Part I: Acknowledgement
I didn't grow up listening to jazz. I even remember having a discussion with a friend about music and I had to nerve to say "I don't fuck with jazz." At the time of the conversation, I was completely ignorant to the genre. You see, I grew up on soul, blues, and hip-hop. That was the music that my father played, my uncles played, my cousins played, etc. Jazz was never mentioned. It wasn't mainstream. The extent of my knowledge about jazz was that Shadow did Bleek dirty in Spike Lee's "Mo Betta Blues."
All of that changed about two years ago. I've been collecting records for awhile now at this point. I'm in a routine of grabbing joints that I'm familiar with. A lot of soul records and my favorite hip-hop samples. Through this, I've dabbled in jazz a bit. I've picked up a few Ahmad Jamal records and Bob James, but I'm not listening to these records really. I'm only getting them to kinda check things off a list. "Okay, I have the sample for Daytona 500. Boom, there's the sample for Nas' "The World Is Yours'" Eventually, I hit a wall in my search. I've amassed this record collection of soul samples and my local shops don't have much left to offer me in that genre. I'm digging and the bins are full with records that I either already have or that I don't want. Something in my process needed to change.
Part II: Resolution
Fast forward a few months. I've made a few trips outside of Richmond. Anywhere I go, I try to find a record. This is part of my personal therapy. The record shop is my piece of peace. I can go in a shop and get lost in it all. That thrill of the hunt, not knowing what's in those bins that may peak your interest. That is my happiness. But....I still haven't found anything. At this point, I've been fortunate enough to get hired at a record shop. On top of that, at the time that I was hired, the shop had just bought a collection of about 3500 jazz records. This was my time to dig into this "lost" genre of music. One of my co-workers is a big jazz guy so he's making suggestions. "Yo Dre, you should check out this and that. Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse, Riverside....follow those labels, etc."
This collection opened up a whole new world to me. I was hooked immediately. It reminded me of when I found out about And1 Mixtapes as a youth. I knew basketball. I played everyday, I watched the NBA, I watched college ball. I knew what was up. Well, at least, I thought I did. And1 Mixtape Vol. 1 drops and I find out that there is this counter-culture of street ball. There were these characters that I had never heard of playing this style of a ball that I had never seen before. They broke the traditional rules of basketball. They did what they wanted on the court. It was this free, raw, charismatic, and unapologetic visual poetry on the court. When I first saw Skip To My Lou come down court, extend the cross, go up on the right side and finish on the left without switching hands...that shit changed my life, dog. It captivated me. I wanted more and more of it. Jazz gave me that same feeling. It revitalized my love for the hunt.
Part III: Pursuance
Now that my eyes are wide open to what I've been missing. I began to dig deeper and deeper into this culture. I got caught up in this web of information. What really fascinated me was the amount of music that was made and the way that it was made. These musicians would swap out among each other as band leaders and members. For instance, the Miles Davis Quintet in 1958 included Miles on trumpet, Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Now each one of those guys have their own albums as band leaders with a supporting bands and those band members have albums, so on and so on. The best way that I can explain it is to imagine a fantasy of draft for an album. It was endless possibilities.
I also learned that this genre was so much more than just music. It was a true art form. The fashion, photography, album artwork, and most importantly, the ideology of this era was simply amazing to me. The golden age of jazz was during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. When you think of the sound of movement, you think Sam Cooke, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, cats like that. At least for me, there was a never a mention of John Coltrane's "Alabama," a response to the murders of four black girls in 1963. You have Art Blakey's "The Freedom Rider" album that features a title track that stretches a seven and half minute drum solo of fucking fury, man. Cornel West said in the Chasing Trane documentary that "black music is the black response to being terrorized and traumatized. We’re gonna share and spread some soothing sweetness against the backdrop of a dark catastrophe.” A truer statement couldn't have been made about jazz.
Part IV: Psalm
Music has been and will always be a major factor in my life. It's been woven into my psyche and is a necessity for me to maintain my sanity day in and day out. Now, I'm not a religious man at all. My parents, who are both Christian, never forced their religion upon my siblings and I. We were free to find our own way. For me, the music has always been that "guiding light" in my life. I believe that music is the true universal language. It speaks to everyone's spirit, no matter how you categorize them. I've used it as a tool for learning, therapy, and for building bridges through space and time that I wouldn't be able to access without it. Jazz is another chapter in my personal Bible. As I continue to learn more about the genre, I will use it, as I have with all other genres, as a tool for self progression, awareness, and care.
Amen to that.