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About three years ago my wife and I were saddened to learn WSJT-FM, the "Smooth Jazz" channel in Tampa, was leaving the airwaves. We had listened to it for years, either outside on the patio, inside on the weekends, or while driving around. Although we didn't know the names of all the songs, we always found it calm, relaxing, and just plain "cool." I like to believe I have an eclectic taste in music. Even though I was of the Rock generation. I love classical, Big Band, some international sounds, particularly Japanese and Spanish, but Jazz holds a special place in my heart. After college, I picked up on it in some small nightclubs in Cincinnati, but as I traveled on business I found some excellent jazz in Chicago, New York, Toronto, and on top of the legendary Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, but that was some time ago. So, when WSJT announced they were abandoning jazz, we were greatly disappointed. They didn't shut down completely though. Today, you can listen to them streaming over the Internet.
A similar phenomenon happened back in my old hometown of Cincinnati where WVXU (the "Voice of Xavier University") played jazz classics and "When Swing was King" for years. Unfortunately, their ratings slumped radically and they were forced to abandon jazz. This seems to be a common occurrence as jazz stations are slowly disappearing. According to Lady Jay Davis, a well known radio personality and jazz aficionado in Reno, Nevada, "I have lots of thoughts on how the smooth jazz format was KILLED. Stations turned it into a top 40 format and burned everyone out, then cloned the stations for every market. It is a format that should have evolved into smooth and HOT. Instead they commercialized it and then depended on ratings to sell it. What an excuse for failure."
As jazz disappears from the airwaves, it is slowly being forgotten, particularly by younger people who simply know nothing about it. Back in 2000, Ken Burns produced his television documentary on "Jazz" which chronicled the development of this unique American sound. More than anything, the miniseries was useful to educate the uninformed regarding the various forms of jazz, everything from Dixieland, which traces its roots back to New Orleans and the South, to "Cool Jazz" emerging after WWII. The program also described the contributions of such people as Charlie Parker, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holiday. As an aside, singers such as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland were devotees, and could belt out some excellent jazz songs themselves.
As for me personally, Dave Brubeck, who recently passed away, was the first to bring jazz to my attention. His "Take Five," which was released in the early 1960's, should be declared the national anthem of jazz. The clever mixture of piano, sax, bass, and drums is pure genius. It is no small wonder it has been used in television and commercials over the years as an icon of class and elegance. From there, I learned the early work of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, which, of course led me to Charlie Parker, et al.
More recently, I was fortunate to see George Benson in concert. At the time, I knew little about him. I just thought he was another guitarist with some easy listening music to his credit. Boy was I wrong. Although he started slow, I quickly recognized him for what he was, a jazz craftsman. His rendition of Leon Russell's"This Masquerade" made a believer out of me. He is also known for such classics as "On Broadway," "Give Me the Night," and "Breezin'."
The group who had the most profound influence on me regarding jazz was theModern Jazz Quartet, whose roots can be traced back to Dizzy Gillespie. The quartet starred Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Connie Kay. Although they are perhaps best known for their song, "Django," there are many other impressive cuts which jazz buffs love, such as "Confirmation," "Blues on Bach Blues in B flat," "Concerto De Aranjuez," "Round Midnight," and "Willow Weep for Me."
There are of course many other artists who deserve recognition, but space prohibits me from listing them here. Nonetheless, after learning jazz, I saw Rocker Jimi Hendrix in a new light. It wasn't Rock that made him unique, it was simply a new form of jazz.
Jazz is still around, but unfortunately it has gone underground in this country. No, you won't find it on radio or television anymore, but you can still find it on an obscure cable channel or on the Internet. The best way to enjoy it though is to visit one of those small jazz nightclubs which still exists in the big cities or the occasional jazz festival.
As an aside, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the jazz classic, "Just the Two of Us," recorded by Grover Washington, Jr. and Bill Withers, and written by Withers, Ralph MacDonald, and William Salter. It has a very special meaning for my wife and myself for over 30 years, and produced by some very special people. Yes, jazz can have that kind of effect on you. Be sure to listen to it before it is gone with the wind.
Keep the Faith!
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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.