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What is Jazz?
September 19, 2008 10:47 am

I was in the drugstore a few weeks ago, picking up a prescription. While I was waiting a young pharmacist, a guy in his early 20's, was telling a co-worker about Harvey Mason's drumming on the Herbie Hancock "Headhunters" album. I really enjoyed listening to his enthusiasm, it was a great way to spend my waiting time. It was also refreshing, uplifting even, to know that a classic old recording was alive and being appreciated in the now.

It was funny, too, cause just a couple days before, I'd heard a cut from that recording blasting from a car driving past. Not the typical sound one hears from car windows these days. And, hearing it coming from the car, I had been mildly electrified, feeling again the intense pleasure of the sound of that music.

So, this morning I put it on. I still have the LP I bought when it came out in '73. And yes, it IS still so good. Classic. And I don't use that word lightly. Classics are very few and far between in my book.

I stumbled upon another classic when I was a teenager babysitting at a house where the parents were very cool - hippies. (My parents were decidedly NOT hippies). After the kids were asleep, I scrounged through their record collection, and came upon an old record from the '50s - Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue". I put it on. It was old fashioned, but it was not corny, like Glenn Miller or Sinatra. It was cool. Jazz fusion was the jazz of the moment, what I'd been listening to. Here was something that was old but fresh. I played it over and over that night. I saved up and bought my own copy.

"Headhunters", too, has held up over time. It was surrounded by 'controversy' when it came out. I don't recall if it was with my saxophone teacher, or the guys I worked with at the record store, or my band mates in the "jazz" band at college, but I remember heated conversations about whether or not "Headhunters" was jazz, about how Herbie was wasting his talent doing this simplified funk music. It was hearing these discussions that made me go out and buy it. Wasting his talent? Not in my book. This record cooks.

Is it Jazz? Now that "jazz" is any music that doesn't have words to it ("The Quiet Storm" and al), it seems like a silly question. Is Kenny G jazz? That's definitely debatable. Is "Headhunters" jazz? I say yes, but, aw, heck, who cares? It's just plain good.

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