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All That's Jazz - Introduction

With the agreement of my publisher, Tomahawk Press, we decided to semi serialise my first book using excerpts. This is the introduction.

When I first had the idea of writing a book on jazz the positive response from musicians, venue managers, radio station owners and festival organisers - in fact everyone I spoke to, was overwhelming. Over the past few years I have interviewed individual musicians, reviewed CDs and live gigs and got to know many people involved with jazz, inspired by my own inexorable attraction to the music. I am fortunate to be a senior writer for Jazz in Europe, have my own columns on All About Jazz and a regular contributor to Something Else Reviews and Kind of Jazz. I have appeared on radio shows in the US and the UK discussing jazz, covering gigs and had pieces published in newspapers and magazines.

One of my editors simply calls me 'Maverick', a term I hope is meant affectionately but one I like because it means I maybe come at things from a different angle. With jazz music is there is always learning to be done so writers, musicians, devotees, rarely reach a point where they can say they are 'expert' or gain a big head because the music is still changing, evolving and dynamic so you never know much really even with many years' experience. There is too much out there to take in.

Through a passion for jazz I have come to understand something of how the jazz world works, how it revolves around this wonderful music but is also reliant on a host of devoted people who work in the background, ensuring the music reaches those who want to hear it, whether that be live or through the mediums of CDs, vinyl, radio or the internet. I wanted to create a book which engaged people with jazz and intrigued them. Not another volume discussing genres or particular eras or musicians – there are many excellent books to choose from already, but a book which explained how things work and how jazz influences almost every kind of music whilst also referencing nearly every other genre. Once the book began to take shape and become a reality, people embraced the concept wholeheartedly. Many generously gave their opinions, a lot of time, and willingly shared their passion and knowledge. With support from Tomahawk Press this book has been created to provide an insight into the world which surrounds this wonderful music.

In discussions and interviews, it became clear that jazz music has a way of reaching into the hearts of both players and listeners. What never fails to surprise me is how jazz music is so important to those who are involved, how passionate they are about it and sharing it with others. There are frustrations, frequent moans about how jazz is portrayed and misconceptions that surround jazz music, the lack of venues and the little money available but ask a jazz musician if they would ever stop playing jazz and there is complete agreement – never!

Personally, jazz has opened something deep within me, created a place where shared expression is truly felt with both those playing and listening. I experienced pop, classical, opera and folk music. I have been in shows, operas, sang in bands and choirs and played my clarinet and oboe in orchestral works but none of these great genres affected me the way jazz does. I used to be concerned about going to gigs on my own or perhaps feeling I did not know enough of the technicality of the music but the fact is, you don’t have to know all the terms. Jazz people aren't elite, they are from every walk of life. You just have to be open of mind and prepared to listen with your heart as well as your ears. As an observer, writer and asker of questions, it is possible to gain a little of an understanding of how people feel about jazz music, its history, journey and future and the learning never stops. I have also never found such a willing body of people to embrace those seeking answers, wishing to learn, hear in a different way and understand why the music affects so many right across social bands, colours and classes.

Jazz has changed much during its relatively short existence - just over a hundred years has seen the evolution of jazz from the traditional jazz of New Orleans, through Ellington, Armstrong, Coltrane and Davis to the free and avant garde movement and modern day jazz which includes some music which is hardly more than a connection of sounds but still is embraced under the generous jazz umbrella. Yet, each kind of jazz does not ‘give way’ to the next development - the jazz umbrella simply expands to embrace more kinds of jazz as they develop. There are avid devotees of traditional jazz and many who are coming to enjoy free and improvised music. Audiences are filling with younger people. There are new players with intriguing styles and techniques arriving all the time. Some will find an audience ready and willing to accept their music, others will not but there is a stage for most. Unquestionably, jazz is where musicians can try different sounds, see if people are receptive to them and always grow as players.

Whilst jazz does so much for many people there are also a few misconceptions and some questions which need answering in order to explain how the jazz business works, how it keeps going and where its place in the broad tapestry of creative arts is. The questions which my discussions raised include such aspects as; what does it mean to be making jazz music in the 21st century? Is there still a place for music which had its commercial peak in the 40s and 50s? Is jazz still relevant and how is it changing? Do jazz musicians just play jazz? Why do many musicians return to jazz again and again even though it may not be the most lucrative genre? And what about the record companies? Many people lament the demise of jazz as a commercial genre yet there are many record companies, big and small who continue to put out new jazz music or reissues of the jazz stars of the 50s and 60s, so how do they survive?

How do concerts come together and how are they arranged? When does a manager get involved? What about the money side of things? What is it like to be a jazz musician, playing venues perhaps hundreds of miles apart over a few days, travelling constantly, working unsociable hours, practicing endlessly? What about family life? What is it like to be a partner of a musician? How does it work with agents, management and arranging gigs? How do you start out? Do musicians make money? Do labels make money? The questions are endless but all these things, people allowed me to ask and gave their considered answers, those responses varying according to who they were and often what their position was. The bigger stars whose career is in music had different opinions, for example, than the players who performed to enhance other income or played in small venues. Smaller record labels had different views from larger ones.

The aim from the outset was to share this wonderful music with as many as possible, to allow people to understand that jazz has few limitations and by explaining the way things work, to engage more people with the music should they wish.

Armed with many questions, I approached labels, musicians, venues, people I already knew and some new ones. Almost without exception they agreed to talk to me, give information and welcomed the chance to express their thoughts and ideas on jazz at the present time.

All over the world musicians, managers and those involved with jazz in some form have been poring over the questions, giving them thought and responding as honestly as they can, helping me to share with people what the jazz business is like and why this music has such a profound influence on their lives. Some contacted me from tours, gigs or their homes with thoughts they had and needed to express. Some gave me detailed, expansive responses. Some put down just a few key words and trusted I would understand. One musician told me that when he looked at the amount of information he had put down, he felt as if this was his chance to have a voice; that this book could be the book jazz has been waiting for. As I gathered the information in I began to see the answers clearly.

The result is this book - it tells it like it is from the viewpoints of musicians, record labels, partners, managers and more. It reveals jazz from the inside out and the viewpoints of those involved. It dispels a few myths, seeks to explain why jazz music once again draws people to it in increasing numbers, how the historical importance of past players is still relevant today and the changing face of jazz. It includes new forms of jazz, new players and how they change perceptions, challenging established methods of playing, taking the music to new levels and audiences. It investigates the role of festivals, promoters and the listeners.

Before I began to shape the idea into reality I thought it best to check with some of the musicians whether they thought a book like this was anything like a good idea. Just a few of the responses I got were:

Vocalist/composer Carmela Rappazzo: “I would be completely OK with this, and in fact very happy to be included. Xoxo”

Composer/band leader/clarinettist Mort Weis; “I would be more than honoured to be included in the book. Feel free to use anything re; me that you see fit and I feel perfectly at ease with you doing anything you see fit in the telling of the tale - you know that not only do I have great respect for your literary skills but I also enjoy them.”

Double bass player John Edwards: “Yes of course, that's fine. Do let me know if you want any other titbits”.

Singer Barb Jungr: “How brilliant - this is great news. What do you need from me? Anything you need to get this gig - I'll do it. Barb xx”

Leader/ saxophone player Colin Webster: “I'm happy to contribute in any way. I really hope the book happens - I'd love to read it!”

Double bass and electric bass player Yaron Stavi: “It is my pleasure to be part of it. Thanks, Best”,

Leader and clarinet/sax/flute player Daniel Bennett: “Of course! Sounds very cool. Count me in. This is so cool! Let me know if you need more information from me. Like I could talk about the time that I smuggled a bear onto the New York City subway. Am I making that up? I don't remember.”

Composer, saxophone player and leader of bands, ensembles and orchestra projects Mats Gustaffson: “Totally understand what you wanna do and I think it is a great idea. Really. Rockin! Lookin’ forward to the project, and yeah - there are of course a million stories - let me know if I can be of any more help.”

John Russell, guitarist “It sounds like it will be really special and I am delighted to have been some use and also be a part of it”.

So, people have confidence in the book, want to see it written and, most of all, understand what the aim of the book is. I had no idea how inspirational those I asked would be or how deeply they would consider their answers or how asking one question would often lead to more. Along with responses obtained from the musicians and other people in the jazz business there are, in this book, many thoughts gathered from discussions with people on my own sometimes awkward, sometimes hard, often delightful but always interesting journey with jazz.

As well as answering my questions, many people have devoted hours of their time in other ways producing material to enhance the book. They searched through photographic records, drew wonderful portraits and found previously unpublished photographs, some of them restored painstakingly from original negatives taken many years ago. So this is a book produced not just by me but by many people, each understanding the importance of such a publication and how it could help the music, the musicians and those listening to jazz gain just a bit more insight.

There have been many books written about individual musicians, periods of jazz music, different genres by people with far greater knowledge than me. This book is not intended to be a historical account, about particular individuals or an academic tome. It also seeks to make no judgements. Some of the opinions of musicians and other people included clash and differ considerably but they are their opinions and so have found a rightful place in the book. Rather, it starts at the beginning, with the origins of jazz and brings us to the present day discussing the ins and outs and where we are now. It is about the birth, the journey and the growth of jazz - which is by no means finished - and how the business works. More importantly it is about what musicians, record producers, venue managers and others feel about the music. The advice is to come with no set opinions but be prepared to read the words, listen internally to what is said by these amazing people and most of all, enjoy your journey. I hope to use as little of the word 'I' as possible and hand over to the musicians and other people involved to tell you how it all pieces together.

Jazz influences many other music genres and vice versa. Improvisation is part of classical playing and operatic arias but in jazz music it is inherent and the quality and effectiveness of the improvisation is affected by the skill, emotional state and openness of both players and listeners. As such it is defined as a separate genre and one which has deep and life-long effects on people. Embraced officially as the music of America, even protected by an act of congress, it has support, funding and recognition from the highest office.

On the South Lawn of The White House, Washington, in 2016, President Barack Obama introduced National Jazz Day. For the occasion The White House was a host venue and for one day was re-named The Blues House. Mr Obama introduced the occasion with words which included:

“For five years, International Jazz Day’s main event has been celebrated around the world, from Istanbul, to Osaka, to Paris. So we couldn’t be prouder that, this year, jazz comes back home to America... In 1964, Dizzy Gillespie ran for President - this is a true story - and he said, “When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House to the Blues House. So tonight, we’re going to do right by Dizzy. We are turning this place into the Blues House. And before anybody calls this executive overreach or some sort of power-grab, I want to clarify that I did not issue a new executive order. I just invited all my favorite jazz musicians to play in my backyard, which is one of the great perks of the job.

I don’t need to tell this crowd the story of jazz. From humble origins as the music of the black working class - largely invisible to the mainstream - it went on to become America’s most significant artistic contribution to the world. Jazz took shape in that most American of cities, New Orleans, where the rich blend of Spanish, and French, and Creole, and other influences sparked an innovative new sound. By the early 20th century, you could walk down the street of the infamous Storyville district and - maybe as you tried to stay out of trouble - hear the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and, of course, Louis Armstrong.

Over the years, the sound traveled and changed - hot jazz, swing, bebop, Latin, fusion, and experiments that defied labels. But its essence has always remained the same.

Most jazz lovers probably remember the first time this music got into our bones. Maybe it was Miles teaching us to make room for silence, to hear life in the notes that he didn’t play. Or how Herbie (Hancock) could hang our hearts on a suspended chord. Or how Billie’s (Billie Holiday) voice, shimmering and shattered, seemed to bend time itself.

For me that happened as a child when my father, who I barely knew, came to visit me for about a month. And in the few weeks that I spent with him, one of the things that he did was take me to my first jazz concert - to see Dave Brubeck in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1971. And I didn't realize at the time that it had, but the world that that concert opened up for a 10-year-old boy was spectacular. And I was hooked.

Many have said that they've been hooked as well. And perhaps more than any other form of art, jazz is driven by an unmistakably American spirit - it is, in so many ways, the story of our nation’s progress. Born out of the struggle of African Americans yearning for freedom. Forged in a crucible of cultures - a product of the diversity that would forever define our nation’s greatness. Rooted in a common language from which to depart to places unknown. It's both “the ultimate in rugged individualism” - to get out on stage with nothing but your instrument and improvise, spontaneously create; and the truest expression of community - the unspoken bond of musicians who take that leap of faith together. There is something fearless and true about jazz. This is truth-telling music.… We hope this music will lead to new avenues for dialogue, and new collaborations across borders. And if we can keep faith with that spirit, there’s no doubt that jazz will live on for generations to come… Is everybody ready? Let’s do this thing. ”

With this in mind, read on.


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