Life and General Ramblings

Jazz and the Sound of My Summer


I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Part of me is fascinated by how connected we are as a global society. There are friends I have reconnected with and new friends that I likely would never had the opportunity to know (some of whom are indirectly responsible for this project) without it. The other part of detests the vitriol, hate and useless graffiti – cat memes excepted – that continually stream across my feeds. At times we are reading nothing more than a digital bathroom wall, complete with videos. From a blogging perspective however, social media a necessary evil. My wife and I once went to see a solo performance by Rhett Miller, vocalist and songwriter for The Old 97’s, and the opening act had a sloppy, lounge-vibe. His backup band was nothing more than an old cassette boom box and his delivery reminded me of the tongue-in-cheek snottiness of bands like The Dead Milkmen. At one point he paused the set for what appeared to be an uncomfortable self-promotion pitch, leading with, “How many of you are on social media?”

Most hands raised.

“Well, I don’t really like it, but I would be even less popular than I already am, so follow me on Twitter.”

I feel the same way.

How does a post about jazz and summer relate to my relationship with social media? It started like this. For those of you that follow the blog (for those that don’t…why not?), you may remember my post, Why Jazz Might Make Me A Better Gamer. I discussed my annual Thanksgiving Project, where I take a band or genre and focus on it from Thanksgiving until Christmas. That year was Jazz. Since then, some form of the music has been in my rotation on a fairly consistent basis. I listen to jazz now when I write. Aurally, it dominates my work environment, or at least the space between my headphones and my ears. It’s that space specifically, that led me here. I was at the office, listening to Cannonball Adderley’s, Somethin’ Else, and working on some documentation when my brain starting whispering that it was time to buy a new record. For the past few weeks, I had silenced it with reason and activity. I try to make an effort, prior to any new acquisition binge, to go back through my purchases and focus on some records that didn’t receive a lot of play time. For me, it was these three: The Bill Evan’s Trio, Waltz for Debby; Dave Brubeck’s Time Out; Ornette Coleman’s, The Shape Of Jazz To Come. It was fun to spend time with them again and it’s a practice that can sometime change my opinion on a recording that didn’t strike me the first go-around. For example, I am perplexed why I didn’t listen to Time Out more, and came to the realization that I missed the boat on Ornette Coleman. While still not a huge fan of the record, I now get what he was trying to do. On the flip side, it helped confirm Waltz For Debby’s necessary spot on my shelf and not in my playlist. Feeling that I completed enough due diligence with my back catalog, I was ready for something new, but wasn’t sure where to go. I’ve built up a fairly solid introductory collection of Jazz, but now needed something completely different. Something that would take me further down the rabbit hole.

Here’s where the side of social media that I am fascinated by comes in and saves the day (and helps shape the sound of my summer). On a whim, I picked up my phone and posted out to a couple Facebook friends. Friends like the type I mentioned at the first of my post. People that I may have never known if it weren’t for social media. People that I now enjoy interacting with regularly. Also, they both have damn fine taste in music. Interestingly, when I started my jazz Thanksgiving project, it was one of their replies – before I knew them – to a mutual friend’s post on music from which I nicked a couple of recommendations, Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, both of which I have become quite fond of. In my half-cocked post I asked for a jazz recommendation with the commitment that I would buy it without question and play it seven times consecutively. I asked for a recommendation from one friend, and put the other on notice they were next. They both seemed amenable to the idea and I soon had my first artist and album. The ground rules themselves, were nothing more than a set of requirements  to give the whole thing a bit of gravity; make it seem a bit like an adventure if you will.

I bought the first recommendation, downloaded it (thank you Amazon Auto-Rip), and started to listen. Then a funny thing happened, I went back to the post and a couple other friends posted artists to the thread they thought I should check out. Quickly a small conversation started and people that didn’t know each other were engaged in discussion, turning each other on to new sounds. It was a small nugget of something positive. That’s when the idea started to take form. How fun would it be to use social media to expand my understanding of jazz and in turn, maybe connect a group of people I know, but may not know each other, with the central theme of music? It would be more than a random thread that gets shared around your network, beckoning you to make a list about a subject and tag your friends, so they have to post as well (though I did take great pleasure in participating in one about music, which may ultimately prove to be the subconscious seed of this idea). This would be about using a global community to shape and share my musical experiences; to let my friends, many of whom have my utmost respect when it comes to music, help shape the exploration of a music style for me? My collection would become a reflection of, and connection to, the people I know.

This isn’t something entirely new. Hearing about new bands through your friends has always been one of the main ways to expand one’s musical horizons, but pre-technology, it’s also been somewhat localized. The picks I will be receiving hold no geographic boundaries, but may be influenced by the geography in which the person exists. Maybe there is a regional artist that I would’ve never have had the opportunity to hear or know about? This project also has no filter or bias. We tend to filter any of the information we receive based on our likes and dislikes. This will not. I am at the mercy of their recommendation. I will purchase and listen to whatever is suggested.

Here is how I am going to conduct this little project:

Every Wednesday, starting with the first record from the week before Memorial Day, to the Wednesday after Labor Day, I will reach out to one of my friends with a request to recommend a jazz record. 15 weeks, 15 friends. I will buy the album and focus on it for the full week. learning about the artist and the album. It won’t be exclusively what I listen to, but it will make up the majority of my soundtrack. After the first couple weeks, which have already been assigned, I will write names on poker chips and draw the next person at random, from the Fez of Fate. There are only three rules:

  1. It has to be some form of Jazz. While this may seem like a silly clarification, for those music fans reading this that are also boardgamers, this rule is very important (we gamers tend to be a bit nit-picky).
  2. It can be the same artist or band previously recommended, but it can’t be a duplicate album recommendation. Similarly, if it’s something I already own (pretty unlikely), I will ask for something different.
  3. It can be any jazz record they want me to listen to. A completely open, free recommendation. Maybe it’s their favorite? Maybe it’s the record that turned them onto jazz, or maybe it was simply the first thing that popped into their mind? As few limits or influence as possible. I don’t want to know why – not yet – just what I should listen to next.

Both music fans and boardgamers love to talk and share what they are into; what they are listening to or what has been on their game table lately. In return, I believe that if you listen and are willing to explore someone else’s interests, you can begin to understand that person on a slightly deeper level. Maybe that’s what is lacking about the dark side of social media. There is a willingness to share, but not to listen or understand. For 15 weeks, my friends – some I know very well, some I have never physically met – will help compose the sounds of my summer. At the end of it, I am sure I will have a more diverse collection of jazz. More importantly, I will have a deeper sense of who the people involved are. I will be posting my thoughts and experiences with the records. Monthly, I will write about the previous recommendations and share a few choice cuts that perhaps captured my fancy. I will be honest and, understanding that my technical knowledge of jazz is still in its toddler years, I will do my best to convey my feelings and opinions about the music. I hope you follow along and more importantly, I hope you comment on your thoughts about the music. I would love to hear from you.

As I finish typing this, the McCoy Tyner Trio’s, Infinity, just rolled back over to the opening track, Flying High. This record was the first recommendation and what took me down the path towards this semi-social experiment. The opening track also happens to be my favorite, but that’s for another post…

It’s going to be a great summer.

Roll well. Groove on.

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