“BUT I DON’T LIKE JAZZ”                                                         

How many times have you heard someone say that to you? My wife and I have been married for 31+ years, and this mantra gets repeated after almost every time I either a) invite her to a jazz club date, or b) drive her home from a jazz club date. I’ve given up playing songs for her at home since the time I had her sit down to listen to Sidney Bechet’s version of “Summertime,” and the first words out of her mouth once the song was over were “Should we have lamb chops or chicken for dinner tonight?”

Not everyone is as a-musical as my lovely bride. Most of us, though, have friends or relatives who just don’t want to listen to your favorite jazz album/download or join you at a club because “I just don’t get it.”

There’s been a recent study that showed that jazz (and classical music) is the least listened to music in America. Only 1.4% of the population listens to it. At that rate, there will be more jazz students studying the music at schools like Berklee than actual fans. What do we do about this attrition rate, as older fans who grew up with it are dying off, with not enough youngsters to replace them?

I’m going to offer a simple but radical idea to this dilemma. The problem is very similar to almost any other topic, such as religion or history. If you want to get someone interested in your faith, for example, you don’t bombard them with the obscure theological issues or the things that take the biggest steps of faith. I’m a Christian, and I’m not going to converse with my local agnostic buddy about transubstantiation, just as I’d not expect my Jewish buddies to have a talk with me about how many steps to take of the Sabbath.

You gotta start with the basics; there is an infinite, personal God who made us, with whom we are accountable to. See how simple that is? Same with jazz; start with the basics: rhythm, melody, syncopation and simple improvisations. Please remember that Buddy Bolden didn’t start jazz by improvising off of “Cherokee.” Jazz was once the most popular music because it took music that was accessible to all people, and simply “jazzed” it up. When God made Adam and Eve, he didn’t explain everything about the Torah, he progressively gave more information to people on earth. Same with music, you’ve got to start small and add complexity over time.

I remember when I first got interested in jazz. Someone told me to listen to John Coltrane. I heard he was “spiritual”, so I went to the record store and bought his album called “Meditation.” WHOA. Big mistake-I was not ready for that. I confessed my error, and my patient salesman exchanged it for a more easier entry in “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane.” Ah! A jazz tricycle!

So where do you start with a neophyte? Think back to the times when jazz has been more popular than today, and ask yourself why. It first got attention because they emphasized the blues. Then, they took music by the likes of Gershwin (who said he wrote songs “that the man could whistle on his way home from the theatre”) Porter and  Mercer and made them danceable. That was the Swing Era. After that, the music got more popular when it mixed R&B or latin rhythms to the sauce. Finally, with rock coming into the picture, jazz plugged in and filled amphitheaters with teenagers in love with the energetic and complex sounds.

So, don’t go for the arcane or overly sophisticated. Keep the sounds simple. Same with religion; don’t get caught up with the obscure. The religious hipsters asked Jesus which of the 613 laws were the most important. Instead of going intellectual, He simply answered with the basics “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind; Love your neighbor like yourself.” Keep it simple; everything else is a rabbit trail from this.

When you take someone to a club, make sure it’s someone who keeps close to the melody, has an accessible rhythm and doesn’t’ solo for 20 minutes. As a friend of mine once said, “It’s like listening to a beautiful women constantly telling you how beautiful she is.” I’m in the health field, and no patient comes to me to admire my knowledge of the pancreas; they want to get better. For a doctor, you ask “Can he or she heal the sick?” For a musician, the question should be “Am I enjoying the evening and feeling happy about being here.” Not “Is this the most amazing set of chops, but enough already.”

The great baseball player Joe DiMaggio was quoted as saying that he always played his best, because “there might be a fan out there who is seeing me for the first time.” If you’re a musician, keep in mind that there are beginners out there, and try to appeal to them as well as the old timer. The first concert I took my then-12 year old daughter to was to see Mark Murphy. He talked to her before the show, asked her what songs she liked, and then delivered a lyrical 2 hour set, even dedicating a song to her and exchanging her name for the song title. You think my daughter didn’t become a fan after that? She just called my office today, and when I picked up the  phone from being on hold, she said, “Ah, dad. Why’d you pick up the phone in the middle of a Stan Getz solo?!?” That’s what gentle education delivers!

My pastor used to say, “Take the congregation to where they’ve been before. Then take them to where they’ve been, but deeper. Then, take them to where they’ve not been.” That’s great advice for a musician in front on an audience, or to a fan trying to get a buddy hooked on the best music around.

I’ve included a list of “Jazz for Jazz Haters” in the “No One Asked My Opinion, But…” section.  Give it a look and use it for building up a foundation for the next generation of jazz fans.

Here’s the latest…

Hi George-

Thank you so much for your wonderful review in hope to see you real soon. Take care and be well,

Julian Lage

Dear Mr.  Harris,

I was at the show that night and I totally agree with your review written about the Ruben Reza performance.

The guitar work and band performed magnificent with real nice tones and dynamics.  At times the audience were dancing on their feet and while sitting down.The entire show was exciting!  Thank you

Joe Candelario

Hi George,

Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and review my new CD! Beautifully written George! I just posted it on my Facebook fan page and will share it with all my fans in an email newsletter as well.
Chris Lomheim
Yo George,
Great to hear. Now I can say it directly: Thanks mucho for your insightful, kind, supportive words.
I definitely will check out more of your stuff. You are one of those keeping the flame alive.
Be well, keep wailing,
Zan Stewart