In the deeply incisive and insightful words of the esteemed messrs. Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff: “I love music, any kind of music…”

Of course I don’t love all music, obviously – that would be ridiculous. And I don’t love it all equally – I have my personal preferences just like everyone else. However I do believe that the cream of any reasonably sizeable and well-established sub-genre is inevitably going to be better than the barrel-scrapings of any other. For example, I’m a huge fan of late ‘70’s / early ‘80’s Punk, and I’m not really particularly keen on Country music – but I’d still far rather listen to Johnny Cash than The Exploited.

And I bet you’re not all that different: which is why I get so pissed off when I hear you say that you don’t like Jazz. Not because I expect you to like all of it (I don’t like all of it myself!). Not even because I want you to like most of it. But because I simply cannot believe that you don’t like any of it.

Because, y’see, when you say that you don’t like Jazz, it’s not like saying that you don’t like Grindcore or Dubstep. It’s not even like saying you don’t like Heavy Metal or Dance Music. It’s the equivalent of saying that you don’t like any Rock or Pop music at all. It really is that huge and that fundamental. You just haven’t realised it… yet

Besides, in my experience, when people make wild sweeping generalisations about Jazz, they’re usually doing it on the basis of having heard a few things that they didn’t like. Typically these turn out to be things by the Jazz equivalent of Cliff Richard, The Wurzels, Napalm Death, Britney Spears or Robbie Williams. People then assume that all Jazz sounds the same as that and either forget, ignore or deny the fact that any number of songs and musicians that they do like are actually Jazz too. So of course they never discover the Jazz equivalents of The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, U2, R.E.M., The Smiths, Nirvana or Radiohead – let alone anything else.

So I’m not going to start trying to make you listen to lots of Jazz that you haven’t heard before in an attempt to persuade you to like some of it. If you can just bear with me through the next 5 videos ‘though, I am going to try to convince you that you already do like quite a bit of it. I’m also going to point out how astonishingly close you came to missing most of those bits too…

I’m going to start with a song which, according to a survey carried out by the BBC in 2005, is the third-most-popular love song played at weddings. And yet it went largely unnoticed when it was originally recorded for the soundtrack to the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ in 1969. In fact it only really became popular in 1994 when it was featured in a TV advert for Guinness. At that time it was re-released and reached number 3 in the UK Singles Chart. The singer, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, however was arguably the Jazz equivalent of Elvis Presley. Of course Jazz snobs will insist that his greatest recordings are the ones that he made in the late 1920s with his Hot 5s and Hot 7s. But that just makes those recordings the equivalent to Elvis’s Sun Sessions. Which just makes songs like ‘Hello Dolly’, ‘What A Wonderful World!’ and this one the equivalent of Elvis’s Vegas years:

There is a similar story for this song from Nina Simone, which she originally recorded for her 1965 album ‘I Put A Spell On You’. However it only became popular relatively recently after it was featured in a number of films and TV adverts. A testament to the universal nature of the song’s appeal is the sheer diversity of the artists who have subsequently recorded their own interpretations. Muse and Michael Bublé anyone? Yeah, you get my point – and we need never mention Mr. B*bl* ever again. You may also be familiar with Nina Simone’s version of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. She first recorded that one in 1958 but once again it remained relatively obscure until 1987. It then reached No. 5 in the UK Singles Chart after being featured in a TV advert for Chanel No. 5.:

Cab Calloway’s 1931 recording of this original composition helped to make him a household name. As well as being a singer, songwriter and band-leader, he subsequently starred in several Hollywood films, where he was billed alongside the likes of Bing Crosby, W.C. Fields, Bela Lugosi, George Burns and Lena Horne as well as other respected Jazz musicians like Nat ‘King’ Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald. He was also the inspiration for the character Sportin’ Life in George Gershwin’s famous opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. He subsequently played that character in a Broadway production with which he then toured the world successfully for the next 2½ years. So although you probably only know this song from his cameo role in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, this performance from 38 years earlier confirms that for Cab Calloway, that was simply business as usual:

While we’re thinking about Jazz songs that have featured prominently in films and TV adverts, please allow me to indulge myself with something from one of my personal favourite Jazz musicians. The greatest bass-playing leader / composer and Civil Rights activist Jazz has ever known: Charles Mingus. Aaaah, but there are so many, how do I choose which one? Oh sod it, let’s just have a whole load of ‘em:

This might potentially have been a slightly controversial one, but I think I’ve cunningly got that covered. Frank Sinatra began his career as a Jazz singer, first as a member of Harry James’s big band and later with Tommy Dorsey’s big band. So he very clearly had significant Jazz influences and interests. Nevertheless opinion is still divided about whether or not many of his later recordings may strictly be considered Jazz. Fortunately however there is no such debate about Count Basie. He was one of the most important pianists, organists, composers and bandleaders of the Swing era. Which makes the series of albums that Sinatra and Basie recorded together just about as Jazz as it’s possible to get:

So, hopefully by now you’ve grudgingly admitted that one or two of those songs weren’t actually too dreadful after all. With a bit of luck you’ve also realised that the chances are that there are plenty more Jazz songs out there which you’d like every bit as much. And the reasons why you haven’t heard them are because they haven’t been featured prominently in a film or a TV commercial and because you’ve been suffering from this strange misconception that you don’t like Jazz.

With a bit of luck I’ve also managed to dispel a few other misconceptions too. Like the one about Jazz being all just pompous middle-aged men wearing waistcoats and straw boaters playing endless ‘oompa oompa’ Trad. / Dixieland versions of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on trumpet or trombone. Or the one about Jazz being all just female Scat singers with extraordinary hair, warbling interminable streams of incomprehensible gibberish. Or the one about Jazz being all just groups of intense individuals performing Avante Garde compositions that sound like randomly discordant combinations of notes played in wilfully complicated rhythms. Because the fact is that Jazz isn’t all just’ anything at all – it’s a vast and sprawling mass of all sorts of different things… Which is why I’m concerned that I may be in danger of perpetuating a couple of other popular misconceptions about Jazz myself. So I’m going to include a few more things that you almost certainly won’t have heard before and possibly may not like, simply in order to dispel those myths…

Just before I do ‘though: I did mention that Charles Mingus’s music is generally considered to be ‘difficult’ Avant Garde Jazz, before I made you listen to it didn’t I? Ooops, sorry! Still, it clearly wasn’t too ‘difficult’ for all of those film-makers, was it? And apparently all of those advertising agencies didn’t think it would put people off buying all of those different products either.

Jazz, unlike all the Jazz singers and musicians I’ve mentioned so far, is not dead. Of course it’s been massively overshadowed by Pop, Rock, Electronic and Rap music over the course of the last 50 years. However it’s survived the deaths of most of its progenitors and it is still alive and well. Indeed it’s still evolving and embracing new ideas, new techniques and new technology. And it will continue to survive despite tragedies like the recent death of one of its most promising and prominent talents. Esbjörn Svensson sadly died in a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden in 2008. His band had just completed the album that includes this powerful and visionary recording:

Jazz is not always laid-back and soothing. It can be just as angry and frantic and visceral as any other type of music. London-based Acoustic Ladyland’s first album consisted entirely of their own Jazz interpretations of Jimi Hendrix songs, while this is their tribute to another one of their musical heroes, Iggy Pop. One Jazz critic has described them as being ‘The Sham 69 of Jazz’, although this just leads me to suspect that critic isn’t overly familiar with the work of the Ramones or Discharge:

Jazz does not exist in any sort of cultural or historical vacuum. It continues to influence and be influenced by music from all other genres. This, for example, is the fruit of a collaboration between Jazz collective The Blue Series Continuum, led by pianist and composer Matthew Shipp, with respected Underground / Left-Field Hip-Hop artist and Rapper El-P:

Finally, do you remember that I said I wasn’t going to try to get you to listen to lots of Jazz that you haven’t heard before in the hope that you’ll like it? Well I lied. Or at least, I’m going to make one immensely important exception.

In terms of Jazz, Miles Davis managed to combine the pre-eminence of The Beatles with the longevity of the Rolling Stones and the cool of Prince. He was as prolific as Frank Zappa, and caused just as much controversy amongst genre purists as Bob Dylan did when he too decided to ‘go electric’. He was as innovative and influential as Jimi Hendrix, and over the course of a 50 year career he adopted and adapted so many different new musical styles that it would have made David Bowie’s hair turn orange and stand on end. And this album is arguably the Jazz equivalent of Pet Sounds, The Velvet Underground & Nico, What’s Going On, Never Mind The Bollocks, Thriller, Back In Black, and The Dark Side Of The Moon all rolled into one. So, until you’re familiar with this album then you really shouldn’t be expressing any sort of opinion about Jazz at all… But, of course, even if you don’t like it, it’s still only one album out of millions and that still doesn’t mean that you can just say you don’t like Jazz. Right?:

If you’re looking for more recommendations about where to start exploring Jazz – and working out which bits of it you do and don’t like – then my advice would be to start with the overall consensus that’s represented here: Jazz 100 Top Jazz Albums The Best Jazz Ever Released Digitally

Stewart Osborne


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