Why jazz *mostly* doesn't work for me

In a coffee shop now, working, and “smooth jazz” with LOTS of tenor sax is playing away, song after song. (I had been meaning to write this post for awhile, and the sax has finally pushed me over the edge.)

The problem isn’t musicianship. It’s that every damn song sounds the same. And that’s the problem with jazz overall. It doesn’t try to be unique, and this issue has gotten worse over time, to the point where all jazz sounds retro, including stuff that tries to be new and edgy, since it’s all been done before.

There are many exceptions! I had a big jazz collection based on both my selections and buying a huge collection one time for cheap (250 records for $45 at an antique mall). Eventually I just gave away or sold off most of it, since I had no intention of ever listening to it.

I kept, however, my Thelonius Monk, Joe Farrell, and Herbie Hancock records and a few others. Why? What made them different from the others? They feature unique and original compositions that are distinguishable from other jazz. The tonalities are jazzy, if you will, but they are just good music in their own right.

A lot of jazz is not original and doesn’t try to be: it’s a matter of tarting up some song in the “Great American Song Book.” I just have no interest in hearing Over the Rainbow done with tenor sax crooning away an improv. Again, the musicianship can be stellar, but I just have no interest in that version.

The second issue in jazz is washed-out tonalities that tend to make it all the same. There’s a reason why jazz is favorable to improvisation: the chords are so loose that it’s hard to make a mistake. On the one hand, jazz is sophisticated, to the point where classical music snobs allow it into their aural lives. On the other hand, well, what I said above: it’s so loose that there is less contrast between one musical element and the next, and it becomes a big musical mush.

There was a time when the various strains of jazz were new, and that was no doubt exciting. Be-bop, cool, fusion–I recognize that there were incredible performances and big musical ideas. No doubt the best of the best is worth keeping and revisiting.

But the volume of jazz from any era is simply huge. The good mixes with the mediocre, and it presents itself as an undifferentiated sea unless you put in the work to find the best. Even then, however, the ear (mine, at least) is fatigued from hearing so much “jazz” over the years, so even the best impresses less than it ought. In contrast, I don’t feel this way about, say, 50s rock. Sure, most isn’t that great, but when I do hear a new song that’s good, I don’t feel my ear has lost its interest in the tonalities of the time.

Finally, jazz can’t really be new and exciting any more. Sure, it can be cool to have a few drinks, kick back, and listen to a live performance. Live music always gives a little something extra. But no performer is able to be the “latest thing in jazz,” for there is no latest thing. There can’t be. It’s all done and done. Steve Lacy’s squeaking in the 80s (which I kinda dig) is where it seemed to end for me.

So that’s my take. What do you think? Thanks!

It’s remarkable that you’re fatigued from listening to too much jazz- most people form their opinions of jazz after (imho) far too little sampling.

True. But it’s also used as innocuous background music a lot, as it is right now in this coffee shop.

I hope your few selections that you kept include Charles Mingus. For me, his stuff always sounds new.

I have to agree that there is a sameness, but it’s the same thing in any genre–overall similar tones & themes, a few standouts.

What turned me off of listening to live jazz was the expectation to applaud a few times during EVERY song. Horn solo, applause. Guitar solo, applause. Piano solo, applause. Drum solo, applause. Et cet. Every number.

Is this the opposite of classical music, where applauding between movements marks you as a newb? :slight_smile:

No, I hardly consider myself an expert, though I’ve listened somewhat widely. What would you recommend by him? I’ll take a listen.

And I don’t think he was in the collection, FWIW.

Yeah, but a more accurate term for “smooth jazz” is “not jazz”, right?

Or “bad, watered-down jazz.”

If smooth jazz as a category contained only a small number of excellent pieces, it could be fine. But it’s a huge garbage-filled genre of its own.

Hog callin’ blues - listen to Roland Kirk go completely insane

the black saint and the sinner lady
You can use this to heat up the apartment on those cold winter nights:

hobo ho

Ditto for Coltrane.

Could you not say the same things though about pop, rock, country, reggae, rap, etc? I.e. take away the best stuff there are a lot songs which are not very original, lot’s of songs that are watered down xxxx-lite, lots of songs that sound very similar and artists whose entire repertoire is made up of these songs.

You could, but I think jazz has separate issues of its own. For example, the genre is often sold on musicianship and improvisational virtuosity, but performances that include that can still be rather undistinguished as music.

I would liken it a bit to 12-tone composition in Classical. Schoenberg and his students Berg and Webern were brilliant and did great things with what amounts to a single tonality. But ultimately, pieces tend to sound the same–it’s pretty inevitable. Other composers tried to work in the genre, but their work really isn’t listened too very much these days. 12-tone was considered the “future” of classical up until the 70s, when everyone looked around and found that Classical music didn’t have a future any more.

I think the same kind of thing happened with jazz. It was a bigger world than 12-tone and had more big players and certainly more popularity, but I think a similar thing happened. In the 80s, people looked around, and suddenly jazz had no future. It was done.

Reasonable enough, OP. I like Thelonious Monk a lot. Herbie Hancock was very cool in the 1980’s. I like some other stuff, even toward “smooth” jazz. But I use music as “background music” a lot of the time.

Of the smooth jazz guys, I think Marc Antoine, for an example off the top of my head, keeps an OK balance. He has some of those long repetitive tracks, but he gets some cool harmonies and tones. But I don’t listen to him all the time, and if I had to listen to him at work, it would eventually get on my nerves. (Example: “Celta” is fun, but with some perhaps over-familiar guitar tropes.)

The Great American Songbook is overdone, I agree. Yes, they’re classics, they’re part of the culture, that’s fine. But I’d probably rather listen to Paul Hardcastle, often as not.


I think your definition of jazz may be too narrow.

The Lounge Lizards - Voice of Chunk

Tuatara - Saturday Night Church
Tuatara - Smugglerõs Cove

Allan Holdsworth - Road Games
Allan Holdsworth - Water On The Brain Pt. 2

Harlem River Drive - Harlem River Drive (Theme Song)

Jacky Terrasson - Kiff

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey - Hey Hey NSA
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey - Bounce

Universal Congress Of - Spreadin’ The Malice
Universal Congress Of - Igor’s Blues

Sleepwalker - Eclipse

Orlando Julius - Yo Si Da Miliki Beat

And if you want to get really adventurous:

Scale The Summit - Odyssey

Chimp Spanner - Möbius Pt. 1
Chimp Spanner - Cloud City

Animals As Leaders - CAFO
Animals As Leaders - An Infinite Regression

Some of that is easy to listen to, some of it is not. I admit that my own definition of jazz is VERY broad, and I swear to Bob that someday I’m gonna finish my essay where I argue that punk rock is really a form of jazz, but for now, lemme just say that IMO jazz is less about tonal quality and more about adventure, less about meeting expectations than finding a hidden gem, and ultimately about stretching towards, reaching for, and hopefully grasping exquisite beauty.

I know I’m a jerk who posts lots of links to songs in music threads, but if y’all think any of what I posted is worthwhile, I do have a couple of other tracks that I’d have to make videos for. If no one is interested, I won’t spend time doing so, but if anyone is curious, lemme know and I’ll expend the effort.



Well, that’s your problem right there.

If you can honestly tell me you don like Louis Armostrong, Billie Holiday, Dixieland Jazz and Big Band Jazz then you might not really like Jazz.

Until then, you are saying the same thing as someone that claims they aren’t a fan of Pop music because the Muzac songs playing in their office elevator are boring.

To be fair, I am not a fan of some types of Jazz. It should sound old-fashioned to me at least. I do like some of the newer styles but not the truly avant-garde styles and certainly not Smooth Jazz.

In light of your stated preference, I’d be really curious to know what you thought of any of the artists and/or songs I listed, Shagnasty.

I clicked on the last of Bo’s links first: Animals as Leaders, “An Infinite Regression.” While it has jazz elements, I’d probably tag it as post-rock or post-metal.

Chimpspanner’s “Cloud City” is dripping with jazz motifs, though. I could call it electric guitar jazz that slips into metal fusion.

Oh, wait, those were the “adventurous” ones. Let’s move up.

Orlando Julius Ekemode & The Afro Sounders, “Yio Si Da Miliki Beat”: Wow, the intro is really good.
Harlem River Drive, “Harlem River Drive (Theme Song)” also starts really well.
Both of those are pretty solid overall, but have very cool openings.

I listened to a number of them and loved them all. I am not very knowledgeable about music theory and certainly can’t play anything myself so I wouldn’t have even considered many of those songs as Jazz if I heard them on my own but I realize they are.

I like 20’s and 30’s culture and music so Jazz from that era combined with some Jazz bars in New Orleans and Boston are what I think of as Jazz but I do realize that the genre is still active and more vibrant than that. I still fall into the same trap that people like the OP do. Either Jazz is really old and nostalgic or it is barf-worthy Smooth Jazz or, even worse, New Age Jazz.

You showed that isn’t true and I appreciate listening to your great selections.