August 25, 2019

THE 100 BEST JAZZ ALBUMS YOU NEED IN YOUR COLLECTION: Even the author admits that this is Brit GQ’s “totally subjective list of the 100 best jazz albums in the world * *Purists beware. You may be alarmed and offended,” but what’s fascinating is the throat-clearing before getting to the list:

“Jazz is for people who don’t like music,” says GQ’s Deputy Editor; it must be fun to play, he says, because it sure ain’t fun to listen to. (“I remember this tune,” he’ll say, “which is more than the guy playing it does.”) It is, in the words of some forgotten Eighties comedian, six guys on stage playing different tunes. GQ even ran a joke about it a few years ago: “Q: Why do some people instantly hate jazz?” “A: It saves time in the long run.” Even my youngest daughter hated it at the time. Aged five, after being subjected to hours of Charlie Parker in the car one weekend, she said, “I don’t like this music. There are no songs for me to sing to.” (The only jazz tune she liked is “Everybody Want To Be A Cat” from Disney’s The Aristocats.) Unbeknown to her, she was echoing John Lennon’s little-known jibe: “Jazz never does anything.”

Some people’s innate hatred of jazz is simply the result of an unfortunate experience, but then anyone who’s witnessed Art Blakey performing a three-and-a-half hour drum solo is entitled to feel a little peeved (and I speak as someone who has seen one at close quarters). On top of this, some people just don’t get it. Like the later work of James Joyce, the films of Tarkovsky and “tax harmonisation”, the fact that some things will always lie just beyond the common understanding is something jazz enthusiasts must learn to live with.

Also, jazz has often been victim to the vagaries of fashion, destined to be revived at the most inappropriate moments. The last time jazz was really in the limelight was back in the mid-Eighties, when it became the soundtrack du jour in thousands of matt-black bachelor flats all over designer Britain and when every style magazine and beer ad seemed to look like a Blue Note album cover. Jazz went from being a visceral, corporeal music to a lifestyle soundtrack. This was the age of Style Council, of Absolute Beginners… of Sting. Buying into jazz was meant to lend your life a patina of exotic sophistication and was used to sell everything from Filofaxes and coffee machines to designer jeans and sports cars.

In his excellent book, Jazz 101: A Complete Guide To Learning And Loving Jazz, John F Szwed writes: “The life and look of the black jazz musician offered a double attraction, that of the alienations of both artist and colour. Whatever jazz might have been as an actual occupation, the jazz musician offered one of the first truly nonmechanical metaphors of the 20th century. Now, whether one has heard of Charlie Parker or not, we inherit a motion of cool, an idea of well-etched individuality, a certain angle of descent.”

If jazz started life as a subversive sexual extension of ragtime, blues, boogie-woogie and the New Orleans sound, by the end of the century it had become the soundtrack of accomplishment, a way of upstairs acknowledging downstairs in the manner of nostalgie de la boue.

Read the whole thing, though if you know even the tiniest bit about popular postwar jazz albums, you’ll spot the number one title on the list coming from a mile away.

(Via Terry Teachout.)

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