THE BEGINNING

FEAR THE REAPER: Each month one of our writers spends a week listening to music they don’t like. John Ford chose classic and smooth jazz

jazz

I share a small office with a man who’s the complete opposite to me. He’s a good guy who lets me have control of the stereo 95% of the time, due to my needs as a music writer. I’m a good guy because I steer clear of playing music he hates when he’s around (anything electronic, urban, punk, discordant and/or overtly amateurish, however charming or arch). It leaves us The Smiths and not much else outside of indie pop that… y’know… jangles. He really took to the second Veronica Falls album. The other 5% of the time feels like a lot more, when he plays jazz – the classic 1940s and ’50s stuff. Modern jazz and cool jazz.

It’s an easy target, jazz. I don’t fully buy the old adage of it being music that’s enjoyed exclusively by those performing it, though. The really bat-shit bebop stuff, maybe, but not modern jazz and cool jazz. Maybe that’s something of a victory from a week spent listening to Thelonious Monk and Chet Baker versus Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker – I can now confirm that modern jazz is a listenable genre of music… if you’re after that mid-afternoon trip to grandma’s feel, hands on laps and the deafening tick of a decorative clock partially muted by the heavy heart of Ella Fitzgerald. That’s what modern jazz does; it makes you feel thoroughly un-modern, like the war is finally over but the end credits are just as endless and unhappy, performed by the always tragic Billie Holiday, bleated through a gramophone that sounds like it’s always the other side of a wall. ‘Gloomy Sunday’ says it all.

Cool jazz, I soon realise, is a similar kind of shtick, with the added worry that the Pink Panther could walk in at any minute and say something like, “Man, this cat can blow.” He’d have a point regarding the likes of Chet Baker and Miles Davis, of course, but the unnerving melancholy of a forced nostalgia remains, bolstering jazz’s recurring theme of being constantly of another time and damp, as if it should only be listened to on rainy days. ‘Kind of Blue’ says it all, although it’s when listening to that classic Davis LP that I drift off into a world of Private Eyes and no good broads, and briefly embrace the drama and old glamour of jazz, however specific that may be.

Respecting jazz has never been a problem for me, and I suspect it’s the same for many others. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the one style of music that’s respected more than it is loved or even liked. I find it glum – tedious where the pithy swish of brushes on drum skins are concerned, and the unimaginative upstairs/downstairs walk of the double bass – but the Panther is right; the guy in the spotlight can always play.

Jazz trombonist J. J. Johnson once said, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will.” He must have meant the music’s genetic make up, there, because as my week turned into a sepia smear of novelty brass and irritable piano solos, I realised that jazz will always be before my time. It’ll always make me feel like I’m in a mock up of a 1940s kitchen in the Imperial War Museum. It’ll always be ‘old aged’, even when I’m 80 myself, perhaps; always cloaked in death, which is probably the crux of my issue with it, unless one day I grow into it and my own mortality… like tweed. The guy in my office wears tweed already.

I finish the week giving Chet Baker another go. ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ says it all.

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