Consider me living proof that a novice can thoroughly enjoy jazz.
I spent six years working for a guy who had a picture of Miles Davis in his office. I had (and still have) friends who play jazz on radio stations around the country.
But when I came to Capital Public Radio 17 years ago, and Gary Vercelli and Paul Conley suggested I fill in on some jazz shifts, my first reaction was, “No way.” I didn’t know anything about jazz. I wasn’t even sure I liked it. On the melody continuum – a range from Frere Jacques to John Adams – most of the jazz I had heard was off-the-charts dysfunctional.
But then the guys at the station gave me a few songs to sample: Tony Bennett, Sinatra, Blossom Dearie. Wait. This is jazz? I didn’t consider these classics in the same genre as Miles or Corea.
And that’s when I discovered my affinity for jazz. I like Guaraldi’s work, and Brubeck’s, and I enjoy the Modern Jazz Quartet. Oscar Peterson, too. So we have narrowed it to piano.
I also steer toward some of the old, old sounds. The crooners get my attention with their smooth voices. A good big band, with lots of horns and a strong bass line, wins me over every time. And there are enough musicians in northern California who keep that sound alive.
Musicians tell me it takes a special person to play jazz. These are people who know their craft. They can live within the routine of rehearsals, travel and teamwork, yet they are willing to take chances, experiment and step out of their comfort zones.
I still have some questions about what constitutes jazz (Wichita Lineman – really?), and I am constantly astonished at what works with a jazz treatment (the cover of Stevie Nicks’ Dreams blows me away). Every time I listen to Gary or Dennis Newhall, I learn a little more and like a little more.
Maybe I’ll go back and listen to Corea again.
This is part of a series about how our music hosts fell in love with the artform of jazz.
We're inviting you to share your story of how you came to love jazz, in 200 words or less. Email your essay to [email protected] before February 14. We’ll read the top submissions on air and award several prizes.