he would never have thought of listening to in his life! Mike Goldsmith.