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Evocative Jazz

How to make jazz music more than just background music

By Noah Ottinger

What draws me to jazz more than, say, acid rock, country, or disco, is not so much the music itself.  Yes, I definitely love the typical “sound” in which we classify jazz (which we do sometimes a bit too readily), and there is definitely a rhythmic freedom to it that I find downright electrifying at times.  No, what really attracts me to jazz is how wonderfully evocative it can be, and how there are definite distinct moods and seasons associated with different styles.

When I put on an album, I am never listening just for the sake of melody or pure appreciation.  The songs that I really connect with are always the ones that are able to conjure up some sort of scene within me.  In that way, I find jazz to be more like following a story than an output for raging testosterone or sympathetic exhales.  It gives me more than emotional zig-zags and conversational canvas pieces, but something nostalgic almost.  Like an old film. Take, for example, the well-known and well-loved jazz standard “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by Charles Mingus.  Upon hearing this particular ballad, so haunting and beautiful, I always picture this particular scene in my head.  There is always a man sitting at the bar alone in a dark tavern.  He has lost everything.  What he has lost and the reasons behind it do not matter.  It is an image conjured by the artist, and carried and brought to life by the heart and mind, played in the foreground as the song turns from beginning to the end.  The same can of course be said for such season-oriented songs as “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi (try not to picture the Charlie Brown) or my personal favorite for purposes of imagining, “Magic Cup” by Gregory Porter.

Jazz is not comfortable with staying in the background of coffee shops as homework fodder to go with double shots of espresso.  It should not be ignored.  I invite you to let your mind wonder places and let Django Reinhardt or Louis Armstrong be the background to your own private movie.  Good travels.

Jazz in the Morning airs every weekday from 6-9 a.m.