MUSIC IS THE DRUG: 004 – Jazz Hands

Jazz has, for the most part, been a type of music I’ve enjoyed on my own. While leaning more into the acid/funk/fusion end of the jazz spectrum, I often enjoy music without words. Let’s back up though, in 4th grade, I wanted to play the drums and was met with a resounding “NO” so somehow I ended up with a clarinet. My dad had a trumpet and I’m not sure why I didn’t just play that. Maybe I didn’t want to? I remember taking a test of some sort, maybe I was placed with a clarinet? I honestly don’t remember. 

At any rate, what a nightmare. I was the only boy clarinet player on top of being a catholic school kid in a uniform in a public school band with all the other kids in their street clothes. I think there were maybe 10 or so of us catholic school kids in the band who suffered this hell. So through 8th grade, I played clarinet in a blue shirt and was actually in the 1st chair section (i.e. I didn’t suck). But I hated it. I hated being the only boy clarinet and I honestly didn’t give a shit about the instrument itself. It’s not like Benny Goodman was my idol or something. I wanted to quit in the worst way but no. Forbidden. My older sister never opted to try and my younger sister was allowed to quit at a certain point but for some reason, I was ordered to continue.

When I was transitioning into high school, after some heated debate and bullshit I was finally allowed to go to the public school rather than the catholic high school my older sister was suffering in. I was also afforded the opportunity to switch to tenor sax for high school (but not allowed to quit). Apparently they were short-handed because someone was quitting in the tenor sax section over the summer. So I switched and played tenor and then somewhere after that ended up playing alto. I have no recollection of how that played out but through high school, I played alto sax in marching and concert band. 

My friend Paul and this other kid Jason were at war over 1st chair the entire time and there were maybe 6 of us altos so it was me and this girl Karen who were always battling over last chair. I didn’t care. I was a “band fag” and it was something to do, I was part of something, a group effort and I did like making music. It just didn’t come out of me naturally like it did Paul or Jason. For that reason, I was never asked to be a part of the Jazz Band. I don’t think it would have been worthwhile at the time for anyone anyway. I just didn’t “get it” musically until after high school.

It wasn’t until years later when I moved into a shitty house with Paul at the U of M that I really got into music and especially jazz/fusion. I had taught myself how to roughly play guitar, the drums and there was an old upright piano in our entryway that we would sit and plink around on for hours. We had a basement full of instruments a few other musician friends and countless lengthy jam sessions. Paul was always playing his sax day and night regardless and there was always music on in the house otherwise so as mind expansion in a collegiate living environment goes, I achieved a much deeper understanding of the cosmic energy through experiments with altered states and jazz.

Eventually, we were evicted from the house so they could demolish the block to make way for luxury student housing. Paul moved to Colorado and from then on I was for the most part on my own when it comes to exploring jazz. I haven’t played the sax in years although I recently discussed a potential music project with Paul now that technology has advanced to the point that we can collaborate virtually with relative ease. I’m not a musician though at least not in the sense that I would get in front of anyone and perform. I know how to make music and I like to sometimes. More on that to come.

So about that playlist… let me point you to

Miles Davis – Bitches Brew. I only included one representative track as they’re all pretty long but I’ve spent a lot of time lost in this record over the years. You really should give yourself the time to listen to the whole thing in some headphones. It will take you places if you let it. It’s also a good jump-off for exploration as you could follow every player in the production down a juicy solo musical path on their own. That said, the Miles Davis catalog is too massive and could produce a playlist alone. This one is where it started for me.

Lost Highway Soundtrack – The 1997 David Lynch film soundtrack was produced by Trent Reznor, and includes original music from the film recorded by Reznor, with some standout tracks by Angelo Badalamenti and Barry Adamson, as well as songs by other artists used in the film. Beginning to end it’s a great record to but here are my jazz picks:

Red Bats With Teeth – This Angelo Badalamenti track reminds me of Paul so much that if I close my eyes I believe it could be him playing it. I’ve seen him play angry and when I heard this I was startled that I completely understood the energy in it. It makes perfect sense to me. You can’t write lyrics that express anything in this way. You just can’t.

Then, right after that audio assault, you’re lulled by Insensatez – Antonio Carlos Jobim, and oh my god it’s just so smooth. Let it wash over you. Everything is going to be alright.

And now that you feel better let Barry Adamson’s Something Wicked This Way Comes get you in the mood. I don’t even drink much but this makes me want to clean up, drink a martini and go clubbing on a warm summer night.

Stan Getz / Charlie Byrd – Samba Triste – JazzSamba (1962) is a must-have album. This will help your mellow and provide a warm hug for your brain should you need one. 

Another Night In Tunisia – Bobby McFerrin/The Manhattan Transfer – Most people know Bobby McFerrin for his super annoying Don’t Worry, Be Happy song but man is that guy amazing. Team him up with the equally amazing voices of the Manhattan Transfer and this is simply a gem. Now you might be thinking, “I thought you said music with no words…” just have a listen.

Velouria – The Bad Plus – This is a Pixies cover that turned me on to this group. They’re a Minnesota based band and they’ve done a lot of covers of pop songs as well as their own original music. Very good although they may have disbanded by now.

Vital Transformation – The Mahavishnu OrchestraThe Inner Mounting Flame is their debut studio album recorded in August 1971 and released in November of the same year. I’ve listened to this record a lot as well. This is John McLaughlin melting your face with staggering guitar mastery. Jan Hammer plays keys and will later in his career compose the Miami Vice theme song.

Sabrosa – Beastie Boys – Yep, Beastie Boys on a Jazz playlist. Mad respect for the diversity these guys developed over the span of their catalog. Their instrumental jams are some of my favorite tracks by them. Are they virtuosos? No, but I don’t care. They catch a great, chill vibe and that’s all that maters.

Fried Neck Bones and Some Home Fries – Santana – LatinoFunkRockFusion… I don’t care what you want to call it, I fucking love Santana and this is a great jam.

Muffin Man – Frank Zappa – What a weirdo. I can relate.

If anything on this playlist made you think of something I should hear, please share, and as always, thanks for looking. -ST