Jazzin'

By Rick Forest

Every few months I get an email or a call that goes something like this... "Rick, I don't know #*$& about jazz, but I know what I like. How can I be a more informed listener and grow my ears a bit?" Well, besides offering you the latest in weighted earrings (pierced and clip-on), I usually suggest a few web sites or books that are helpful. Since we haven't spoken on this topic lately and there have been some changes on the scene, I thought that we could revisit the topic this month.

A new book that is a good start for the absolute beginner is The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To Jazz by Loren Schoenberg. As I said, this is a beginner's guide; the experienced listener need not bother. It's as if you were on one of "14 Countries in 7 Days" package tours where you only get the highlights, but a fair overview of the music, where Schoenberg your guide occasionally points out some of the more interesting (at least to him) artists along the way. As an introduction, its not too bad, but you will probably find yourself eventually looking for more depth. Schoenberg knows of which he speaks, having been a conductor, saxophonist and author who won a Grammy award in 1994 for best album liner notes. He has led his own big band in addition to working as a sideman with Benny Goodman, Benny Carter and Bobby Short. He even has the academic chops to back up his work, as a member of the faculty at the Julliard School and other noted New York music schools.

After he tells the overarching story of jazz, Schoenberg tells you about some of the better-known names in the music with a little more focus. He tries to be inclusive by mentioning not only the early masters like Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong (he omits Buddy Bolden probably because there are no recorded examples of his playing), but also has some interesting choices in the new players he mentions, like trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Kenny Garrett. If you want detailed biographies look to the Grove's Dictionary of Jazz or some such more comprehensive source.

The stronger section of Schoenberg's book is where he gives musical suggestions that will not only highlight important movements in jazz, but will also help you to build a pretty good basic jazz record library. Schoenberg lists fifty special performances here, once again just dipping his toe into the pool. He acknowledges that this is only a cursory sampling of the greatest hits of recorded jazz, but as we've said before, this is a book to get you started in the right direction. We even get a good start in the language of jazz. Not hip, mind you, but jazz. Traditional musical terms such as `tempo,' `beat' and `cadenza' are listed along as more specialized terms like `head,' `lick' and `riff.' Realizing that you will probably want to know more, Schoenberg wisely ends his book by offering a list of resources to point you on your way. He offers a brief annotated bibliography of books, magazines, documentaries and web sites that are particularly helpful. While this may not seem like a glowing recommendation, remember that I'm old and jaded. If you are new to the music and want to hit the highlights, Loren Schoenberg's The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To Jazz is a worthwhile addition to your library. It's available from Perigee Books and your favorite purveyor of reading materiel.

Web sites come and go (some blaze spectacularly for a while, some just fizzle out over time), but a few have held together pretty well over the past few years, even growing to offer even more services and options to their users. One in particular that has grown over time is www.allaboutjazz.com. You can really tell that the folks who run it are not just in it for the bucks, but really care about the music. There are resources for learning about the greats in the music, interviews with established and rising players (sometimes with musical samples) and forums where you can enter into the discussion on topics ranging from the merits of Brad Mehldau's new album to what jazz radio is like in your town (please be kind). It's been afloat for several years now and has held up while flashier sites with big promises (remember Jazz Central Station?) have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. For a strange, indeed, cynical but often interesting perspective on the jazz scene, check out www.birdlives.com. It's an insider's look at the music with just enough experience in the world to provide you a view of the industry that you won't get anywhere else.

We'll get back to the local scene next month. If you have ideas about things you want to hear about, email me here at jazzin@louisvillemusic.net. The same applies if you have any news to pass along. Till then, get out and hear some live jazz, will ya!