Passing near the Catalina Bar and Grill last night (on my way to the Cat and Fiddle) put me in mind of the Roy Hargrove concert there of a couple of weeks ago (see also here), which in turn put me in mind of a conversation I had a week later during which something slightly disturbing occurred to me. Let me explain. (A clickable picture of Roy Hargrove in action at the concert is below)
I was having dessert over at a friends house after a nice dinner in Pasadena, and three of us were kicking around thoughts, stories, and ideas. The subject of musical likes and dislikes came up – I think because someone put something on the CD player, and one of my friends said that she did not like Jazz. I was not quite sure what she meant by this, and since she’s a friend who I like a respect a lot, I probed further. I tried to ascertain how much she’d actually heard, since I my opinion Jazz is a very large and many-splendoured thing and to say you don’t like it after having heard a little is like trying sweet and sour pork, not liking it, and then deciding that you don’t like Chinese cuisine. I explained this opinion, and having established that she preferred “classical” music, (another large and encompassing term for a huge variety, of course) I tried to explain how she might find a way into Jazz by using that as an entry point.
My point was not that she was wrong to not like Jazz, but that she should keep an open mind about it until she’s given it a fair chance. I explained another key point that might help. It usually becomes clear at a point like this in a conversation of this sort that one of the key problems for the listener is that they’re not aware of a great deal of what is going on in the music, that there are often several layers of interesting things going on that someone who wants to listen a little more than superficially can hear if they learn what to listen for. But it takes practice, experience, and the development of a vocabulary. And an open mind. Much of this is true for listening to a lot of musical types, to be sure, but it is arguably more so with a greater component of Jazz than for most other types.
And then there is a major component that is missed a lot – had she ever been to a jazz concert? I asked this because I think this is really a key way of learning about one of the most wonderful things about (some of) the best jazz – communication. Once you know what to listen for, you can hear the communication between the musicians by listening to a recording, of course, and one of the best ways to train your ear it to use your eye to help. Go to a concert, sit up close, and make sure you can see all the players. Watch them as they play…. look for the exchanged glances, the smiles to each other or just to themselves, the nods, tilts of the head, etc. Listen for the grunts of acknowledgement, the transfer of one musical phrase from one instrument to another (yes, this does include the drums) – that wonderful trading of ideas which happens throughout the music. (Look at the picture of pianist Gerald Clayton as he plays a solo during the aforementioned concert – click for larger view – he’s looking over at other player during a particularly wonderful exchange of this sort.)
Then of course there is the whole issue of what the musicians are doing up there. When someone takes a solo, are they just playing random stuff, or are they actually composing an often beautiful and intricate piece of music on the spot? Does the composition/solo have no point, or is it in fact a complete story, rather like a wonderful juicy tale told you by an interesting friend, a wonderful story-teller? I would say that the answer to both is (if you’re listening to good jazz) the latter and not the former. Once you’ve learned to listen for these things, recorded jazz will make infinitely more sense than before.
Anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that (I think) I brought out the ideas I mentioned above in a pleasant conversational way, and not like the stern lecture it sort of seems upon reading it!
Now here’s the thing that gave me pause. My friend mentioned something else. She’s of the opinion that Jazz is in fact a “guy thing”, and that (on balance) women don’t really like jazz. This includes everything from the music itself to the whole business of sitting in a small dark (sometimes smoky – but less so these day) room listening to this stuff. It’s a guy thing. Women just tolerate it.
My first instinct was to laugh at this, but she was deadly serious. I commented upon the huge number of women friends of mine, past and present who love jazz. I also commented upon the large number of women who actually play jazz, both as a hobby and professionally.
But she pressed the point, and I pressed back, as did our other friend (also a woman, who likes some Jazz). But then (as can happen with me sometimes) I fell back into a bit of self-doubt. How do I know that all those examples are really good examples? Among all the women friends I remember discussing and enjoying Jazz with, including ones I’ve been to many concerts with, how do I really know that they liked it as much as I did (whatever that means)? What if they were just humouring me? Maybe I get that look in my eye when I’m enthusiastic about something, champ down on the bit, get the wind in my sails, and go off on one of my long explanations and examinations (see above). Some women will push back (yay!) but maybe a whole bunch (maybe most?) were just agreeing with me for the sake of it. Maybe they were just being nice, or they were happy to just peacefully enjoy the excellent single malt scotch I’m prone to break out when I’m playing jazz at home at night, or…
I fell silent at the horror of this thought that a huge part of my social life in the past might have been based on a lie, and the conversation moved on to some other topic.
So tell me, dear reader – please. What do you think? Do you agree that more men like jazz than women1? Or not? Why? I’m a bit confused and distressed by this… Help!
1This may or may not border on the issue of whether men are better than women at analytical subjects like science and mathematics, (I don’t think that they are, for many reasons – this is an issue that’s been probably discussed enough here for a bit) so you can see the large wriggling can of worms that lurks beneath. Or maybe it has nothing to do with that. I’m not sure….
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):