Forget All That Jazz
It's not just uninvited, it's tyranny
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When I was a senior in high school, I dated the greatest guy. He was cute, smart, a good kisser, and best of all, a good listener. He liked what I had to say, or at least he pretended to. We had things in common and I loved that. We tried not to laugh at our differences — our little romance was still that new — but if he mentioned jazz, I missed it.
On our third date we went to a party at his friend’s house deep in the heart of Detroit. The music was cranked up so loud we could hear it the minute we got out of the car. I looked at him, but he was already on his way, shoulders shaking, fingers snapping, oblivious to me or anything else outside of the sounds bringing him to a weird kind of ecstasy.
I think he called it a “jazz den”. We were in a jazz den and I was supposed to like it. How could I not? Who didn’t like jazz?
How did we get to a third date without knowing each other’s taste in music? I don’t know, but if he had asked I would have told him that of all the forms of music, jazz was my most hated. I despised it with a passion that was hot, that was visceral, that was strong enough to make my toes curl and my fingers form into fists. And now I hated him.
We argued in his friend’s house and we argued all the way home. How could he do that to me? How could I NOT like Dave Brubeck? How could we even think this was going to work? We had mutual friends so we had to run into each other now and then, but we barely nodded. Fine with me. I dodged that bullet, but good.
But if I thought that was the end of my encounters with jazz, I was just too naïve for words. Jazz was everywhere. Jazz is everywhere.
It’s on my phone when I’m put on hold. Scratchy whiny caterwauling designed to make me hang up because they’re too damned busy to bother with me, anyway. And they hate me.
It yowls from the loudspeakers when I’m shopping, it rings in my ears where I’m ‘dining’ (i.e:, not just eating), it invades my space while I’m sitting on the toilet in their restrooms.
It’s so all over NPR I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. I used to wait until All Things Considered was two minutes in before I turned it on, but now they’ve taken to taunting me with that insane theme music in between segments. And Fresh Air. Don’t even. Because they hate me.
I know people who love jazz. Or I should say, I knew people. If I dare to question their adoration, they’ll first try to school me, then, if I don’t bite, they shun me. Because I’d have to be a complete moron not to love jazz.
In the 1980s I met Stanley Crouch, the ultimate jazz enthusiast, a giant of a man who had a steady gig writing lofty riffs about jazz using jazzy language that sounded pretty impressive to my admittedly tin ear.
He knew the jazz greats and showed me the liner notes he wrote for Gold and Platinum albums. He was known for his critical writing, but it was those liner notes he seemed to like best. They gave him the chance to be intimate with his passion, to praise the jazz men who gave him such joy, to lay it all out there with love.
When I first met him at a writer’s colony where we both had residencies, I didn’t know who he was. I was new to the whole colony thing and he couldn’t have been kinder. He helped me unload my car and carried the heavy stuff up to my loft room. He showed me around as if the retreat was his own. He took my fears away on that first day, when I was terrified and feeling like the world’s most obvious dilettante.
Early into my two weeks stay, the jazz man and I talked often during our non-writing hours— or he talked during those hours — and at first I was as fascinated as he thought I should be. I really wanted to understand that whole jazz cult. He knew it to its core. I didn’t get it. I would never get it. He could talk until the moon shriveled to nothing but in the end it was all about the sound. Not the theory but the sound.
He dumped me. We shared spring residencies at that colony twice more, but I was invisible thereafter. Except for that time he had to catch a train and I was the only one near the door, so he threw a package at me and told me to make sure the UPS driver got it.
I seriously had to laugh. I didn’t dislike him at all. It was his music that left me cold. And that was unforgivable.
Jazz hurts. It physically hurts me. And because it hurts, I resent the intrusion, the tyranny that forces my participation in what my brain, my ears, my heart, my gut considers dreadful, unaccountable noise.
So remember that the next time you hear jazz in places where I might be. Someone could be suffering and you’re doing nothing to help. You don’t even hear how painful that deliberate dissonance is.
But I do.