Give jazz a try

I don’t remember the first time I heard a jazz song. It was probably in a waiting room or an elevator. For a lot of people when they hear jazz they think nothing of it and for most of my life I was the same way. But at some point when I was in high school I really started to listen. First just listening while I studied; the genre became more and more important to me as time went on. Nowadays jazz is what I listen to the most.

Don’t peg me as one of those guys who listens to something so different from the average college student just because I want to be contradictory. I have a Wu Tang Clan CD in my car and I won’t wince at “679” at Shooters. But rap, rock, country or EDM just don’t have what jazz has. I love jazz not because it is different, but because it is better.

After 10 exhausting minutes of researching the history of jazz, I could not find two websites that agreed on where and when jazz started to emerge. So I’ll settle for Wikipedia, which tells me that the musical style got its start around the late 19th century in New Orleans. One thing all the websites could agree on—jazz would not exist without the African American community in New Orleans.

Jazz is similar to rock, rap and country in that it has many subgenres. Just like rock has metal, soft rock or grunge, jazz has subgenres such as cool (my favorite), smooth and Afro-Cuban jazz. While there are plenty of styles I did not name, you probably get the picture. Jazz is almost an umbrella term for probably dozens of styles. That is just one thing that makes jazz great; you may not like one style, but there are so many to choose from, with at least one to fit every mood. It’s kind of like tea in that way.

Ferris has given me and many other students the tremendous gift of an absolutely phenomenal jazz band. Our school is blessed to have Harry J. Dempsey and Matt Moresi at the helm of the band. Dempsey, previously the bass player for Frank Sinatra Jr. (seriously), was once the director of the band. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and Moresi last semester for a news article I wrote and I can tell you they are both terrific guys, both very passionate about jazz. Every Ferris jazz concert I have been to (every single one since my freshman year) Moresi and his band have hit it out of the park. The band has taken my appreciation of jazz to a new level. Seeing this band play is something I think every Ferris student should do at least once in their college career.

So reading this article has convinced you to give jazz a try? Well I won’t leave you without a couple recommendations. First, you have to listen to different styles and find out which ones you like. If you like the busy, fast and free style often associated with jazz, I would recommend Ornette Coleman. Coleman, a native of Texas, died just last year. “Faces and Places” is my favorite song by him. Check it out. Now, if you are looking for something a little cooler, more mellow, I recommend Paul Desmond. Desmond is one of my all time favorites. There is nothing quite as peaceful as a nighttime drive while listening to Desmond’s “Emily.”

For my last recommendation, I will give you a full album to listen to. The album is called “Kind of Blue.” It is by Miles Davis and his band. Real jazz aficionados may be disappointed in me for recommending such a “mainstream” album (it is the best selling jazz album of all time) but I can’t resist. Give it a listen and you will understand why Jimmy Cobb, the band’s drummer, said, “It must have been made in heaven.”

Jazz may not be for everybody and everybody may not be for jazz, but you won’t know if you don’t give it a try.

“Jazz music is America’s past and its potential, summed up and sanctified and accessible to anybody who learns to listen to, feel and understand it. The music can connect us to our earlier selves and to our better selves-to-come. It can remind us of where we fit on the timeline of human achievement, an ultimate value of art.” – Wynton Marsalis