The Seduction of Jazz
A few months after college graduation, I moved to a tiny studio apartment in Manayunk, a neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia. My apartment was on top of a bar tending school and was large enough for a bed and a coffee table, nothing more. To give you perspective, the kitchen stove was about four feet away from where I slept. I found a picture of my empty apartment below and the photo was taken in the “kitchen”. It was here where I remember first listening to jazz….on purpose.
My short-lived love affair with jazz started one night after I watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. I always have romanticized the 1920s but the movie triggered a night’s worth of appreciation. I poured myself a glass a wine, sat on the stool near my window, lit a cigarette, and listened to the sounds of Louie Armstrong while watching the night life below me. That evening was so pleasurable that I made it a weekly habit that lasted about six months…
I later moved in with one of my best friends (shout out to Erika) to a new neighborhood in Philly. Living with a roommate has a lot more pluses than negatives but you do have less time (and freedom) to enjoy nights alone. It was here where I stopped listening to jazz.
Flash forward to the present, where I am being seduced by jazz for a second time, and again it was triggered by a movie. Although the film is set in modern times rather than the Jazz Age, La La Land’s one protagonist is a passionate jazz musician (played by Ryan Gosling) who’s dream is to open his own jazz club. This resurfaced memories of my time in Manayunk and the nights where I suppressed the habit of watching TV, playing video games, or being on my phone but rather indulged in a slight buzz and jazz music.
The reasons I find jazz so alluring is because:
- Jazz was the soundtrack to the Roaring Twenties, a decade that was progressive and rebellious. Women’s suffrage was at its peak at the turn of the decade and women wanted a new standard for themselves. Women danced, smoked, drank, and talked freely about sex. African American culture had a big impact on the 20s and females like Bessie Smith took over the radio. The youth took to night clubs and speakeasies to enjoy different styles of jazz. People were using automobiles and telephones at large scale and motion pictures grew in popularity and accessibility. Those in their teens and twenties rebelled against the cultural norms of the older generations and progressive cities like London, Paris, and New York experienced a new “cultural edge”. In France, the Roaring Twenties are known as the Crazy Years which speaks to the chaotic nature of this decade.
- Jazz is ever-changing. Ryan Gosling’s character touches on this during a scene in La La Land –> jazz has a improvisational component to it which allows the artist to change up a song every time he/she plays it. This means that if you are listening to a live jazz band/artist, you may never hear that unique version of the song they are playing ever again. The same artist can play the same song over and over but the piece, to those that really listen, is always new. Jazz also, on a larger scale, has evolved over time, as most genres do. I encourage you to check out reddit user johno456′s answer to the thread below (also earning him reddit gold) to better understand the changes in jazz throughout the last few decades: https://www.reddit.com/r/Jazz/comments/4mjc13/a_challenge_for_you_jazzheads_name_ten_tracks/
- Jazz gives me the feels. Jazz makes me feel optimistic, sexy, and inspired. I feel mature, yet youthful. I find the whole experience of listening to jazz very pleasurable.
If you want to dabble, here are some of my recos:
Dream a Little Dream of Me - Ella Fitzgerald
Let’s Get Lost - Chet Baker
Heebie Jeebies - Chick Webb & His Orchestra
The Girl From Ipanema - Amy Winehouse (+ the original version from Gets/Gilberto)