Hate Jazz but wish you knew a bit more about why? A Jazz 101 thread.

In this threadentitled “What should you like, but don’t” - in Post #60 I comment on how many folks have stated that they don’t like Jazz. I argue that perhaps they aren’t grounded in some of the basics of jazz. **Novelty Bobble **and a few other dopers come back with some thoughts, and by Post #75 NAF1138 has asked that a thread be started on jazz appreciation.

So here we are.

The purpose of this thread is to give folks who don’t know jazz - who have listened a bit and really, really hate some of the stuff they heard :wink: - and give them a safe place to ask questions.

So - if you HATE jazz - that’s cool; feel free to keep hating it and I feel no obligation to convince you otherwise - YMMV right? But if you aren’t sure WHY you hate jazz - and/or would like to figure out what you might like about jazz and isolate the parts that you really, really hate - well, maybe a thread like this can help.

And since many, many other Dopers are jazz fans, I am sure most questions can be answered - help me out here jazz cats!

So, to start - a few observations about listening to jazz:

[li]Know, broadly, about what jazz you hate - when folks say they hate jazz, they are often referring to specific sub-categories. Jazz started at the turn of the 1900’s in New Orleans, and up through the 40’s, the jazz being created is stuff, O Jazz Hater, you probably like or at least don’t hate - I will see if I can find a few links:[/li][/ul]

  • Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 - early New Orleans/ Dixieland Jazz - you may not like the song, but it doesn’t evoke that “hate” you feel for jazz, right?

  • Benny Goodman Sing, Sing, Sing- what, you don’t like this??? What’s wrong with you man?! ;):smiley: Top-Shelf swing jazz - just big, fully orchestrated and fun. I would be very surprised if a Jazz Hater singled this type of swing jazz out for hate. Again, you are welcome to not like it, but I don’t this is a song that pushes jazz-hate buttons…

What folks most typically start to hate is Small-Combo Jazz, especially when it moves into **Be-Bop **and Hard Bop. Small Combo just means that it is a 4, 5 or 6 piece band, not a full orchestra. BeBop is a style of jazz that emerged in the 40’s. Here’s a classic from the genre - Kokoby Charlie Parker. Feelin’ the hate yet? :wink: This is the 1940’s jazz equivalent of heavy metal shredding - boys feelin’ macho and stretching it out technically…

Building on Bop, many jazz soloists tried to explore things further - John Coltrane is known for pushing boundaries. In this clip, which I posted in the other thread, we see a couple of styles. Miles Davis plays beautiful, accessible trumpet solos in this version of So What - but 2 minutes in, Coltrane takes over - can you hear the difference? Do your ears shut down? That’s because Coltrane is taking the Bop approach you heard from Charlie Parker and breaking even more rules. He is the equivalent of Modern Art. He is “playing out,” i.e., outside - breaking rules. By the time he gets to his revolutionary verison of My Favorite Things, he might as well be spattering paint on a canvas (it starts out melodic and all Sound-of-Musicky, then just, well - listen to it) - i.e., “my 3 year old can violate a saxophone just as well…”

But - here’s the point: if you love Impressionism and Matisse’s art, and many examples up to the wacky Modern Art that surfaced, well - that’s jazz. You probably love the just-over-the-line early jazz (like Impressionism - it was a new language but not super challenging once you learn the language) - it’s when the rules start to really get broken that your ears shut down…

So - you can avoid Bop and Coltrane and Out playing - but if you want to listen to some of that early small-combo jazz, or at least “get it a bit more” - what are some guidelines? Here are two - and help me out here, jazz Dopers, I am sure there are more:

[li]Follow the High Hat - most of us grew up on Pop, Rock, Country, etc. - the beat is kept on the snare or kick drum - boom-spat, boom-boom-spat, right? - but with small-combo jazz, they use the little sandwich cymbols, aka the high-hat, to keep the time. If you listen to that version Koko I link to above - it is a bad recording and you CAN’T hear the high hat - it just sounds like random sounds if you don’t know how to fill in the rhythm - they are just playing superfast. But listen to this recording of Dizzy Gillespie’s Salt Peanuts- the “tsk tsk tsk” of the high hat kicks of the song and makes it MUCH easier to follow. Still superfast, but listenable.[/li][/ul]
[li]Know the Difference between a Lead and a Solo - this is tricky. Just like we grew up listening to music with a specific approach to keeping time, same with solo work. As a rule, pop/rock/country leads are, well leads - they are instrumental breaks designed to fit into the song. Yes some go for a long time and get jammy, but you are meant to listen to them, well, musically. Small-combo/bop jazz solos are NOT leads - they are SOLO’s - a much better comparison would be with improv theater; imagine a person being handed a set up and then expected to just talk on the topic. They can be mellow or get outraged - they are certainly going to quote some of their favorite thinkers and speakers. But there is going to be a wandering, exploratory feel - they are NOT trying to fit into a song; the song was just a launching point to frame their point of view. If you go back and listen to So What, you can hear where Miles, then Coltrane, each take their queue and then try to express themselves in a solo format - they are NOT playing leads…[/li][/ul]

Okay - that’s a long start; sorry if I lost everyone and if this thread just dies, well, I gave it a shot. So - does this help you figure out what you hate about jazz and, hopefully, what you might like about it? It would be great to hear from some jazz haters with examples, questions or just rants…

You’ve convinced me. I don’t hate jazz! Love both Louie Armstrong and Benny Goodman. Your follow the high hat advice got me all the way through Rare Earth’s Get Ready for the first time in years.

I purchased the 20 minute version because I love the first 7 minutes of it but eight minutes in, but after that I start shifting uncomfortably in my seat. Keeping beat with the high hat did settle me down.

Still think half that song isn’t Get Ready, it’s just noise. It doesn’t make melodic sense to me.

I just wanted to say, while I really don’t have a strong opinion of jazz either way, I liked this post.

I won’t say that I dislike all jazz, because that’s bunk as your OP ably demonstrates.

However, there is an aesthetic about a lot of jazz I don’t really enjoy listening to - outside of being in a bar where live jazz is being played. While I can appreciate the sublime skill of many of the performers, I don’t really care for the instrumentation. What if I don’t want walking bass and lots of high hat in my music, for example?And what if I like solid majors or minors with a few diminished chords? Or worse, what if I want something I can hum along to?

And then there is of course the experimental noodling too, which just grates - kinda like Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen in that it’s incredibly skilful, but sounds awful.

Question: do you think when they improvise, most jazz musicians are able to predict exactly what their soloing will sound like, or are they merely exploring different combinations of predefined scales?

ETA: I agree with SurrenderDorothy.

First of all - thanks for the kind words. Nice to know my Sunday morning wasn’t a *complete *waste of typing :slight_smile:

**Biggirl **- I will have to chase that down; I don’t recall anything other than a radio-short version, IIRC…

**jjimm **- totally fair points; I find chords that are overly-complex-for-their-own-sake really off-putting, too. If I don’t fully process the complexity but find I dig the song, that’s best for me.

As for your comments on experimental noodling, I will grab a quote from Doper **Eonwe **(who I hope finds this thread) from the thread I link to in the OP:

To continue playing out the “improv theater” analogy, you may prefer short form to long form and just not like stretched-out experiments. More importantly, you may not like ***how ***a specific player experiments. Some players, like Miles, stay melodic; other players like John Coltrane, spit out scale runs like so many “um’s” and “uh’s” as he figures out how he wants to frame his “thoughts.” If you find those types of speech fillers distracting, you may not care if what the person says overall is really smart and thoughtful - same with Coltrane. A wonderful other approach is Thelonious Monk, who picks weird chords and how the notes rub up against each other as the driving force behind his improv. I gotta run so can’t find an example right now.

So, **jjimm **- in answer to your question, I would say it really varies by player. I have outlined my thoughts on how I approach rock leads in a previous thread, but that’s a different beast vs. jazz solos…it would be great to hear some jazz players speak to this - hopefully if this thread lasts until tomorrow…

I’m very picky when it comes to jazz. I don’t like anything that can really be construed as “smooth jazz” - I grew up listening to it in the background my entire childhood (because my parents liked it) and it figuratively goes in one ear and out the other.

The kind of jazz I like is with a piano, bass, maybe one sax and maybe one drummer. Also, because IMO live jazz is way better than recorded, I rarely listen to jazz on my own time.

Trenchant jazz analysis by Paul F Tompkins, who doesn’t like jazz either.

That is hilarious. And so true - jazz has an element of “super-insider-ness” to it, and, to be clear, some jazz cats really try to cultivate it; heck, they’re *cats *fercrissake - and just like their namesakes, they can be confusing divas you really can’t be bothered with sometimes. But, as a cat person, when you find one that you bond with, the communication becomes more clear…sorry for being over-cute there…

Music with a lot of treble tone is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Where Jazz doesn’t have a lot of treble, like in certain jazz vocalists, I tend to like it fine. But pretty much as soon as someone busts out the squeaky trumpet, I’m done. (my husband, who used to play the trumpet, says the thing I hate the worst is “Laser tone” but whenever it is high pitched, I hate it).

I also, in general, don’t care for music without lyrics. That’s huge swathes of Jazz. Of Jazz-music-not-containing-lyrics, big band is the least offensive to me, but I get bored of that after one or two songs. Noodly improv just bores me to tears to the point where it kind of makes me angry (irrational, I know).

I’ve had a LOT of knowledgable people try to make me like Jazz by trying this that and the other style. My parents are huge Jazz lovers and I’ve had a couple boyfriends who were enthusiasts. I assure you it isn’t from lack of exposure. Basically aside from certain famous jazz vocalists and the odd Big Band tune, I find it somewhere between physically painful and indescribably boring. (I say famous, because whenever there’s an “up and coming” jazz vocalist, they seem to be either ripping off the greats, or boring in their own special way).

It’s pretty much the same as techno, which I also don’t like for loads of treble, lacking lyrics, and being boring and complicated at the same time.

I’ll echo Hello Again’s sentiments. Quick high noodly treble instantly raises my stress level, it’s like being surrounded by a bunch of yippy dogs, especially from horns and pianos. Strings and acoustic guitars don’t bother me as much though–the very same “Sing sing sing” piece linked in the OP would probably be very enjoyable if done in a Django-style violin-guitar-bass-drum 4-piece arrangement.

Drums are also a frequent suspect in my general jazz dislike, cymbals and high hats are my least favorite percussive sound and music that focuses on those percussive aspects is very unpleasant to me.

Wouldn’t say I hate jazz, just the stereotypical bell end who listens to it. I realise that’s pretty weak but it’s all I’ve got to go on.

My experience of listening to jazz is confined to one club in Philadelphia that I used to go to with a jazz friend when I was over there for my postdoc. The band was four very old black guys, who apparently had roots back to the glory days and were highly regarded. The audience was entirely white.

The bar served two drinks - pabst blue ribbon in cans and shots of whiskey. I now realise that pabst blue ribbon is some sort of cliched hipster drink so maybe this was an arch irony on behalf of the barstaff. The whole experience seemed laced with irony in point of fact - the place was stowed out with students who did that clapping thing for no apparent reason. The bloke would be noodling away on the keyboard and some bad Ted would lead a round of applause, followed by his fellow hipsters, each looking uncertainly at the other for a signal when to stop. It was reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn, with each man uncertain whether his ceasing to clap would reveal some devastating flaw. Meanwhile the guy on stage was wondering what these cretins where all doing clapping along to him tuning up.

Anyhow, I fully realise that one listens to music with one’s EARS. Everything else is ultimately extraneous. However, that sort of crowd described above is such a stereotype of a jazz club that I was surprised to see that it was actually true in that one instance. And it sort of got, and continues to get, actually, in the way of me listening to the actual music.

Full marks to you for this thread WordMan. Great stuff. It has certainly helped me put my discomfort into some sort of perspective.
Your first two links are fine for me. Not something I’d listen to as a preference but not offensive and evocative of time and place. The Koko link had me reaching for x fairly quickly.
For the other link it is exactly when the experimental stuff starts that I shut down

And you nail it in your comments above so well.

My absolute favourite artist is J.M.W. Turner. The original impressionist the original breaker of rules. I find his abstract and impressionist work awe inspiring. And yes, the later group of Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh are a source of joy to me as well. I think that chimes well with your own thoughts on this.

Thanks for the thought-provocation and taking the time to set out your thoughts.

Agreed, I know the type. It always seems like it is trying to please the artist themselves rather than evoke an emotion. Not my thing.

I always find it strange that Pink Floyd have become synonymous with the gratuitous guitar solo when actually pretty much none of it goes to waste. Gilmour (jazz influenced of course) manages to get across twice as much emotion in half the time with quarter of the notes.
I still rate the 30 second central solo in “Mother” as the yardstick by which all other solos are judged.

WordMan, your post is very informative. Despite my hatred of Jazz, I listened to all of the clips you linked because of the strength of your post. I did hate the Armstrong piece, but didn’t mind the Goodman. I did hate the Parker as your post predicted. What surprised me was that I didn’t hate the Davis-Coltrane–until the piano kicked in. It wasn’t Coltrane, but the piano, that was off-putting. I skipped ahead and found that the trumpet eventually got annoying as well. Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” lasted about fifteen seconds, and I didn’t make it that far into “Salt Peanuts.”

Mostly, what Hello Again said rings true for me as well. After listening to your links, I think I have put my finger on part of the problem for me. It may be the same thing GargoyleWB described. Most jazz seems to build a tension in me that it doesn’t release. I keep listening, waiting for something that never comes. Eventually, I get uncomfortable and turn it off. I find live jazz, and many recordings, to be headache inducing. The jazz that doesn’t induce uncomfortable tension and/or a headache, just gets boring.

You haven’t convinced me to like it, but you at least made me think about it. That’s more than most of the jazz enthusiasts I know have been able to do.

Am I the only one who thinks that Eddie Van Halen’s solos, in his prime, sounded like Giant Steps era John Coltrane?

When I first started getting into bebop (and Coltrane in particular), I thought Coltrane’s phrasing on Giant Steps (the first Coltrane album I really got into) really remnded me of somebody. After about the 50th spin of the CD, I realized it was EVH. His modal, melodic and phrasing sensibilities sounded like Van Halen solos to me. It was kind of a revelation and gave me an ingress into the music to sort of mentally translate it into guitar solos.

This is the first 10 minutes of Get Ready

The rarely heard second half


As someone who loved Impressionism, post-Impressionism, and some of the modern stuff; and who also loves everything up through 1960’s Coltrane and Miles, but quit jazz around the time fusion and free jazz developed; I think this is a brilliant analogy. Now I just need to figure out who the jazz equivalent of Mark Rothko is so I can make fun of him.

Ah, drums. Jazz drumming is my pet peeve in many cases, primarily because of the excessive use of cymbal crashes during solos. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of Buddy Rich (or even Krupa, for that matter). Love brush work, though. Give Castillian Drums by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (the Carnegie Hall album) a listen: you’ll hear jazz drumming at its finest by Joe Morello (warning: it does start out with a cymbal crash and is quite long with a ten minute solo that starts at about 3:30). A five-piece trap from which he elicits sound that you wouldn’t believe possible.

I actually prefer jazz to be more abstract/impressionistic/expressionistic than less. It’s the watered down, Kenny G. stuff I can’t listen to. I also don’t much care for overly funky styles. I like minimal instrumentation and a minumum of electronic effects.

That was a great read. I vote that Wordman writes about a new genre of music each Sunday!