My Five Essential Jazz Recordings

Saxophone

I am not a jazz expert, but I wish I was one.

My jazz experience began in high school and continued through college, right up until the moment when I realized I had taken my saxophone abilities as far as I could. I saw the wall, I could touch it… and I knew that whatever I needed to break it down, was not in me.

For those that aren’t certain what I mean, I’m talking about feeling the music in your own performance and then claiming it. Oh, I could play a song that was put on the stand in front of me, I could even do a “successful” solo. (I put that in quotes, because why it might sound good to the audience that day, I knew I was just repeating what I did the last time I performed the tune.) In other words, I was merely doing what I needed to do.

See, I’ve never been the kind of person to be satisfied with just “doing what I needed to do,” and this is especially true around the arts. If, for example, I am to write a book, it needs to be different from every other book you may pick up. And if it is in a genre, it will break the mold. If this sounds arrogant or bombastic, you are right. For that is how I see myself. I claim it. I am loud. You pick up a Scott Southard work and you will get something unique and different, nothing cookie-cutter. And I could never be that for jazz with my saxophone so I dropped being a music major, walked away from the music muse and ran over to the one that oversaw writers.

As much as I know my own limitations, accepted them, and my saxophone continues to gather dust in my closet, I still love jazz. I read books on artists, have watched Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz numerous times, and collect jazz on vinyl. My weekends begin with the scratchy sound of the needle dropping, and doesn’t stop until the kids are asleep.

Below are my five favorite recordings, with my reasons and links. These are the one that stir me, inspire me, and make me wish I was something more than I am. I can’t give you reasons why they are important like an expert could for Mr. Ken Burns, I can only say, “this for me is jazz.” Continue reading

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Five Things I Am Into Right Now, October 2015

Downton Abbey Season 3You always got the feeling that Julian Fellowes was winging it with Downton Abbey.

Oh, for the first season and the spectacular second season he knew exactly what he was aiming for and doing (I’ve written about the show a few times on this site, like here), but for all the years after that there was this general feeling (at least for me) of someone improving on a world stage. (“Do you like this? No? Maybe this? Okay, we’ll do this for a bit.”) And whenever he hits a roadblock, he jumps forward in time; like a reset button.

I’ve been watching the new season and while I felt everything after the second season was pretty weak, this final year is just… okay, I have to say, boring and lazy.

There. I said it. And I feel so better afterwards. Is Fellows so done with his juggernaut that he just wants it over? There is no real action or point so far to the season. He erases major plot points with a simple conversation (this is where the lazy bit comes in, things just happen and life moves on), and nothing really seems to move forward. Soap operas are not this bad. In a way, the show has almost become a parody of itself.

There are things I will always like about Downton Abbey (some of the characters, the period it is taking part) and things I will never understand (the series has jumped forward about 20 years since it’s beginning and no one has freaking aged!), but at least, for all its faults, it was in the hands of Fellows and he is a really good screenwriter.

Now, I just see him as a good screenwriter who is very tired. A lot of fans are going to be very disappointed. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Maybe the second half of the final season will erase my concerns, but right now I see it going out with something less than a grand whimper- a reluctant shrug.

Okay, onto five things I am actually enjoying right now. Continue reading

So-So-So (3 Days to 40)

Birthday CakeSo I was at the grocery store buying my wife a bottle of wine. The cashier (a broad-shouldered, older woman with a haircut reminiscent of something you would see in a lumberjack camp) took my ID. She looked at me, looked at my ID and then looked at me again. Immediately, I was overcome with a feeling of dread at the conversation coming.

“You got a birthday coming up,” she began. She sounded like a smoker, or she had a cold. Either way, her voice was rougher and deeper than mine. When I speak to people that have voices deeper than my own it always makes me feel like a kid and I should use words like “ma’am” and “sir.”

“Yup,” I replied simply. I hoped my short response with a word that wasn’t really even a word would end the discussion…. it didn’t.

“A big one,” she said with an evil smile. The smile was a tad disconcerting.

“Yes,” I  said with a nod. There was then this awkward pause.  Her, holding my license and smiling; me, doing my best not to make eye contact. After what felt like a minute, I added, “I’m trying not to think about it.” Continue reading

Finding the Soundtrack of Jaleel Shaw

Jaleel Shaw's MasterpieceI live vicariously through Jaleel Shaw.

Before I fell completely into the pool of being an author, for a time I dipped my toe in jazz.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to playing saxophone, but there was something that took my breath away immediately with it (not always a good thing to have happen while playing a reed instrument, by the way). A sax can convey so much, with the power to move you to tears or to get you to your feet to cheer. Two things I have seen happen live, but honestly never when I was performing.

For almost a decade it was an obsession, and not an evening would go by when I wasn’t at a lesson, taking part in a rehearsal, or practicing up in my bedroom. Because, I believed, with enough practice, yes, I could sound like Charlie Parker.

It was a happy dream, and I felt like I was doing something important while under it.

Looking back now, I can almost laugh at my passion around it, but for years, I would fall asleep each night with Bird and Branford Marsalis playing on repeat on my CD player; certain I could get their chops through a form of musical osmosis. Continue reading

My Online Literary Experiment: Be John Coltrane

One of my favoritesSince I started my online literary experiment, Permanent Spring Showers, a novel written off-the-cuff, with a new chapter each week, I’ve had quite a few writers ask me about the experience.

Some seem to have a dark fascination, much like a driver passing by an accident on the road, while others seem to be excited by the prospect, wondering if they will risk attempting the experience themselves.

If you have been following these occasional editorials I  have created around the experience… well.. you can tell it is kind of emotional with a lot of highs and lows. Basically, the best way to explain what it does to your nerves is what you experience while writing a book but heightened a great deal and rushed, since there is always the pressure to make it work and you can’t go back. Because it has to work, and if one chapter falters I have no excuse but to continue. So somedays I think I am the biggest idiot in the world, while on others I would kiss a mirror of myself. (Actually, I’ve been known to go through those feelings in the same hour of working!)

This Friday, I am sharing the last chapter (which is in a first draft form now) and I am now, finally, more in a position  to look back over the experience and feel out how it worked for me… and one word comes forward more than any other:

Jazz Continue reading

Introducing Your Child to Jazz

Recently, I’ve been listening to jazz a lot with my children. What can I say? It is like comfort food for me. I play it in the morning, around dinner time; it’s a Scott thing. Anyway, it got me thinking of an article I wrote a while back for Green Spot Blue (a literary parenting online magazine) about jazz and parenting.

In it, I recommend some records for the young listener and give some parental suggestions on how to listen to the music with the younglings.

Here is the beginning of the article:

As parents we all want the best for our kids, and our plans are filled with the best intentions.  Many times this relates to music and our desire for our kids to know more than just what is on the pop stations. Some parents may try to listen to classical more, but for me I have always chosen jazz. Jazz, above all other music genres, seems to me to sing of creativity, the thrill of thinking outside the box. Songs are filled with experimentations, expressions. You feel love more, you feel pain more. There is a story there that surpasses any you may hear in the lyrics of a country song.

The problem is that many times when we parents sit back and look at our own musical choices, we can’t help but feel guilty. Usually it is the same artists, the same albums; we return to the comfort of what we like the most, not realizing that our child is hearing the same thing again… and again… and again….

Well, for the parent that wants to introduce their child to America’s great original artform, might I recommend 7 classical jazz albums to share with the family. Consider this an opportunity to lose The Wiggles, this is an introduction to jazz.

I go on in the article to recommend work by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, and others. You can check out the article here.

I still stand by my anti-Wiggles statement.

Introducing Your Child to Jazz- Some Recommendations

Green Spot Blue has printed a new article by me.  This one is about jazz and how to introduce your child to some of the great artist and records.  Here is an excerpt from the beginning…

As parents we all want the best for our kids, and our plans are filled with the best intentions.  Many times this relates to music and our desire for our kids to know more than just what is on the pop stations. Some parents may try to listen to classical more, but for me I have always chosen jazz. Jazz, above all other music genres, seems to me to sing of creativity, the thrill of thinking outside the box. Songs are filled with experimentations, expressions. You feel love more, you feel pain more. There is a story there that surpasses any you may hear in the lyrics of a country song.

The problem is that many times when we parents sit back and look at our own musical choices, we can’t help but feel guilty. Usually it is the same artists, the same albums; we return to the comfort of what we like the most, not realizing that our child is hearing the same thing again… and again… and again….

Well, for the parent that wants to introduce their child to America’s great original artform, might I recommend 7 classical jazz albums to share with the family. Consider this an opportunity to lose The Wiggles, this is an introduction to jazz.

You can read the rest of the article, as well as the recommendations here.