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01.02.2006 21:53 - Jazz for Rock Guitarists

When you first pick up a guitar, if you're into Rock n' Roll, then Jazz is The Enemy. Jazz is the sound that Dads tap their carpet slippers to, whilst clutching their pipes in their teeth, straightening their cardigans and saying "Niiicesh". It's the sort of stuff that's played by blokes in waistcoats and bowler hats, and ends with someone saying "OooYahOooyahOooyahOO!". This is a long-entrenched belief, which goes back to the days when jazzers would do their best to ignore Rock n' Rollers, turning their noses up at the "three-chord charlies". Years before they were famous, the Beatles were chucked out of The Cavern, at that time a Jazz stronghold, because they were supposed to be playing Skiffle - which was tolerated, due to Lonnie Donegan being a member of the Chris Barber Jazz Band - but they actually (horror of horrors!) dropped a Rock n' Roll song in there.

So, most Rock n' Rollers go through life believing that sticking your amp on eleven and going widdly-widdly-woo until either the audiences ears bleed (unlikely) or yours bleed (far more likely) is the way to go, and that minor 7th added 9th chords are for poofters. If it can't be played with power chords and lots of distortion, then it's quite probably seriously questioning your manhood, and if you're in a rock group, the last thing you need is your manhood questioned. (Unless, of course, you're in a glam rock group, in which case, you're definitely trying to get your manhood questioned - and empirically tested by as many girls as physically possible).

In the midst of all this, one day, whilst sitting in the rehearsal room, one of your mates plays something that goes chunk-chunk-chunk-diddly-diddle-dee and you are astonished.

It is a sound that does not say "I'm going to shag your daughter on a dirty old mattress in the back of a transit van, and what are you going to do about it, grandad", it is a sound that saunters into your ear wearing a sharp suit and shades and whispers "I'm cooooool. I'm mellowwwwwwwwwwww. Don't mess with me, 'cos I'll just freeze you out, maan".

It is the hated jazz. And it sounds great. And you are hooked.

In the coming days, you'll soon get a handle on jazz, and naturally, you will find out that, like rock, not everything that is labelled jazz is jazz. For starters, there's Kenny G, about whom Pat Metheny has articulated our shared hatred far better than me. There's also a lot of lounge-pop that likes to pretend it's all big and grown-up just because it drops in the occasional major 7th chord, and features a sultry (as opposed to slutty)-looking singer in a cocktail dress. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Norah Jones) This is no bad thing, but it's fairly "easy-listening" stuff. Sit listening to this stuff for too long and you can just feel the slippers and cardigan beginning to take root.

You'll find that a lot of Jazz can be classed in the following way :

Trad Jazz (or New Orleans Jazz)

This is the stuff your dad used to play. It's the stuff I mentioned earlier, played by blokes in bowler hats and waistcoats. This usually features at least one clarinettist who plays the same bloody riff repeatedly all the way through his solo, and a banjo on rhythm. Often played by dire quartets with names like "Studeley Pike and his Jazz Ensemble", whose entire musical repertoire is reminiscent of "Jazz:Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold". Avoid.

Swing Jazz

This is jazz that takes elements of the Big Band "Swing" era music, and concentrates on forming a groove. Proponents include Horace Silver. This stuff is particularly fun for Bassists.

BeBop Jazz

You thought drug-inspired music started in the 1960's? Wrong. This type of jazz consists of attempting to play every possible note near-simultaneously. You won't understand it. You're not meant to. That's the point. If you understand this stuff then either the CIA is putting LSD in your water supply or your medication is far too weak.

Avant-Garde Jazz

Avant-Garde Jazz is an extension of BeBop. Whereas BeBop attempts to play all possible notes simultaneously, Avant-garde jazz attempts to play the most dissonant combinations of notes possible. If Avant-garde jazz has a melody, then it simply isn't trying hard enough. The ideal outcome of an Avant-Garde jazz concert is to force the audience into leaving. If any of them remain, then they are tone-deaf.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz is a reaction to the above, in much the same way as an Ostrich hides its head in the sand.

Acid Jazz

Is for jazz wannabes who play funk and soul.

Now, it is important to notice that there are fundamental differences between jazz and rock audiences. The Rock audiences are there for a good time. The Jazz audiences are there for a good time, too, but you don't find the following happening at a jazz gig :

  • crowd surfing.
  • people rushing down to the front and pogoing ecstatically to the 'hit'.
  • The Hit. (Unless you're Dave Brubeck).
  • the support-band being piss-bottled off.
  • Security beating off the fans with large shitty sticks.

So, Jazz audiences tend to be a lot more relaxed. They stay in their chairs. They nod or tap their foot to the beat. But what is really, really, REALLY off-putting is that they clap (appreciatively) after solos. This freaked me out the first time it happened. I thought they were being ironic, or taking the piss or something. Occasionally there will be a disruptive influence in a jazz gig : do any jazz gigs in a pub and you generally get some idiot shouting for "Sweet Home Alabama" or some other turgid three-chord dirge. Mind you, you get that at rock gigs too. It's Dire Straits' "Sultans Of Swing", only without large GEMA/ASCAP/BMI payments.

It is at times like these you begin to see the reason the early jazzers reacted the way they did.

Buncha three-chord charlies, the lot of them.

 


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