Why I Changed My Mind About Jazz

In the move from 6th to 7th grade we were asked to pick between Art and Band. Those were the only two options. The rest of our six classes were chosen for us. Choosing band meant that for weeks during the summer we had to show up in the morning for practices, after picking an instrument to play, having the parents get it, and promising for several days at a time that, through thick and thin that the instrument would be safe.

Depending on the instrument the monthly bill could be between $8 and $55 a month for two to five years. If you’ve never looked at buying an instrument it can be really expensive, especially a brass instrument, for instance: [a nice trombone](http://www.musiciansfriend.com/brass-instruments/king-2102-2b-legend-series-trombone) is the price of a new iMac. Unlike an iMac you can’t just sit down and use the trombone, it takes hours of practice in order to be able to play anything that even resembles music. With all that in mind; I chose band and the drums. Drums only required the purchase of a pair of drum sticks $10 – $20. My rationale was, that, if I didn’t like it I could just quit and not be out tons of money or work.

Living in a small town in Utah meant that there weren’t very many radio stations and that there wasn’t a place to buy music of any kind less than 50 miles away. Sure I could download and pirate as much music as I wanted, provided I did it at school and had some way to get it home. (I didn’t have Internet in my house until after I was ~18. The only reason we got a connection then was because my Mother started a bookkeeping job that required Internet.) Keep in mind this was the early 2000s and Napster was just getting going heavily and no one had been sued, yet.

Since I couldn’t get music on my own I recruited a couple friends to get music from their Internet connections at home and burn me CDs. Starting out with Metallica and being influenced heavily by my older friends moved on quickly to Slipknot. I’d already had a solid background in Rap music from the many field trips I’d taken during Elementary school with some of my friends who’d moved in from Salt Lake City/West Valley so this was an entirely new direction, musically, for me.

Fast forward a year or two and I’m still in band and still playing music (a specific amount of Art credits are required to graduate high school), primarily jazz music. I hated it. Most of the songs were heavily influenced by our small brass section and large woodwind section. We had two trombones, three trumpets, three saxophones and seven clarinets. One of the trombone players was actually good but the other was only mediocre. Since we had the weak brass section we had to play songs that could make use of all seven clarinets and the four saxophones. I like saxophone music but not that much. That was my first real taste of jazz music.

Since that time I periodically heard Jazz music on the radio listening to those random radio stations that one can only find after Midnight on weekdays and while it was OK it was never good. The drums were repetitive and boring, the saxophone was playing the whole fucking song, and there was a quiet progressive bass line playing. So I’d change the station back to whatever trite nonsense was on the “hit” radio station and listen to that.

In high school itself my musical interests went from Metallica and Slipknot into the deeper ends of metal: black metal, death metal, power metal, and symphonic death metal. On a normal day you could find a mixed CD in my CD player (remember those?) with tracks from Iced Earth, Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Demons and Wizards, Opeth, Rammstein, Therion, and any number of other northern european bands that you can’t pronounce. My interests stayed in this realm for the entirety of high school. I still listened to the rap music I had listen to when I was in elementary – junior high but not as frequently. In order to graduate early I decided that I was going to take “Early Morning Band”. Morning band happened every day at 6:30 a.m. And the percussion department was full, I’d have to learn to play another instrument in order to take the class. I chose Trombone, not because I liked it but because I hated Woodwinds. The band teacher had changed from the year previous so we had a new guy who played some weird instrument, a [cornet](http://www.musiciansfriend.com/brass-instruments/getzen-800-eterna-series-bb-cornet/463747), that we’d never heard of before and the guitar.

This band teacher was a lot different from our previous band teacher, he was kind of a dick, his wife was hot — most of the band loved when she stopped by, and he didn’t really give a fuck. He was much to worried about his own band that was about 2 hours away and just needed something to pay the bills while he started lining up gigs. I was able to get away with playing as one of two members of the trombone section (the other being the mediocre player mentioned above) without ever actually learning any of the songs. Sure I practiced really hard over the summer to be able to actually play, when I saw he didn’t give a fuck if I did or didn’t, I didn’t.

I got a whole credit out of the class before deciding that I was tired of waking up at 5:30 a.m. I was tired of catching the bus to school at 6:05 a.m. I was tired of not playing an instrument that I didn’t want to play and tired of the teacher, so, I decided I wasn’t going to do it again and passed the trombone down to my brother. I never had to play in front of anyone because I worked in the booth during the productions.

In my Junior year I found myself with half an art credit too few for graduation the next year so I did the only sane thing I could: I persuaded the band teacher (a new one since the dick was fired or left, whatever), administration, and advisor that if I were to follow the band teacher around doing technical stuff for him during that hour he would consider me enrolled in “Show Choir” which would fulfill my art credit so I could graduate. Anyone reading this that has known me for very long is likely laughing so hard his/her sides are about to split just imagining me in Show Choir.

Everyday I showed up at show choir, played around with the nice Roland recording equipment that the band had acquired from a bygone band teacher who thought it was must have, for about two weeks anyway. After the two weeks I decided that just singing for an hour would be more enjoyable so I asked the band teacher if I would be able to actually join the group (they had auditions and not everyone got in if they signed up) and after making sure I could match pitch and feel rhythm, he agreed. At this point we were preparing for the Christmas concert that the school puts on each year, so I showed up to class and sang Christmas songs for an hour a day now instead of playing with recording equipment.

I, much like Richard Dawkins, quite enjoy Christmas songs despite their religious tones so the class wasn’t as horrific as it could have been (It wasn’t an episode of Glee). Moving up to the concert I even had an out so I wouldn’t have to sing in front of people, I ran the light and sound booth with a couple of my friends. Anyone who has worked in a booth during a production of anything knows how hectic it can be but I still left minutes before we went on and joined up with the rest of the choir. We totally killed it. We were awesome. Numerous people congratulated us on how well we did after the concert was over. I’m not taking any of the credit for that but for the part I played in the whole.

This band teacher had quite an effect on me. Since I was part of the crew who ran the Booth we worked together on the school musical, practices for the concerts in my auditorium, and at numerous other occasions. It was the first time in my life I’d ever met someone who was so blatantly good at music. He had perfect pitch, he could just look at a note on a page and sing it or play it on a number of instruments. The first couple times I heard him yell from the booth, to the stage that the note the lead role was singing was the wrong note, it was something when it should have been an ‘A’ and then demonstrated, I laughed. I thought he was just trying to make himself seem useful. He wasn’t. He actually could hear the difference and without any warning or warm-up just sing it.

I’d heard of perfect pitch and dismissed it as people who seemed really good at something to people who didn’t know the difference. It’s real. It’s fucking unbelievable. I’ve you’ve never seen/heard anyone who has perfect pitch I suggest you find someone and pay for one lesson just to see/hear it for yourself. Having him there meant that our musical was great. It was definitely one of the best I’ve ever seen come from my high school. One day I asked him what music he listened to, I figured that since he was so good at it himself he’d have pretty high expectations and thus listen to some pretty good music. He told me that he really didn’t listen to much music because he found things about almost every song that bugged him. When he did listen to music it was usually Jazz, Alternative, or something similar.

Since I didn’t listen to that type of music I really didn’t even know what Alternative, as a genre, was. The Disney Tarzan movie had come out a year or two before this conversation and I remember sitting through the “Making of” Tarzan so I had heard that Phil Collins was one of the main people behind it, so I mentioned him. The band teacher didn’t like his music (I think his voice is too “tinny”). Finally I pushed him for some band names, thinking I’d download them and see what was so good about them. He gave me the name Oingo Boingo.

I thought that was a weird name so I didn’t bother until about a year later when I was living in Portland, OR with nothing to do and bored of all of my music. I got ahold of some Oingo Boingo and my first thoughts were that it was total shit. I listened to it on and off for a couple weeks and suddenly I started to really enjoy it. The lyrics were awesome, it had a full band, guitars, drums, and entire exotic percussion sections on some songs. Pandora came out around this time so I fed Oingo Boingo into Pandora and listened to similar artists. This is where I discovered Depeche Mode, Huey Lewis and the News (again, first time was, of course, American Psycho), The Fixx, and numerous other ‘80s bands that I found I really enjoyed.
Around this time I started watching Anime seriously (that phase only lasted a couple months), one of the first Anime shows I ever watched was “Cowboy Bebop”. I watched the entire series over a day and night, for those of you who don’t know most of the episodes use music terms and almost all the music in all of the episodes is Jazz. And I loved it. The music from “Cowboy Bebop” was wonderful. Sure there was still saxophone in the songs but it wasn’t as awful as it used to be.

A few years pass.

I love Musicals. Yeah, yeah, make your jokes and laugh but I still like musicals. When I first started seeing commercials for Glee I thought it would be good. I watched season 1, then season 2, and grudgingly season 3. There was nothing else to watch and I only liked the music bits, the high school drama shit is fucking retarded. I went to high school I thought it was dumb then, no way in hell do I want to watch that shit recreationally. I was on the prowl for new shows to watch and “True Blood” came up so I decided to give it a chance. The show was OK but I really enjoyed the music from the show so I started looking for more shows like it. I didn’t find much. I watched “Black Snake Moan” when searching for southern movies and the blues music in it was fantastic. I got the soundtrack, something I hadn’t done since The Matrix.

This brings us to the present. A couple weeks ago, on a tweet from Anthony Bourdain (http://twitter.com/#!/noreservations, May 30th, and fuck Twitter’s shitty search and un-linkable tweets) I took a look at Treme. I didn’t watch it at first, I saw that it was about New Orleans after the storm and since I didn’t know much about what had actually happened there I decided I’d add it to my Netflix queue and see if it was good when it got here.

It was fantastic, glorious even. The entire show, with all of the wreckage and ruined lives is still full of music and dancing. The idea of a second line after a funeral was intriguing. The idea of a second line, itself, was something that I never would have thought of. Where I’m from we have parades on July 4th, 24th (Utah’s birthday), maybe Thanksgiving, and maybe Christmas. The entire concept was so foreign to me. I couldn’t wait for the next disc to arrive. I watched the whole first season in a week and I enjoyed every episode. The thing about Treme is it is full of Jazz, something, as you can probably tell, I’ve hated for a long time. I’ve hated jazz since 2 − 3 years before Katrina hit New Orleans.

This Jazz is different. It’s something more than all the jazz I’ve heard previously. This jazz makes extensive use of the trombone, trumpets, and other brass instruments it isn’t just a saxophone playing with shitty drums in the back. (I really like the trombone’s sound, that’s why I picked it as my instrument when moving to morning band.) It’s so much different, so much better. I can sit and listen to this jazz for hours without being bored and changing the station. It’s dynamic, one of the things I’ve always loved about metal. To be fair it isn’t all Jazz, there’s some funk, big band, bounce, and ten other genres I’ve never heard of, but it is all New Orleans.

I’ve changed my mind about Jazz music because of Treme, it’s showed me that there is a lot more to Jazz than just the saxophone and shitty drums. There’s a whole other side to the genre that doesn’t suck. I tried, yesterday, to listen to jazz on the radio with my new found appreciation for the whole genre and it was exactly what I remembered from all those years ago. Total shit. To correct myself here, I’ll say that I changed my mind about jazz as long as it is New Orleans jazz; anything else just won’t cut it.