Todd Hildreth.

Jazzin'
By Todd Hildreth

Jazz! Jazz! Jazz! You know, there are so many different types of jazz nowadays that one can get pretty confused. To make things easier, I've put them in handy categories:

Fuzak. Fuzak is not really jazz at all. It's more like instrumental pop music. They don't use jazz chords or melodies, but they usually have a sax and no one sings, so it's called jazz. Fuzak players are adroit but faceless musicians on the cutting edge of the generic pop scene. Fuzak often inspires one to say things like "Partly cloudy today, chance of thunderstorms tomorrow." Fuzak sells well, however, and good fusion bands are often pressured by record companies to make Fuzak albums.

Wimp Jazz. Wimp jazz is a step above Fuzak because it at least has personality. Unfortunately, it's of the limp-wristed variety. Record companies push wimp jazz because they believe that most people would rather be soothed than moved (alas, this is true). The most popular practitioner of wimp jazz today is Kenny G. Before him we had Chuck M. (Mangione). Actually, both these guys are better players than purists give them credit for, but they're still wimps.

Super Chops Fusion. The first attempts at jazz-rock fusion fit this category (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Tony Williams Lifetime, etc.) Super chops fusion mixes jazz improvisation with the aggressiveness of rock. Practitioners of this genre try, to some extent, to play things both ways: They want to keep knowledgeable jazz fans interested while not losing the drunk guy who's scheming on the babe next to him. This is done through the use of jazz-inspired acrobatics that are both interesting and, it is hoped, fun to listen to. The king of super chops fusion is Chick Corea, and he has ruled for some time, with Return to Forever in the seventies and the Elektric band today. Super chops fusion can be exciting music, but often it prefers complexity to musicality, its practitioners more concerned with dazzling you than communicating to you.

Granola Jazz. Give a hippie a saxophone and you have granola jazz. Granola jazz is an acoustic form of jazz that mixes jazz, folk, and world music with New Age/hippie overtones. Granola jazzers give their tunes names like "Little Flower" or "River Song," and often unite their music with save-the-whales type messages. I like this form much more than it would appear from the demeaning name I have given it. Its best players, like Eberhard Weber, did their best work in the seventies. Its most brilliant practitioner is Keith Jarrett, although he has transcended the genre somewhat. Although Jarrett is a passionate and powerful pianist and improviser, he has alienated some jazz fans with his quasi-philosophic self-righteousness. (He has been known to stop playing if there is too much coughing and lecture the audience.)

Neo-Classical Purism (also known as Re-Bop). Led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (the Pat Buchanan of jazz), neo-classical purists are in direct opposition to all the forms of jazz I have described in this article. Tradition has been lost, they say, and we need to get back to the good ol' days, before it's too late. Although they are a reactionary bunch, they are an important voice today, as there is so much bad music being called jazz. Wynton would probably do better to let his horn speak for him, however, because sometimes he gets carried away with what he says, and starts sounding pretty silly (again, the Pat Buchanan of jazz). He could also lighten up and quit telling everyone what's jazz and what's not. Remember, Ellington didn't really care for the word "jazz." He only recognized two types of music — good and bad. The important thing is, these guys practice everything they preach. You may disagree, but you can't argue with their musicianship.