Did you know that modern jazz music used to actually be called “jas” or “jass”? It’s true! Etymologists have long argued over the exact origin of the word “jazz” but many agree that its application to music started in the early 20th century in New Orleans. Also, these facts have not made me very popular in my circle of friends.
The foundation of modern jazz, in broad strokes, is made of up of 1/3 blues, 1/3 standards and 1/3 “Cherokee,” the 1938 Ray Noble song, which later became the foundation of bebop thanks to a rearrangement of the tune by Charlie Parker. This great American esoterica is often cited as the reason for my parents’ ugly divorce.
Early pioneers like Bessie Smith weren’t shy about themes of sex, as evidenced by the lyrics for “Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl”:
I need a little sugar in my bowl
I need a little hot dog on my roll
I can stand a bit of lovin’, oh so bad
I feel so funny, I feel so sad
You might say that if it weren’t for Bessie Smith, we wouldn’t have such boundary-breaking artists like Cardi B today! I haven’t been on a date in seven years.
John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” made history as one of the only jazz songs to find major commercial success on the pop charts after its release in 1961. Coltrane even recorded a live version of the modal jazz hit in Japan in 1966 that lasted an hour with a 20-minute solo! In 2006, I threw a party for what would’ve been Coltrane’s 80th birthday and played the entire song. By minute 36, most of the room had cleared out except for this one older guy I knew from accounting. With his eyes shut tight, I thought he was really digging Rashied Ali’s polyrhythmic drum work, but it turns out he had had a stroke.
Albert Ayler, a free jazz saxophonist whose music screamed with originality and power was found dead in 1970 at the bottom of Manhattan’s East River, reportedly with his leg tied to a jukebox. Some say it was a suicide, but the Mafia-tinged urban legend is still debated to this day! My parents made me take up the violin when I was ten. They said a trumpet would be too loud. The violin is a dumb instrument. It’s screechy and whiny and really hard to play and I just don’t get anyone who listens to European classical music. It’s so boring.
Listen closely to Van Morison’s seminal album Astral Weeks and you’ll hear the steady swing of drummer and Modern Jazz Quartet member, Connie Kay. I mean, who doesn’t like Van Morrison and why wouldn’t you find that interesting? Is being informed of the rich history of America’s greatest achievement really worth keying my car, Derek?
Much like hip-hop, there have been some infamous jazz “beefs.” During the 1986 Vancouver Jazz Festival, Miles Davis, jealous of a young Wynton Marsalis, told the rising star to “Get the fuck off the stage!” But you know, it’s not nice to yell at people who just want to share their gift. Especially if they don’t have a large social support network and to cope they’ve developed a crippling addiction to Japanese frog-crushing fetish videos.