Am I ready for jazz? Ten years ago I became obsessed by Frank Zappa, and marginally dipped into Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica (a sort of mix between blues and free jazz influences). The first Zappa I ever heard was the three CD set Laether which features a widely varied sample of his music from his doofus comedy stuff to lengthy jazz experiments with instrument parts in clashing time signatures. I loved it all, but over the years have drifted more towards his more conventional song stuff like the album We're Only In It For The Money, therefore missing my chance to get into jazz at an early age. Around the same time as getting into Zappa I also got obsessed by Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and Edgar Varese. Although I bought CDs and records by them, and still own them, more time was spent reading, talking and thinking about them than actually listening to their music. The only exceptions really are Poeme Electronique by Varese and Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano by Cage, which continue to be among my favourite pieces of music. The point is that despite getting dangerously close over the years I have never got properly into 'difficult' (i.e. challenging) instrumental music. I'm sure at times I've even expressed mild annoyance at the overall tone of jazz music; and my tastes vary cyclically so when I got into hip hop, funk, disco, that sort of stuff, I lost interest in the tough stuff.
Reading my way through the intelligent descriptions of Captain Beefheart's music in the biography by Mike Barnes I have felt the stirrings of excitement about difficult music that I haven't felt for a long time. It is a rediscovery, or a reawakening, or a rebirth, or a repaint of my once crazy musical tastes. Maybe I had become embarrassed by what I had decided was my own pretensions. I was not a musician so perhaps shouldn't be listening to such difficult stuff; pretentious like someone who doesn't speak Polish publicly reading literature in Polish and claiming they just like the way it sounds even if they don't understand it. Conspicuously consuming the un-comprehended language as though it is Kurt Schwitters sound poetry.
The Beefheart book has got me excited about colliding poly-rhythms and atonal clusters in a way I haven't felt for some time. It speaks of an album I have never heard of, but will be listening to soon when the download completes, Free Jazz by Ornette Coleman. Instrumental music is much more conducive to writing that music featuring voice. In fact the only thing worse that lyrical/vocal music is the fucking television. At the moment I have finished listening to Miles Davis' In a Silent Way, and am now enjoying Zappa's Hot Rats, which besides the Beefheart featuring Willie the Pimp I have never given much of a chance. With Hot Rats I'm reacquainting myself with the fairly familiar in order to ease myself into this vast and complicated world currently unknown to me. Jazz now seems to be grown up music for serious people, which is odd considering how crazy, innovative and even dangerous it used to be. In HMV in Manchester the Jazz section is tucked away at the back in a separate room, behind heavy doors, with the classical music. Speaking of classical music, I have been listening to a lot of Beethoven over the last few months, but if truth be told it is often the catchiest tunes that have captured my attention, particularly the famous Ode to Joy theme from the Choral. Baby steps into the worlds of grown-up music; and about fucking time.
|Saint John Coltrane icon at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church|