Jazz Vocals

Appreciating Jazz


April is Jazz Appreciation Month. What I appreciate most about jazz is that no one has the one and only, exclusively correct, definition of jazz. Which is quite liberating: If no one can tell me what jazz is, then no one can tell me what jazz is not.

Some folks consider Dixieland music, for example, to be the most original and pure form of jazz. But if Dixieland is jazz, how can music played by bands like Return to Forever and the Yellowjackets be jazz? It's completely different, almost totally opposite, music. And if that music is jazz? Then the wobbly blue rhythms and chords of Thelonious Monk surely are not... are they? What do we do with a vocalist like Tony Bennett? Is he a jazz singer? He sings a lot of pop...

That's what I appreciate about jazz the most: No matter what you claim jazz "is" -- Dixieland or fusion or bebop or whatever -- we can with just a little effort find something completely different and call that music jazz, too.

From this perspective, jazz becomes much more than just one style of music, it becomes a way of listening to and appreciating ALL styles of music. The way Isaac Hayes rearranges a pop tune like "I Stand Accused" and transforms it into a profoundly personal soul manifesto, or that Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers rough up Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man," or that Tom Ball finger picks through a Merle Travis tune -- it's all jazz to me.