Like most jazz fans, I'm a good listener. Nothing excites or motivates me more than hearing a great jazz recording. Whether on LP, 78, or CD—jazz recordings astonish my ear. They also make me feel good. Deep inside. In my chest. In my soul.
Mind you, I’m not one of those crumb-covered vinyl junkies obsessively rearranging album collections on a shelf (though that doesn't sound half bad—minus the crumbs). I simply find jazz to be the friendliest, most beautiful and most intimate American art form there is.
As a writer, I also find jazz highly inspirational— especially when deadlines loom. I think jazz motivates all listeners to be more creative and graceful, no matter how they spend their days. Jazz’s power in this regard is unique, which probably is why so many artists and writers I know listen to it.
A friend once asked me, "What do you hear when you're listening to jazz? You seem so far away." What I hear is the language of jazz. It’s a language perfumed with nuances and curves and pauses and energy and truth—like the way Italian sounds in those neo-realist films from the 50s. The jazz language is both logical and passionate—the best combination there is.
But what’s most fascinating about jazz are the messages. When jazz musicians play, they aren’t communicating with each other. They are “talking” directly to the listener. They are telling you a story. They are trying to impress you. They are complaining. They are excited. They are depressed. Or they are trying to cheer you up. I can’t think of another art form where creators care as much about their audience.
Which brings me to the focus of this blog. At its core, jazz is an art form best experienced in front of a stereo. Sure, there’s plenty of live jazz in clubs and on concert stages today. But to truly develop an ear for the music, you have to crawl inside the LPs, 78s and CDs. You need to hear what the oversized, ambitious and often dysfunctional geniuses of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s created. Appreciating what already has been recorded is the only way to judge for yourself whether what you hear today is any good or even matters.
Going forward, I will reflect on a wide range of recordings and share with you what I think makes them special. My hope is that jazz newcomers will learn something new and that critical listeners will re-discover discs they haven't heard in some time.
In this regard, the “Hey Now!” column on the right features a list of favorite CDs or LPs that I'm listening to now or this week. These recordings are always classic, timeless and highly recommended. Click on them, and you'll wind up at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Or just download one or more tracks at iTunes.
Just jazz. Just jazz recordings. Just a place to read about jazz recordings. Bookmark the site. My goal is to share with you my passion for jazz recordings, to pass along remarks from jazz musicians and other enthusiasts, and to create the blog-equivalent of a living room where friends gather to listen intently.
A personal thanks to Terry Teachout, the celebrated critic, author and jazz friend, for persistently nudging me to get this blog up and running. It's done, it's done.