When do your ears pack up?
‘Having good ears’ is something which both good jazzmen and good jazz fans share in common. It reflects the ability to appreciate the interplay between a group of jazz musicians playing together, such as bass players supporting the front liner melodically, the pianist harmonically and the drummer rhythmically. And being able to appreciate changes in the way jazz is produced. The other week I was asked by a lady what sort of music was played at our Listening to Jazz sessions, to which I replied everything from ODJB to whatever I’ve acquired recently. My most recent acquisitions have been an LP of the 1923 New Orleans Rhythm Kings, a Nat Adderley double album, a Bill Charlap piano cd and a somewhat different Carla Bley trio disc. The lady indicated that she really only liked trad, so would not be joining the group: another gentleman who is a ‘great Basie fan’ indicated he would, however, give us a try!
Most the group members have their own favourite artists and sounds – I would wager money that the phrase modern/mainstream is the best description I could give to their tastes. Most people grow up to favour the music they heard in their youth – one reason why jazz is a minority interest these days. Most of my group would have grown up listening to sounds of bebop and Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie, or mainstream sounds like Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff and Coleman Hawkins, or the traditional jazz of people like early Humph, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber or Kenny Ball. Other sounds seem strange to these ears – just as the early swing music of Benny Goodman must have sounded strange to the original New Orleans musicians such as Louis Armstrong or Jelly Roll Morton, or as Parker/Gillespie, Monk and the ‘new bebop’ was incomprehensible to many of the swing generation. And again, the freer sounds of people like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor or the Art Ensemble of Chicago sounded alien to many ears – and for some of us some of it still does. Then there is the merging of styles in what was known as jazz funk or jazz rock: but to hear someone like pianist Bred Meldhau and his trio, or tenor player Dave Murray expand on pop songs by the Beatles or other pop heroes is to hear some really great jazz, and nobody disliked Miles Davis’ music when he crossed over, even though some of us might prefer his 1950s great quintet.
What most of my group say is that what attracts them is that they get to hear things to which they would not normally listen. And I guess that is true even for the group organiser: my tastes are broader now than they were when I started the group eight or nine years ago. But my ears do not respond so favourably to some modern sounds: classically trained pianists playing a form of jazz which does not seem to swing (Bach would have been a great jazzman, however); tenor players who learnt all the Coltrane licks at a music college and insist on playing them all the time, or trumpeters who play exceedingly long bebop lines just because they can, or those groups who fuse rock rythms with modern jazz sounds and throw in large amount of electronics as well. Maybe it is my ears that are packing up, but I remain convinced that, as the greatest jazz composer of them all, Duke Ellington put it –It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t got That Swing!
Dick Myrton, whose sad passing came as a shock to many of us, was a founding member of the Listening to Jazz group and, together with his wife Sue, a regular attendee. He listened attentively, always appreciated his favourites if they came up, and often remarked that he had seen so and so in Leicester sometime in the past. His choices on members’ selection days always seemed designed to defeat my record collection: who else would ask for trumpeter Chet Baker singing! His sense of humour was much appreciated: the group will be the lesser without him. We extend our condolences to Sue. Mike Goldsmith.
When do your ears pack up?