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What Does 'That Jazz Sound' Mean To You?

   Scott Robinson - Saxo   by  Jimmy Baikovicius , Used Under CC- Attribution- Share Alike. 

Scott Robinson - Saxo by Jimmy Baikovicius, Used Under CC- Attribution- Share Alike. 


That jazz sound is a protean thing. It is as much about the musicians, about the chords and melodies, as it is about your cultural experience with jazz. What you bring to it informs what you take from it. Jazz is a style of music that demands that you meet it half way. As such, the angle from which we view it will change the sounds that we hear, that make us think "Hey, there's that jazz sound again." 

For some, the word evokes the image of a big band, an army of horns and winds. In front, leading the charge is some Sinatra, or Armstrong, or Fitzgerald. Their noise is broad, taking on a spirit of its own, ethereal in nature. It transcends, transporting the listener to another time, or another place. They play for a crowd of wealthy types, all in their evening attire, dancing a proper foxtrot around the floor. (Fred would be proud.) 

For others, the word means a small band, a rhythm section, one or two horns, a singer if you're lucky. The play their tunes out of some real book, passing around the solos. Sometimes the songs are short, and sometimes they go all night. It all about those six musicians, and what their muse calls them to do. They play for the folks who have just gotten off, who want some escape, who dance a swing from time to time. (Frankie would be proud.)

Still, for others, it is a trinitarian sound; a man, his guitar, and his spirit. Together, the three wander into a smoke filled bar off 7th and Washington, and the man and his guitar try to find some harmony with the spirit. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but they have to try. If they didn't, they might never be forgiven. So they reach out for some redemption, to maybe reach someone with similar spirit. The three of them dance. (Robert would be proud.)

Jazz has found its heroes in Davis, Mingus, Parker, Monk, and Dizzy, to name just a few. It has found its home in the dives, the theaters, the ballrooms, and the clubs. It has found its life in America's heart, mind, and soul. It has its continuation in every child that learns to dance, or picks up an old Coltrane record. But its sound? I don't think it can be pinned down quite so easily. I can't tell you what that jazz sound is. I can only ask, what does that jazz sound mean to you?