The Man: John Coltrane
Making a jazz fan of anyone is a challenge. Making a jazz fan of a kid — a child inundated daily with drecky pop music and vapid pop stars — is virtually impossible. But nonetheless, it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
Jazz, the close cousin of blues and the father of rock-and-roll, has taken many forms since its slow growth into an American phenomenon. These days, it takes many forms: Trad Jazz, Be-Bop, World Jazz, Latin Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Jazz Funk, Avant Garde Jazz, Big Band Swing. The list is long and as varied as the artists who perform it.
But we can make the introduction easy — and fun. When kids are not predisposed to hating something — due to environment and/or influence — it’s amazing what they will try, accept and sometimes fall in love with.
John Coltrane’s sweepingly masterful composition Giant Steps could be considered a metaphor for the act of introducing someone to jazz. Have a listen …
Gahd damn that is a gorgeous piece of music. A wonderful melody, with a modulating chord structure and bubbling groove. It’s a challenge for everyone in the band to play well. And the soloists, once they understand the changes (shorthand for the chord changes over which soloists are tasked with playing over), have a field day, blowing chops all over the place.
For a better understanding of what’s going on, check this out with your budding jazz fan.
A visual deconstruction of the tune, this innovative work brings the abstract concepts in jazz into an equally abstract and colorful world of illustrations and narrative. It’s clever, cute and subversively educational.
Go back in history a little further with When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat. Scat singing, layering gibberish yet rhythmic and melodic phrasing over music, is perfect for kids. They do it anyway. Why not show them some history about the style of singing made popular by Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Hendricks, Lambert and Ross, and kept alive by masters like Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau?
Of course, all the reading in the world won’t mean squat if you’re not listening to jazz, and listening to a lot of it. So start with the fun stuff. Like the aforementioned Hendricks, Lambert and Ross jamming way back in ’59.
Man they could cook.
Have a more ambitious child, one who exhibits an adventurous nature? Throw this fantastic track at him or her. It’s called Teen Town, written by the late bassist Jaco Pastorius for the most-awesome fusion band Weather Report. Teen Town was inspired by a local hangout Pastorius used to frequent. It’s structure is based on the trajectory the evening would normally take for the kids who hung out there. The beginning (of the evening and the song) is light, bouncy, melodic and fun. By the middle, things are getting a little heavy; kids getting their first introduction to emotional drama (romance, break-ups). By the tune’s end, the place is rocking hard and fast — probably an “all skate,” with Pastorius, drummer Peter Erskine, keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter blowing chops all over the place. Just amazing …
For the girls in your household, you may want to break out a few female artists. Two that come to mind are bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and pianist Hiromi. Wilkenfeld, a master of her instrument as a teen, has gone on to play with jazz, blues and fusion legends like Jeff Beck, Vinnie Colaiuta, Wayne Krantz and others. Sit your aspiring female musician down for this wonderful piece of music …
After a little Wilkenfeld, it’s time for some Hiromi action. Exhibiting skill, lightning fast chops and deep groove, Hiromi plays fusion, funk, classical and traditional jazz with equal aplomb. Try to keep your jaw from hitting the floor while you watch this one, again, with jazz legends in tow (Anthony Jackson on bass and Simon Phillips on drums).
If all else fails, you can always play this classic Simpsons moment for your kid. Lisa sings Carole King’s Jazz Man.
However you choose to get your kid going on the whole jazz thing, the key is to make it fun. Jazz is deep, and its history is long. Heck, when they are old enough, you can even hip them to the epic tragedies — the many lives lost to drugs addiction, the bizarre lifestyles of the artists, the hypocrisy of ’50s-era white people dissing African-Americans by day, but loving the black jazz clubs at night. It’s American history at its most glorious and horrific best.