Calgary Jazz collaborative JazzYYC is throwing a citywide party to celebrate UN International Jazz Day on Tuesday, April 30. Some of the city’s finest jazz musicians are playing free concerts across the city, while bassist and the host of CKUA’s A Time For Jazz, Kodi Hutchinson, hosts a talk at 12:10 p.m. at the Epcor Centre.
Hutchinson (playing the bass in the above video) is challenged with a near impossible task: summarize the disparate subgenres of jazz in a 45-minute talk. So we challenged him with another: try to do it in a playlist of 10 tracks. “There is so much available, 10 tracks really doesn’t even cover [it],” he says. Nevertheless, he kindly provided his list of songs for a surface-level introduction. Read on for his playlist and a Q&A with Jon Roe about the barriers people face when they try to get into jazz.
How do you dive into jazz in an introductory talk? It is somewhat difficult because jazz is a lot larger genre than most people realize. There’s some core things, obviously. I can easily start at where many people consider the beginning of jazz—turn of the century with Dixieland and that kind of thing.
When you’re giving this talk you’ll be playing samples? Oh definitely. You can’t talk about jazz without playing the music for people. For me, I make my living as a jazz musician primarily. I have a very large record label based out of Calgary which is mostly jazz. I’m put in contact with a lot of people who quite often their first response when you tell them you play jazz is “I don’t like jazz.” Then I’ll say, do you like rock and roll? They’ll say, yes, I like rock. It’s kind of a funny question because to a jazz musician, saying you don’t like jazz is saying you don’t like rock and roll. You might not like the Rolling Stones, but you probably like some rock. It’s the same thing with jazz….
Half the movies we watch the background music is jazz music. It’s one of my goals in life to get people to realize the sheer diversity in the genre. There is probably something out there that they didn’t realize was jazz, but they’ll like. Or maybe they haven’t been exposed to the type of jazz that they might like.
Do you think the biggest barrier is that people don’t know the variety? I guess it doesn’t help that there isn’t a lot of places people can go to hear it. If you turn your radio on, what is primarily on the radio? There’s obvious reasons that it’s pop and rock music. It’s more easily digestible, it’s catchier, it’s shorter. There is jazz that is in that vein, but you don’t hear it often. You won’t hear it on the radio because there’s just not stations here catering to it….
[Also, when it is in other media], it’s not as present. If you’re watching a TV show and there’s a rock tune going on in the background, it’s easily identifiable because of the energy, it usually cuts through. Versus if you have a jazz tune with no singer, it’s pushed back further in the mix. It’s always there, but you’re not realizing it. Quite often it’s the case that people are more drawn to lyrics than instrumental music. [Talking about jazz] is about making people understand instrumental music on a simpler basis.
My aunt and uncle are a really good example of non-jazz listeners that are fairly interesting to talk to. I remember my aunt and uncle coming out to a show of mine. At the end of the show, my aunt came up to us and said, “Wow, that was beautiful music. I just really connected and loved it.” My uncle comes over and was like, “Man, jazz, it makes me think too much. It hurts my head.” My aunt wasn’t trying to think about it, she wasn’t trying to think of it as some high ideal. She took it for what it was and heard the melody in it and the beauty of it and didn’t try to analyze it. With my uncle, he thought, this is jazz, I have to think about this. And I have to try and understand it. As a listener, you don’t have to try and understand it. With instrumental music, it’s different moods, the tension, the joy, the anger—all these different emotions can come through just through textures of music.
Tell us about your playlist. Hopefully this can give you some different styles of jazz to understand how wide the genre is. There is so much available. Ten tracks really doesn’t even cover all the different genres within jazz, so I tried to go by popular eras for jazz. Jazz was first officially recorded in 1917 and is still evolving. It has been around a long time and it’s difficult to pin down as we have moved from New Orleans and Dixieland to swing, to bebop to cool jazz and west coast, hard bop, jazz fusion, free-jazz and jazz fusion. More recently jazz incorporates elements from pop, world music, hip-hop—it just goes on and on. I’m sure any jazz fan would have a much different list, but I hope this gets you in the jazz mood.
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – Dipper Mouth Blues
Recorded in 1922, just five years after the first recording of the jazz age, this was one of the most important groups of the New Orleans Hot Jazz movement. Also, this song is one of the first known recordings of a young Louis Armstrong.
Duke Ellington – It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
First recorded in 1932, the track heralds a shift from Dixie and New Orleans to the swing era that would run to the end of the Second World War. A classic that most people tap their toes to.
Charlie Parker – Now’s The Time
The emergence of one of the greatest geniuses to play jazz. Along with other musicians in NYC, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker marks the beginning of bebop in 1945—music that centres around a soloist rather than a dance band. One of the first songs many young jazz musicians learn.
Dizzy Gillespie – Manteca
Dizzy Gillespie’s interest in Afro-Cuban music leads to latin jazz. A mixture of bebop and Cuban music in 1947.
Gerry Mulligan & Chet Baker – My Funny Valentine
We get a first glimpse of the West Coast jazz scene. It emerges around the same time as the famous Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool that began cool jazz on the East Coast. A bit less athletic than bebop; nice music to chill out to.
Miles Davis – So What
Off of one of the highest-selling jazz albums ever, Kind of Blue. Recorded in 1959, this is a track where we see Miles Davis at his peak. A historic jazz group that sums up the 1950s for me.
Dave Brubeck – Take Five
The tune most requested by non-jazz listeners—must be something to it. Music composed after Brubeck’s band came back from a trip to Eastern Europe. Also, it’s the name of a 1959 album that incorporates odd meter music into jazz.
Horace Silver – Song For My Father
It was a tough choice between this and his album with the Jazz Messengers. Such a great track representing hard bop—music that has jazz and soul elements to it. An all-around great album from 1963.
Herbie Hancock – Chameleon
Jazz-fusion from 1973. We hear Hancock mix jazz with electric instruments and funk. Very popular with young players.
Brad Mehldau – It Might As Well Be Spring
Beginning in the mid-nineties, Brad Mehldau started jazz musicians looking at their artform differently. He isn’t afraid to merge the past and present. This is a classic jazz standard played in 7/4 time.
Aaron Parks – Travelers
I feel like it’s a crime to jump over many exciting jazz developments such as free jazz, acid jazz, all the different types of fusion and so many amazing contemporary jazz musicians—always the difficulty when only picking a few tracks. Aaron Parks exemplifies a change in jazz for the 2000s: more thoroughly composed music that speaks to the modern influences of this young but influential pianist. There are shifting meters, melody, and less reliance on solos to move the music forward.
UN International Jazz Day in Calgary: Tuesday, April 30. Various venues. Free. See full schedule at jazzyyc.com.