Now this is something I've considered for a long time. And ultimately I don't think there is a finite answer, but here we go.
Technically Good Jazz
This would be your Tubby Hayes's and (early) John Coltrane's of the world. Every note is played. Their technical ability on their instruments shine through as they play nonuplets at 200bpm; while their harmonies and phrasing are perfectly precise.
Unfortunately for these greats they leave many-a-jazz listener in the dust as they blaze a trail to the nth modulation of C#-7flat5 13. And there is a fine line between knowing what you're doing here, and doing what I call "Typewriter playing" (flying your fingers round the sax with little direction so fast that no-one can really hear what you're playing)
So hear we have immense skill, but only for those worthy enough to be able to hear it; many of the intricate and delicate harmonies being hidden away in hemi-demi-semi-quavers. I remember when I was younger I would listen to these guys and leave with a headache. But I kept going back, because every time I did a new harmony was un-earthed, a new level to their solo was unlocked.
I could listen to the same piece, Giant Steps for example, for 10 years straight and still find new things to enjoy and hear about it. I know this because I have!
Now this would be every band that lays down a dorian minor chord and plays vertical solos relying on one or two sweet notes or blue tones.
The solos are long, as are the notes within. Often with overtones, large variations in pitch and often sticking to one night a playing it over and over.
There is nothing to miss here. And often I find there is nothing here. The pace is so slow I often find myself thinking "Are they really amazing and playing the subtlest of intervals...or are they just shit?"
When this music is played right it provides you a window into the soloists soul. You really can feel their music and connect to the musician. This accessibility is largely why it is popular.
This is the kind of music you would want to relax to, however. Something you'd smoke a pipe to, or perhaps some other shag. Whilst relaxing in a big chair; surveying the bustle of London. Like a big pretentious nob.
Now I think there are some real gems in this genre, and some absolutely fantastic musicians who can spin a whole story in just 3 notes (Think Miles Davis) but the nature of the beast allows far too many talentless pretenders to have a go, because at it's core this jazz is easy.
Earning a Crust Jazz
This is the jazz all musicians hate to play. Its your straight blueses, your Autumn Leaves your long winded vocal numbers from 1920 and your Oh When The Saints!
But, this is the music that we all get asked to play. Ten times more often than any other type.
We don't really mind playing this music, but jazz is about the pursuit of new sounds; new feelings, new rhythms, harmonies, intervals and melodies. So re-visiting the same tired 2-5-1's every week quickly becomes tiresome.
And the thing we hate the most about this music. Is that sometimes, we enjoy it. You'll find yourself singing along, tapping your foot and enjoying your wanky 12 bar blues solo comprised entirely from the pentatonic minor! Then after you will feel dirty, and ashamed. You see this kind of jazz is like a riding a mo-ped; great fun while you're on it, but you'd never want your friends to know about it.
Someone's experience of jazz is entirely subjective, this is why there will never be a definitive answer. I find the technical jazz exhilarating and exciting - others find it to be an exercise in mathematics and showing off how big your nob is.
Jazz comes down to a listeners experience. If they enjoy it, and get value from the music be it by a connection the the musician or music itself or by an intellectual gratification of the music or simply by hearing a tune you know and love; then it is good jazz!
I went to see some acclaimed LJF jazz at the green note last night. I remember excitedly telling the immediate company that "this was the band that played with ronnie scott" and "I've seen the pianist John Critchinson before with Simon Spillett" so you'll understand how shocked I was when the band started with what could only be described as a mix of minimal tech, trance and synth-jazz.
You see there is the Green Note, in Parkway. And the Green Man, on Euston Rd. The stalwart John Critchinson was at the Green Man...sadface.
After my initial reaction that I was listening to three wankers who didn't have a clue about music I realised there was some talent and skill in there. Mixed in with three and a half kilograms of pretentious noodling. I've always been of the opinion you have to get really good, before you can play really bad. Think 1960's John Coltrane i.e. post Giant Steps era.
There were a few good tunes in there, but there was little refinement and little technical skill. I must say their use of the loops and synths was an interesting addition and I could see it working.
Or to put it better, you would have to be really, really high to enjoy their music.
I was pleasantly surprised and relieved by the second band, headed up by pianist and composer Sam Leak
, featuring tenor saxophonist James Allsopp
Their music was truly beautiful to listen to. Heavy on modal and modulations mixed with an ethereal time feel and it all worked. Everything was tied together, even by the tiniest thread at times.
It was also obvious that these people lived their music. They were engaged with what they were playing, sometimes so much you could almost see the tears.
A real pleasure to listen too!
If you haven't been to the Green Note
before they run a jazz night on the first Sunday of every month which ends in a Jazz Jam. Well worth checking out.
It's that fantastic time of year again, where I get to grow a moustache and feel good about myself for doing it!
November is hi-jacked each year by men all over the world who grow a mo' and it's all in the name of raising money and awareness for men's health. Specifically testicular and prostate cancer.
If you feel that's a worthy cause then chuck in a few pounds on the donation page http://uk.movember.com/mospace/120131/
This time last year I wrote a blog about the ups and downs of having a moustache on the Twin and Tonic blog, here
This year I've gone for the "cowboy" look by sporting a handlebar moustache. And the results are equally chilling (see above).
Once again its a very worthy cause and if you have a spare british pound, please donate it to Movember
The Time Miser. Resembles a clock-watching coal mine owner...coincidence?!
Now before I start I should point out that anyone who makes me get up early for no good reason is the Devil.
1. A nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.
2. The one comodity you will never get back
1. One who lives very meagerly in order to hoard money.
2. A greedy or avaricious person.
Its Saturday and its 8am. Jimmy, who will now be refered to as the Time Miser, sends me a BBM to remind me that I need to be at his by 9 to catch the train to Yorkshire.
I hate him.
Once there I see him having a leasurely coffee, and saying that we've got ten minutes before we have to leave..."Well if we've got time for relaxing and coffee surely I could have spent that time in bed?!?!"
We arrive at King's Cross to meet David (the pianist) and Immie (our friend/groupie/nose picker) where upon I find we're not only early for our train, we have 20 minutes until it even arrives!
My hate for the Time Miser grows, like an un-yeilding field of invading brambles.
I seat myself opposite the Time Miser and fix him with a stare. He knows what i'm thinking and affixes a pleasant smug smile to his evil, child-like face.
You see me and the Time Miser go way back. Having played in many bands together. My philosophy is very much: We're all good musicians and can play pretty much anything that's put in front of us, therefore rehearsals and 'being early' is a luxury we need not afford. While the Time Misers is more along the lines of: We need to be there with hours to spare, even if our saxophonist can only snatch four hours of sleep from the cold night. Everything is planned down to the second with many, other, seconds comfortably padding its sides.
Once we arrive in Starbeck, Yorkshire we meet our bassist. 16 year old Alasdair. This is the first time any of us have met him, let alone played with him. Suddenly we are gripped with fears; "What if he can't play the pieces?" "How can we play All Blues without a bass?!"
These are rapidly put to rest when we start to rehearse, for which we have 5 hours....3 more than we needed. Alistair is not only a competent bass player, he is a great bass player. Certainly a match for those we've played with who are 6 years his senior!
During rehearsals we are met by the rather overly-enthusiastic priest of Starbeck church. Who is sporting a bicycle helmet despite being inside, and no-where near a bicycle. He then proceeds to exclaim "How fit!" the Time Miser is looking. "Isn't he fit!" He exclaims.
The mood lifts as the Time Miser squirms with slight dis-comfort. I hate him and he should not be allowed near clocks as his crimes against time are heinous.
This goes ahead very, very well. Not only are the levels perfect, we can hear eachother, we're all in tune and there's no dodgy echo. Despite it being a church!
I was pleasantly surprised by the whole gig, and would go as far as to say its the best stand-alone jazz gig we've done to date. The audience is having a good time too, with some good wine and gentle chit-chat.
Ordinarily I find talking during music rude, but for this gig it fit well; the place had a more jazz club feel, rather than a rigid jazz concert where everyone must sit in silence and listen to me play C# minor 9 over Bflat7, among other awkward side-slips.
Fortunately this gig was recorded by our excellent sound man, so we may get some CD's to flog to our loved-ones, co-workers and lovers.
Its not often I find reason to congratulate a sound man. This is one of those times where the sound man genuinely contributed positively towards an excellent sound!
After a long night I decide to rest my head upon Immie, our friend and groupie. Who then proceeds to stick her fingers up my nose for the next 30 minutes.
I 1. am too tired to prevent this nasal invasion and 2. quietly enjoying the Time Misers clear displeasure upon witnessing the event.
All in all it was a great gig, and an enjoyable trip up to the grim North.
However, upon some final calculations I have determined the following.
Time spent on the trip: 12 hours + 2.5 hours at the gig
Time used on the trip: 7 hours + 2.5 hours at the gig
Therefore time I could have slept in by: 5 hours.
Time miser; you are the bane of my existence.
There's a few good spots in Camden for Jazz, it goes with the 'alternative' populous that inhabits NW1.The Green Note Jazz Jam
This happens on Sundays fortnightly (that's twice a month) I went once...dressed in a pink shirt, beret, cravat and elegant scarf. I looked the part and everyone definitely thought I was cool.. anyway, the quality of the jam was good.
Not particularly well run; you just hopped up when you felt like it and blasted a tune. I remember the pianist playing one chord in first position the entire time during our rendition of Mr P.C. which made it sound naff...depends on who's there.
I also had to sit through 2 hours of the house band...while good the night was billed as a jam session.http://www.greennote.co.uk/The Blues Kitchen
I used to live just down the road from these guys, and went there more for the fine selection of whiskies and rather attractive bar-staff than the actual music. However they do run a couple of jam nights - Sunday's from 6pm.
Its a blues jam. So unless you can put up with 4 hours of 12-bar blues and pentatonic/blues scale abuse avoid!
The quality of the blues was actually OK as blues goes. But for a cynical blues-hating old man like me...
The jam itself is very well run, with an announcer and clip-board and everything.http://www.theblueskitchen.comA side note:
I've just noticed that swing patrol teach there Monday's. I went to a few of their lessons a while back which were tons of fun, full of beautiful women and easy to join in on. Plus Scott is a good bloke so go along if you fancy learning some scintillating dance moves. http://www.swingpatrol.co.uk/The Jazz Café
Don't let the name fool you. Jazz does not occur here. They sold out and have no souls.The UCLU Jazz Jam
While not technically in Camden its close enough. This is every Tuesday during term time on the 3rd floor bar (Phineas) of the UCL Union building from 8pm.
Its mostly populated by students at UCL from the jazz society. There is a wide mix of skills there and its very much a free-for-all. Worth going to, if not just for the gorgeous students and cheap booze.http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_153088404732191
I recently started reading "Jazz Anecdotes - Second Time Around" by Bill Crow A great collection of stories from when Jazz was all the rage - and its proponents honoured with whimsical stories, anecdotes and jokes.
Here's some of the best:
Deep in the African jungle, a safari was camped for the night. In the darkness, distant drums began a relentless throbbing that continued will dawn. The safari members were concerned, but the native guide reassured them. "Drums good. When drums stop, very bad"
Every night the drumming continued, and every night the guide reiterated. "Drums good. When drums stop, very bad."
Then one night the drums suddenly stopped. The guide look frightened. "When drums stop, very, very bad!" he exclaimed
"Why is it bad?" asked a member of the safari.
"Because when drums stop, bass solo begin!"
A vocalist hired a pianist to accompany her at an audition for a night-club job. After listening to a couple of songs, the owner said, "Can you sing 'When Sunny Gets Blue'? Its my favourite song. If you can sing it, you're hired."
The singer whispered to the pianist "I don't know it all the way through." The pianist said, "I know it. Go ahead and start, I'll prompt you."
Reluctantly, she began: "When Sunny Gets Blue..." She looked at the piano player for help, He whispered confidently, "B flat minor ninth."
Two salesmen were having a drink at a bar. One claimed he was successful because of his ability to relate to anyone. "Whatever their IQ I can talk to them on their own level." His friend wanted a demonstration, so he tapped a stranger on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, what is your IQ?"
"It's about 200."
The salesmen immediately engaged him in a discussion of nuclear physics.
The next candidate admitted to an IQ of 100. The salesman launched into a discussion of politics and ecology with him.
Finally the man at the end of the bar was asked his IQ. He said "Oh, I suppose its about 34."
The salesman said "What kind of reeds do you use?"
Big Band Drummer
A big band drummer was having time problems. He kept pulling the tempos down - playing slower and slower. The rest of the band urged the leader to get rid of him.
The leader talked it over with the drummer, who made frantic efforts to keep the tempos up where they belonged, but he couldn't seem to stop dragging. Even his fills and accents were late. Finally the whole band threatened to quit, and the leader reluctantly fired the guy.
The poor guy was so despondent that he went down to the railroad tracks, and threw himself behind a train.
A musician who had spend many years trying to break into the big time was feeling very depressed. He'd been turned down by every record company in the business. Seeking a perverse revenge, he booked a recording studio and told the engineer to record exactly what he would say, then copy it onto a thousand compact discs and send them to all the recording executives in the country.
In the vocal booth, once the red light came on, he ranted. "This is a message to all you sycophantic, talent-less bastards who have ignored me all these years. I dedicated my life to writing beautiful, emotive, soul-touching music, and all you idiots do is bin my tapes and sign pretty boy-bands and the Spice Girls. Well, I've taken all I can of your puerile, shallow industry, and it's YOU who've driven me to it! Goodbye, murderers of art!"
And with that he pulled out a gun, and blew his brains out. The sound engineer said from the booth "Okay....that's fine for level. Want to go for a take?"