A Beginner’s Guide To Jazz

A Beginner’s Guide To Jazz

Ben Smith eases beginners into the vast, rewarding world of jazz

Jazz is big. Not big like Beyoncé or Pringles, but big like the ocean: there’s a lot of it. Almost ever since we’ve had the ability to record sound, jazz musicians have been practicing, playing and performing, and as a result there are millions of albums out there. To top this off, there is the cliché of 30 minute songs made up of incomprehensible solos over an equally incomprehensible rhythm. Little wonder that getting into jazz can seem slightly daunting.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the musical tunnel. While there are some fantastic albums that follow that formula (Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew is great but has songs pushing 25 minutes), a huge amount is a lot more diverse and easier to enjoy. To try and rectify the problem, I’ve put together a list of five albums to show off the variety that jazz has to offer for new listeners. Songs will be short but sweet, solos will be kept to a minimum and there may even be opportunity for some dancing.

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (2012)

Glasper is a fantastic pianist with a fair few albums under his belt, mostly sticking to the simple but effective trio of piano, bass and drums. But by his fifth album, he had gotten a bit bored and decided to invite along some of the big names in R&B. The end result was a classic jazz album given a modern kick up the arse, a wonderful blend of sleek and sexy vocals supported by gentle piano and driving, urgent drums. It’s also the first, and likely the last, album where the classic Afro Blue and Smells Like Teen Spirit have shared space on the track list.

Dr. John – Locked Down (2012)

If jazz is the father of modern music, then blues is the grandfather. And Dr. John is firmly grasping the grandfather title, still recording and releasing after six decades. Cue Locked Down, a record crusted with chunky saxes, rusty guitars and blues’ trademark heaviness. King of this sonic wasteland is John himself with a voice rasping and heaving with age and troubles, making him the perfect poster boy for the whirlwind of misery around him. And despite all this, it’s still a joy to listen to.

Curtis Mayfield – Superfly (1972)

If jazz is the father of modern music, then funk is the slightly eccentric uncle; he tells you stories of his crazy antics as a youth, he lets you sip from his hip flask while your parents aren’t looking, he just wants everyone to have a good time. Superfly will make you have a good time – from the fat bass to the crisp horns, the whole thing oozes cool by the bucket load, and Curtis’s vocals are the silky, sexy icing on the cake.

Quasimoto – The Unseen (2000)

This one is an oddball choice, but stick with me. Quasimoto/Madlib is an underground hip-hop producer, known for sampling old jazz and soul records and twisting them on their head to create jazz beatscapes. Coupled with his pitched shifted vocals that bring to mind Bugs Bunny rapping, the end result is both bizarre and highly addictive. If you’re a hip-hop head then this is a must-listen, and proof of just how diverse jazz can be.

The Seatbelts – Cowboy Bebop (1998)

Cowboy Bebop was a cult anime series about cowboys… in space. With such strong Sci-fi and Western themes, the natural choice for the soundtrack was of course jazz – well perhaps not, but the end result works extraordinarily well. The Seatbelts charge through styles like Pokemon, trying to collect them all, and do so without missing a beat. If you fancy a raucous big band, foot-stomping, spacey new-age or even some dub reggae for good measure, you can’t go wrong with this. And for the Cowboy fans, there’s even a bit of Country & Western.


Featured Image Credit:Roland Godefroy via wikipedia


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