Thursday, October 25, 2012

Response to Jazz Music

This was an essay I had to write for class, responding to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. In it, I pretty much explained why I dislike most jazz music. I’m sure you can find the tracks that I talk about on Youtube. I have since modified this essay to a blog format.

To really understand why I hate jazz music, I have to explain one of the fundamental attributes to my existence. I am an extreme visual thinker. In my experience, most people really don’t understand what all comes with being a visual thinker (even though they think they do), so I am going to explain something: Visual vs. audio thinking doesn’t always mean what people’s eyes see vs. what their ears hear. Visual vs. audio thinking is almost absolutely dealing with the conceptual visual and audio that formulates inside of my brain. Often that is a direct translation of what sense organs capture, but it is always a lens over the associations created by the signals the brain is receiving from the sense organs, even if that sense is audio, taste, touch, etc. So when I listen to music I enjoy, it is because that music stimulates my visual thinking.

I am a musician, and when I let fly my fingers across my guitar, I see patterns on the frets. I visualize lines crossing, drawing pictures on the instrument and formulating riffs that become music. When I compose a song, I visualize the different sections of the song like a sliding puzzle. I push a verse here, I slide a chorus there. It’s literally something I visualize. My brain applies a filter to music wherein I can see it. I instinctively interpret music through my “visual” filter.

hit the jump for the rest!

That said, I just cannot see jazz. Jazz is a style that is not structured like an image. Its timing runs like maple syrup out of a bottle, sometimes big gulps and sometimes stretching. The drums add a random hit here and there. It doesn’t conform to a structure. Its instruments don’t even have to stay together. The sliding puzzle pieces don’t have places where they can best go, heck, it seems like they can go anywhere. In most of the faster songs in Kind of Blue, there’s a basic beat with bass and piano, and then whatever instruments just solo for however long they feel like. One instrument could be taken out of the song, and the song would still exist. Jazz is not music to me because it has no set composition, and my brain classifies it as noise. I realize that most people do not have my extreme visual nature, and so I respect jazz for the sake of people who enjoy it, but my brain simply can’t decipher it. I wish I could change the way my brain works, but I’m pretty sure I can’t.

To me, one of the most important parts of songs are the lyrics. Most jazz music I’ve heard, like Kind of Blue, limits the lyrics of the song to just the titles. First off, this really keeps me from being able to visualize it. I don’t know who Freddie Freeloader is, and the song doesn’t give me an explanation for him. It gives me what sounds like a very standard jazz beat with what sounds like very standard jazz soloing. Honestly, “Freddie Freeloader” and “So What” sound so similar that I can’t distinguish between the two. Is Freddie that guy saying “So what?” I don’t know. I have a real problem finding a message within a song when there are no lyrics. This is why jazz makes such good background music for movies and TV; the TV actors can perform over jazz and give it a message. Their on-screen lines and movements make jazz have meaning, and, now that I think about it, I don’t mind jazz (and actually enjoy it!) when it plays in the background of something else. Jazz needs something else in front of it, so that I can “see” it.

As a meticulous song writer, I guess the lack of structure in jazz tortures me. I plan every note of the songs I write. I’m not kidding. So when drum hits come without aligning themselves with other instruments, it unnerves me. As visual thinker, I cannot stand improv. I need variety in my songs, and I don’t believe that jazz has much tonal variety at all. Basically, there is a set beat (ta’tata ta), bass, and piano, and random solos. There’s either fast jazz or slow jazz. It’s boring to me because I feel like the same thing happens over and over again in the song. I grew up playing music with someone who reminds me of Miles Davis in his autobiography I read for class, and he used to get up on stage and solo for ten minutes straight. Sometimes the other band members would end the song by just walking off the stage and leaving him solo up there by himself. That particular event reminds me of “Freddie Freeloader,” because it ends with all of the instruments at different times. I guess that guy I knew has affected the way I perceive music with insanely long solos. The unstructured style just feels like the musician is trying to show off his soloing skills without putting any thought into creating a composition. I love technically skilled musicians, but without skills in meticulous song composition, I just cannot give them my utmost respect.

What can I say? I tried; it’s just not my thing.

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