The Ways To Listen To Jazz
(and Enjoy all Other Art Forms for That Matter)
President, Jazz Audience Advocates
There are a number of ways to listen to jazz. You can simply sit back and let the music wash over you with no prior instruction or knowledge of what the players are doing. This is essentially reacting to the music emotionally and it is one of the many approaches that works. John Coltrane, a genius of jazz, once commented that it wasn’t important that the audience understand what he was doing as long as they were moved emotionally. And a fairly large number of musicians and listeners alike subscribe to the don’t-analyze-it, just listen approach.
A second approach is presented in Barry Kernfeld’s, “What to Listen For In Jazz,” which I believe is the best book on the topic available. If you have some piano skills and a bit of music theory, he will walk you through most of the components of jazz as well as discuss the various styles with wonderful examples in text, transcribed music, and CD formats.
Our approach is in some ways between the two. It doesn’t require any knowledge of music theory. Briefly, by following the “Listening Pairs” tutorials on this site, you become familiar with a number of standard jazz tunes, some of which you probably haven’t heard. While doing so, you expand the breadth of your listening to include the instrument playing the cords, usually piano. Then you assemble your knowledge of the melody, and the chord sounds of the song with a number of great jazz soloists’ improvising on the song, and group them. At that point there is a wonderful multimedia tool that will help you connect the musical dots and you’re off and running.
There is another way to think of our approach. Early on, I had some training in anatomy (the parts of the body) and physiology (how the parts work together to perform a function). Our tutorials are similar to understanding the basic anatomy and physiology of jazz and the details of this approach are presented in “Listening Pairs.”
However, I want to emphasize that applying our method for listening to jazz is not all you need in order to say, “Okay, now I understand jazz.” In fact, our method is only the beginning, the basics, a foundation that will support and guide your listening as you begin to develop a better understand the music. It explains the listening process by presenting simplified concepts that are related to those used by jazz soloists in their training. It may sound a bit involved, but in fact it’s simple and enjoyable. Learning a bit about these processes will enable you to “get it” which is a big first step.
Furthermore, in the beginning, we don’t directly point out the characteristics of the music that confer its status as a great art form. The intent of this instruction is to make it easier to for you discover these wonderful aspects of the music on your own, and you’ll find this more fun and rewarding.
Copyright © 2013
Thomas R. Brown
All rights reserved.
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