I know what some of you are thinking. You’ve resisted jazz your entire adult life. It may even disconnect you from a rock song when a little brass is thrown in for good measure. That’s understandable. This largely improvised and mostly instrumental music isn’t considered to be for everyone.
However, I love our made-in-America, even when it comes to art forms, and I’m hoping to finally sway your opinion. As Donald Miller once said, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” In that spirit, here’s a list of occasions in a civilized adult’s life when jazz is truly the best choice.
1. Grown Up Parties
You’re having people over, and not to your dorm room. This is your first place. You have a slight inclination to play the devil’s advocate and throw on something heavy. You did just pick up Black Sabbath’s first album on vinyl at some trendy new hotspot last week. (Man, that first track really rocks.) You’ve got to stop and reflect for a moment: music choice is as important a part of the presentation as the duds you pick to wear. This isn’t exactly a kegger that you’re hosting. You bought wine. Expensive wine. You even asked the guy who works at the wine store (Tim) what was the best bottle for your sweet spread of cheeses, crackers, and fruit. You even learned that they call that a “pairing.”
Buddy, you’re too long in the tooth to make the music selection ironic or loud. You need to class it up. Your company will be impressed, and you’ll set the right ambience. Maybe save the loud stuff for later. (Got to gauge the crowd on that one.)
I recommend the satiny, heart-wrenching smoothness of Billie Holiday for the early arrivals, followed by the hip-shaking cacophony of Charles Mingus for when there’s about ten different conversations going on. Then, finish the night with some Badbadnotgood playing jazz arrangements of hip hop tracks. It’s music that’s tailored to fit your party as well as that three-piece suit you wear to host.
Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues
Charles Mingus, Ah Um
2. Getting Ready
Okay, Champ, you’re going out. You’ve pledged to yourself that you will always make an effort to be the best dressed rascal in any room. Take a minute here: blazer or no blazer? Tie or air tie? Match with slacks or denim?
It takes a little longer to get your hair just right than you’d like to admit to your date. The right Saturday night look takes concentration. You don’t need bass heavy hip-hop blaring in the background. You’re not in the car yet. Sure, a little classic rock sounds good. You think about throwing some Fleetwood on the turntable. It would work, but I have a better suggestion: choose a little jazz instead. It has that right blend of cool and charcoal finish like the slug of top-shelf bourbon you throw in a rocks glass and sip on the porch before heading out. Remember, there are still some mighty fine things made here in the homeland.
Here, I recommend ’Trane’s quintessential masterpiece, A Love Supreme. That last track will make you feel like you’re sitting in dreamy, dimly lit club next to someone rapturously beautiful, listening to some of the truest music you’ve ever heard and feeling a timeless, stratospheric cool. Save Ornette Coleman for next weekend.
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come
3. Dinner Date
So you’ve invited your significant other over for dinner, or you’re cooking for the first time (or first time in a long time). You did all the shopping, and you even made a list so you didn’t forget anything (#adultlife). You spent more on that bottle of wine than you did on your last button down (thanks again, Tim). You even bought a candle for the first time in your life.
Now it’s time for the finishing touches. You’ve got to have some chill, classic, and elegant music to play in the background. You already went above and beyond, because your bae deserves the best. I suggest the works of the maestro pianist (that’s a funny phrase to say out loud) Bill Evans, or the achingly romantic crooning and trumpeting of the “James Dean of Jazz” himself, Chet Baker. I promise it will set the right tone for the evening. It might even lead to a spontaneous dance session that will make Van Morrison smile without quite knowing why.
Chet Baker, Chet Baker Sings and Plays
Bill Evans, Sunday at the Village Vanguard
4. Morning Commutes
Okay let’s be real: driving to work sucks. You rarely want to go, you often find yourself wondering how the $*#! there are so many people on the road already, and you’re fighting off sleepiness in the world’s most irritating parking lot, I-95 South. (I live in South Florida.) Best case scenario is good coffee and good tunes.
Don’t waste time scrolling through your streaming services in a befuddled morning daze, trying to remember that newly dropped album you wanted to check out. You’re wasting time and the traffic ain’t getting any lighter as the doomed rush hour doth approach. I recommend some listens that are bold as your morning pour over. You want to keep it just a touch jarring to make sure you don’t nod off mid-commute, so it’s the cannon battle drumming of Art Blakey or the “just about to fly off the rails” soulful saxophone of Wayne Shorter.
Come on, you’re not really going to call in sick. Best to start off with some style.
Wayne Shorter, Night Dreamer
Art Blakey, Moanin’
5. Stressful Work Weeks
Even if you love your job, you’re bound to have a stressful week. We’re talking about a real gray hair grower, the kind that makes you question whether you should reconsider your career path (or even the kind where you think about giving it all up for hermit life in the mountains). You might be tempted to choose that loud, hard, fast music. Maybe go full metal if it’s that bad. It’s a valid choice, but it’s not going to soothe your jangled nerves.
I recommend some of the greatest compositions in the history of music to cure what ails ya. Kind of Blue is legit one of the coolest, most complex, and most iconic pieces of music ever record, jazz or otherwise. It might just keep you sane. Or you can literally “Take Five” with Dave Brubeck: get a breather to reconnoiter and allow yourself to attack the week again.
For the gray hair, I say let it ride. You look distinguished.
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Dave Brubeck, Time Out
Reality Changing Observations:
1. What role does music play in your life?
2. How do we use music to create a mood, in ourselves or in a public setting?
3. How can we support the artists that enrich our lives and the small businesses that support those artists?