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Is Listening to Jazz Hard Work?

By September 30, 2009

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Richard Mitnick asserts that someone new to jazz must put in disciplined effort in order to enjoy the music. Peter Hum at jazzblog.ca counterblogs with the argument that "jazz need not be old, need not be approached with a scholar's devotion, need not be overly serious."

I tend to agree with Hum, especially when the conversation turns to attracting jazz newcomers. On the other hand, the discoveries of virtually all of my favorite recordings were accompanied by initial dislike or confusion. The requisite effort was always something that appealed to me, but I can understand that not everyone wants to put in time and energy in order to find good music.

The Jazz Now lists, including my own list of suggestions, generally include fun music that tempers its accessibility with somewhat of a challenge. I think most jazz musicians and fans would agree that the challenge is part of what makes jazz so exciting. Maybe simply hearing and enjoying the music really isn't enough to really appreciate it. As Stravinsky (who was reportedly a jazz fan himself, and who wrote several pieces based on ragtime) said, "A duck hears also."

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October 2, 2009 at 12:37 pm
(1) Richard Mitnick says:


Thanks for including a link to my post. I am admittedly making a strong statement. But I think that the way I am going about widening and deepening my knowledge and enjoyment of Jazz is pretty solid.

One of the commentors at Peter’s weblog noted that if one is merely a collector, maybe there is not so much merit in the enterprise, that one does not need ALL of an artists work to understand and appreciate it.

I do try to get as much of an artist’s work as possible. I think that if one gets only “The Essential…….” or “XXX’s Greatest….”, then one misses the developing connective tissue between the monumental works.

And, I asked, who are the players. I have gone to great lengths to get all of the personnel for each album. I buy music in .mp3 at Amazon. Amazon does a very poor job with personnel.

My current project is to go into the tagging of albums I have and add the date ahead of the title. I am on Windows machines, so I do this in either WMP11 or Zune. The albums will then come up in date order. Then, I can listen to a cycle of that artist. I put them on my 120 gig Zune, I take them for walks, on planes, to the dentist, whatever.

In John Coltrane, how do we get from “Lush Life” (1957) to “Ascension” (1965) or better yet “A Love Supreme” (1965)?

The backbone of my strategy (I cannot come up with a better word) is Steve Rowland’s work in two radio series presented on WNYC, New York Public Radio, “Tell Me How Long ‘Trane’s Been Gone” and “The Miles Davis Radio Project”. I listened to the segments over and over and discovered a flow in the creativity of these two geniuses. There were many changes over time. So, that is what I look for, a flow, changes, development through time.

And, believe me, as I said in my own post, my knowledge is five miles wide and on-half an inch thick.

I also have a large collection of Classical music. Looking for rebellion, I commented that Hilary Hahn was for me the “It Girl” of the violin concerti. No on said a word. It doesn’t show disrespect for Classical music. It just says that I am not as much engaged with it.

Thanks again. I am glad someone is listening


October 3, 2009 at 8:38 pm
(2) Brian Jones says:


It use to take me a lot of work to listen to jazz. That’s why I never listened to it. Something happened in my late 40s, and I finally understood (or “got”) jazz.

I have spoken to other folks, and they have experience a similar thing.

My only regret is that there is so much jazz to listen to, and so little time.

I still don’t understand the musical underpinnings of jazz. Reading a review of a jazz album can make my mind lock up.

All I know is that jazz is great to relax. Sometimes I can even play a little jazz tune in my head.

October 23, 2009 at 11:05 pm
(3) Richard Mitnick says:

I was just looking around and again found your post. When I last saw it and commented, I should have noted that I really should not be placed on anywhere near equal footing with Peter Hum. I have a long way to go.


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