For non-playing participants, jam sessions can be difficult musical experiences. As “hangs,” or social gatherings, they aren’t so bad — sometimes you learn a lot by talking to the musicians there. But the quality of the music itself often varies. It only takes a mediocre performance to sour the mood, and a poor showing can turn you off altogether, especially if you’ve paid money to see it.
You know the feeling? What happens when you hear something with all the archetypal trappings of jazz — a basic swing pulse, people improvising rapidly over standards and blues changes, taking place in a jazz club — which leaves you generally unmoved? Do you ever think, “This sounds like jazz, but it poorly embodies the values I associate with jazz”?
That sent me thinking: Could there be other things that feel more true to the essence of jazz — really, of black American music — than indifferent jazz music itself? Fully aware that “jazz” is an artificial construct which everyone defines differently, and that I’m projecting my own romantic ideal onto it, I don’t think it can hurt to explore the positive associations we have with the term. So I humbly submit a short and arbitrary list: Continue reading