the jazz authority; random dubiously zappy rants about 'the musicians music'.: A genre to call his own

Monday, June 13, 2005

A genre to call his own

Categories in Music

I've always been annoyed and confused by the need to categorize different kinds of music. I suppose that when one is talking about a certain artist and another is unfamiliar with them, it helps to put their music in context. I just think we've taken it to the point of absurdity.

When I'm talking with someone who is not familiar with jazz at all, and I tell them I play jazz, I have no idea what concept they have of that music. Usually I go into a description of the specific kind of jazz I play and explain the style and feel.

I guess my issue is with the opposite of this: trying to categorize musicians that don't fit the mold. When someone asks me what kind of jazz I like I don't beat around the bush – I tell them flat out what artists I'm listening to, what period of their lives I'm into, and even what records specifically.

To me the subcategories in music seem like a huge waste of time. We can just say who we dig. How's that for a specific category?

I'd like to know what everyone else thinks about this subject.


Michael J. West said...

Actually I've been thinking about this a bit lately. I have a very good friend and fellow musical explorer who I've been trying teach about jazz, but as he learns more it gets tougher--he really wants to function within stratified categories. "Now what makes this HARD bop, and not BEbop?" I hear. Or, "Would you call this free jazz, or avant-garde?" And when you're dealing with someone like, say, Mingus, who blends categories like they were colors on a pallette, those questions are fairly useless.

Yeah, I think that it's great to have a vague sense of those subcategories, if only because it helps you navigate through all the artists and time periods, but you should always remember that any good jazz musician has to take the basic guidelines of a style and make something completely his own out of it. If either listener or musician goes too by-the-numbers on those things, they completely miss the point.

Cameron W said...

Well said Mike.