Jazz and the Attention Span of a Squirrel

In the past few years, mainly since I have retired, I’ve felt myself sucked into the world of jazz. Oh, I’ve always been mildly attracted to it, mainly from the more jazzy side of rock music. Bands like Steely Dan have a pseudo jazzy feel, but I have since found out that the band is placed in the category of Yacht Rock, and are not really considered to be in the jazz genre. I’ve since been sucked down the hole of “too many notes” and a style of guitar that my wife calls “Doodly doo”, wherein the melody is in there, but it is up to the listener to draw it out through advanced mental prowess and focused listening.

When I was younger, I made some serious attempts at “liking jazz” by listening to Weather Report and other bands of that ilk. I’ve always been attracted to “characters” in music, so Weather Report was right there in that respect with their whacked out bass player named Jaco Pastorius. Just the mention of the name “Jaco” to a musician and they will immediately smile and know who you are talking about. He played an electric bass from which he had removed the frets. He played fast and loud, sang, and did flips. He spread powder on the stage so he could dance like James Brown. He joked around and talked to the crowd. A self-described Florida beach bum, he often went barefoot and shirtless. He was tall, lean, and strong, and for someone who played sports the nickname “Jocko” fit. His thumbs were “double jointed” and his fingers were long and thin. He did come to a bad end and died in a bar fight at the tender age of 35. Crazy stories always suck me in.

I do conclude that only musicians can truly appreciate jazz. Being a minimally talented musician myself, this makes sense to me, as jazz is mainly an instrumental language. Oh there are many jazz vocalists, but the primary language of jazz is spoken by instrumentalists. The first jazz album that really grabbed my attention was sort of a hybrid of vocal and instrumental fascination. The fascination also was combined with a sordid backstory that drew me in even more deeply to that particular album. The album in question is a 1954 recording called Chet Baker Sings. I fell in love with his voice, the sad lyrics in his songs, and the musicality of his trumpet. His version of My Funny Valentine is one of the saddest songs you will ever hear and is considered to be his signature song. Chet Baker Sings is my comfort food when I’m mindlessly doddering about the house and no one is around.

Chet was a trumpet prodigy born into a musical family. His well-publicized drug habit also drove his notoriety and fame. Baker was in and out of jail frequently before he was ultimately found dead on the street below his room in Amsterdam, apparently having fallen from the second-story window. Heroin and cocaine were found in his room and in his body. The story is that he inadvertently locked himself out of his room and fell while attempting to cross from the balcony of the vacant adjacent room to his own. And so went the sad end to another talented musician.

You may be sensing a pattern at this point. Ignore that, and read on.

After the discovery of Chet, I moved on to other greats in the jazz worlds, mainly through looking at associated musicians on Tidal. Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, and a host of other greats tickled my ears with their instrumental innovations. I’m still on the road to discovery and have recently been listening to Charlie Hunter and Herbie Hancock. This may be my last horizon in musical discovery as I have probably listened to or played every other genre of music, with the possible exceptions of hip hop and dub step, whatever the hell that is.

I have recently purchased a set of wireless ear buds which I have discovered I can hook to my Apple Watch to listen to music that I have downloaded. About the only exercise I can do while recovering from shoulder surgery is walking. So, I’ve download a library of jazz to my watch and listen to a shuffled version of that library while I walk. The music drowns out all traffic as well as any other retired old neighbors looking for an available ear to complain to about their latest medical misadventure. In old age, I have discovered that medical issues are the A number one topic for anyone over the age of fifty nine and a half. Apparently we in that age bracket have nothing else to fill our days with, other than sitting at the local coffee shop with our buddies complaining about our medical misadventures. My alternate name for the local coffee shop is “God’s Waiting Room”.

In an effort to more clearly understand the world of jazz, I have taken to attempting to learn a few standards on the chromatic harmonica. I’m more of a blues and swing player, so it has been challenging as I can only read music at a very basic level. That translates into having to listen to recordings over and over again to learn these strange new melodies. I’ve learned a few, like The Work Song, Song for My Father, and Autumn Leaves, others are still works in progress. I may lose interest in this activity, as it requires an ever diminishing ability to focus on anything for more than fifteen minutes. I’m starting to feel like a squirrel in a backyard full of bird feeders.

And that’s all I have to say about that …. for now.