For me, it’s not pretend. It’s not to give a false identity as if my sonic maturity should position me in the elitist class. Black music, in the form of jazz, is my essence. It connects to me in ways that other forms of audio vibration don’t. Can’t. It’s a music, a culture that I embrace wholeheartedly. And I respect the music and those who are the vessels creating this form.
I say this because I’m tired of the fake jazz listener [insert authentic jazz hearer] prostituting the music for their own emotional and intellectual gratification. These perverted narcissists make a mockery of the works of the legends and lesser knowns, and insult my intelligence and the intelligence of others who inhale and exhale everything that the music offers. Jazz has become a relic, a status symbol. It’s an artifact of a long lost civilization that these cultural pirates excavate for their own ego’s appetite. Only jazz is treated this way.
There’s a proverb, for which I do not know the author, that says, “the man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all.” I know Badu sang it, but I know I heard it before her. Anyways, it’s been said by a few of my friends that I know more about music than anyone else they know. A statement that completely humbles me. It’s humbling because I know I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I do know enough to catch one of these clowns in the act of trying to pull one over on me. They’ll say something like, “Oh, I listen to jazz. I absolutely loooove Ella Fitzgerald.” Or, “Kind of Blue is my favorite album” (I’ve heard both of these along with other declarations on several occasions).
Here’s how this works: When you say that your favorite jazz singer is Ella Fitzgerald, or your favorite album is Kind of Blue, or some other generic statement, while you think that that is somehow going to make you hip and give you some kind of class or cultural refinement, you’re doing quite the opposite. What you’re actually doing is telling me that you don’t know jack about the music, probably can’t name 5 jazz vocalists, or 3 other significant albums. You probably can’t even provide the lineup to Kind of Blue.
*This isn’t to say that Ella Fitzgerald or Kind Of Blue can’t be your favorites. You’ll just have to prove it because I won’t believe you at all.*
Again, jazz is not a living breathing art form anymore. It’s a relic. It’s like Mickey Mantle’s rookie card. And to be associated with it somehow says that you are refined and are more culturally astute than those whose musical tastes are proudly bounded to pop.
What’s the problem with not knowing? I’ve found that the key to majority of the things that I do know now is the simple phrase, “I don’t know.” That declaration led me to wanting to know and figuring out ways to obtain my limited knowledge. Many of my friends will ask me to put them on to some jazz, which I gladly oblige. I have no problem whatsoever making mix cd’s of each period and subgenre, to get a feel for their tastes. Then I’ll provide them with some more music in regards to their preference. I do this proudly. But I do that because they show a true appreciation to learn more about the music.
Jazz is not smooth. It’s not cool. It’s not simply something that goes well with whiskey (though I would recommend Kenny Burrell or Lou Donaldson if that’s what your trying to do). It is the full range of human emotion and can’t be regulated to one or two prescribed vibes. The idea that jazz should simply make you want to sit next to a fireplace with a glass of wine, or be background music on a lazy do-nothing day, is a slap in the face to the many musicians who bled for this music. You’re continuing to degrade those leaders of the art form who struggled to make ends meet, who were not allowed to play at certain clubs, whose innovations were pilfered and profited from by copycats. You bring nothing to the appreciation and preservation of the music. You’re simply a cultural parasite.
Stop treating the music this way. Either build a relationship with it, or leave it alone.
I’ve had this conversation many times before. I simply don’t know why it’s so hard for some to say they don’t know, or aren’t well versed in something. It does not make you less culturally aware or less cool. It’s just something you don’t know. If you don’t know, you don’t know. No big deal. I don’t know much about reggae, and I won’t act like I’m an expert. When you acknowledge that you don’t know something, you open yourself up to learning about it. When you fake the funk, and act like you know what you’re talking about, you’re essentially closing the book on learning indefinitely. You will move forward without knowing anything. Your knowledge on the subject matter will be one big charade. What’s the point really?
It’s why mislabeled photos of people like Billie Holiday bothers me. They don’t know who she was, fine. No big deal. It’s not required knowledge. So why bother to act like they know, when they clearly don’t? By posting pictures of random black women they find on the internet as her, they are showing and proving how much they don’t know. It really grinds my gears. And when you call them out, instead of self-reflection and being introspective, they get mad. Like you’re the one in the wrong, and not them. Maybe I should start posting pictures of Abraham Lincoln, and then caption it as Osama Bin Laden being a total bad boy with his rebel beard. They both had beards, anyone could have made that mistake. What, it’s wrong? Fuck you for correcting me! When I post nonsense on the internet, no one should have the audacity to call me out on my bullshit!
The problem here though, is that the original post is extremely judgmental and gets right to the heart of what makes some folks afraid to approach jazz at all. Judging somebody else’s musical tastes because they aren’t well versed in something is just wrong. Instead of reacting to somebody’s “confession” that Kind of Blue is their favorite album with nastiness, another approach could be, “Well if you like that, you should check out [insert whatever you feel is a bit more highbrow here].” Nobody has to prove anything to anybody about shit that means something to them—the very idea of that is offensive.
We all had to start somewhere with whatever it is that we are “experts” in. Wielding expertise like a sword ready to cut down anyone else who doesn’t possess the same knowledge is the essence of elitism.
Sure, I agree with you. Not speaking for Mr. Crow, but I don’t think he meant it that way. I see your point clearly and can understand how exchanges like this can come across that way. He’s a good dude, and not in anyway an elitist prick. I mean, he likes the Dallas Cowboys, he’s definitely not an elitist! :D
Those that treat jazz as a status symbol or those that fake an interest just to be perceived as part of a higher class or taste are the worst. Though I don’t see a problem with using jazz music to create the mood for that lazy day or the fireplace scenario. I know what you mean, the rewards are much bigger if you go a little deeper, put effort into it and try to understand it a bit more, but not everyone has that ambition/time/will/whatever and that should be fine too, without it being disrespectful to the performers.
Kind of Blue is probably my favorite jazz album (also my first), and I tried naming the performers top of my head…..I had Davis, Coltrane, Evans, and Adderley. Kind of shameful! :D
Heard this yesterday. At first I thought it was some rare TV on the Radio I’d missed. I’ll admit I know little about Curtis Mayfield and his music. Worse I know less about the man and that’s a travesty. Rectifying that now. He was clearly a pioneer on many fronts.
I was also floored to discover that this album New World Order was Curtis Mayfield’s final album and that he was paralyzed during the recording, yet still managed to both sing and oversee the project. He would painstakingly record his songs lying on his back, the only way he could get enough air into his lungs, and sing one line at a time. After he recorded each line, the songs were edited together. Incredible. Absolutely incredible.