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

Advertisements

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

Music Review: Yvonnick Prene’s Jour de Fete

Jour de FeteBefore Yvonnick Prene I never considered the harmonica.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the extent of my knowledge even around harmonica and jazz mixing together was an odd little collaboration from the 1990’s. It was The Glory of Gershwin headlining the legendary harmonica player Larry Adler. The CD, like most collections, has some high points (Peter Gabriel doing “Summertime,” Sting performing “Nice Work if You Can Get It” and a spirited “Rhapsody in Blue” with Mr. Adler taking on the clarinet part) and some definite low points (Cher). You can’t put a CD on like that and just press play, you skip tracks. Your musical sanity demands it.

In many ways I am a jazz snob.

  • Electronic instruments can wait at the door (Sorry Miles Davis)
  • I don’t care for too much experimentation (Sorry Miles again) unless it is in the solo
  • Smooth jazz puts me to sleep
  • I feel more at home in the world of hard bop and be bop where the saxophone is king

Basically, even in that little rundown, I’m not sure where the harmonica fits in. It’s an anomaly, a glitch in the system, a hiccup; an almost hypnotic variation on the human voice, able to show as much emotion, passion, and charm, but fitting in… where?

Yvonnick Prene’s new CD Jour de Fete opened my beady eyes to new possibilities in jazz… and frankly, for me as a snob, that is kind of cool. Continue reading

Mush: The Effects of Parenting on the Artistic Mind

My brain has turned to mush.

I can’t say exactly when it happened, but somewhere between the long sleepless nights with a newborn and the obsessions of a toddler (who is convinced he is a racecar, and tells everyone. I don’t even understand how Nascar is a sport!), this fine-tuned tool I have always been so fond of has become permanently muddled.

To know me before my son was to know a devout follower of classic literature. I could discuss the finer points of Finnegan’s Wake and Middlemarch and not drop a bead of sweat. I was a snobby individual, and proud of my snobbiness, wearing it as almost a badge. But now, I spend my days thinking:

  • Where did Piglet disappear to during the entire Piglet’s Big Movie?
  • Why does Elmo tell kids the best place to learn more is to watch a TV channel in every episode of Elmo’s Room? Does anyone else have a problem with that?
  • And where can I get my own Tootles like Mickey Mouse has, because it seems like a really useful invention? 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.