GLASSHOUSE are happy to be doing a gig with Canterbury-based charity Music For Change www.musicforchange.org (Thursday, 27th November - The Ballroom, Canterbury). The idea of music for change or, in our case, jazz for change is worth exploring.
Jazz will either bore you or liberate you. In some ways it’s as potent as religion (followers are often fanatics) yet as confounding as politics. Of course there is politics in jazz but it’s relatively easy to cut through because there’s no money in jazz.
My guess is, that if one were to explore the parts of the brain that jazz stimulates, you’d stumble upon the artist in one corner and the professor in another. Hence, there are plenty of jazz academics (to be avoided at parties).
Jazz can be understood as a science of the soul, in that it finds form and sense in spontaneous artistic expression whilst still being a highly tutored art . Often, because of its technical indulgence, it fails to impress those that seek easy listening satisfaction. It's self-obsessiveness has made it ‘niche’ and, very often, more about the players than the audience
Jazz is of the moment. It joins disparities, elevates hope, satisfies a human need to get sense from chaos. As a form it manages to combine alien chords with a-tonal melodies and the avant-garde in jazz is a natural consequence of its exploratory nature.
Jazz is a way of framing complexity into a harmonic form – making density and speed a pleasing experience. It's the Marmite of the musical world, enjoys a fanaticism and can cause its followers to become self-absorbed and socially inept (or did they find jazz to sanction their already difficult dispositiom?). Its like Tennis in that a dogmatic school of ‘correct play’ has grown-up around what is essentially a spontaneous and free expression (not really like tennis at all!).
I'm only a recent convert. Previously, Jazz was something I borrowed from to add sophistication to my music writing - sophistication and sex appeal!
The inclusion of sex – which in this case refers not so much to sleaze but to the culture from which it was borne – nightclubs, after-dark entertainment, a self-imposed drug culture that came from an evolving US urban life-style. Something to do with the game of attraction!
During daylight hours, Jazz aspires to represent ‘the natural’ or rather the best adapted urbanised man! Miles Davis - the Cool! A kind of Metropolitan Shaman who employs Jazz as a means of elevating the city experience beyond the mundane!
But jazz as a medium for change?
Sure. Any idea is a ‘medium for change’ and jazz in New York, California, London and Paris has been the companion of art movements, Beat Poets, presidents and gangsters, all busy altering or essential cultute.
‘Change’ by itself merely represents the course of life – you start young you get old. You could say that music is the accompaniment to that process. But I think it’s more. Music communicates complex ideas in a ‘glove of pleasure’ – confronts problems through re-framing, lyricizing, harmonising – does what narrative language cannot easily do.
Jazz takes that a step further. Its’ Thelonius, its' Miles, its’ Coltrane – they throw something rude into the life-mix, cause discomfort before being hailed and absorbed into popular culture and ending up as main-stream.
The propensity of jazz towards the abstract propels it as a form into high-art, listeners have to develop their own skills to appreciate and be fed by the twists and turns, the massive jumps in harmonic sense, the ‘other worldliness’ that it can take you into.
So, as a medium for change?
Absolutely. Very much down to individual exponents and where they’re coming from.
Dave Douglas is interesting. Our trumpet player Daniel Cano foisted a few vids onto our site. I like the ‘film-cut’ nature of much of what he does and he promotes a viewpoint. Courtney Pine puts across a strong view-point, you can take it or leave it. Others ‘embed’ their views in their music – leave it or take it!
Ultimately, I think that jazz is more relevant today than ever before. It fits well into a world that is becoming increasingly disparate and random in its narratives. 20th Century jazz has weathered well and become a fabulous advert for the genre per se. 21st century jazz is meshed-in with the hip-hops, the acid jazz, the RnB. Its ALL JAZZ.