“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
~ Bob Marley

Now there’s a lot I don’t know about music. More specifically, the technicalities or the thought process that goes into writing music of any genre. I don’t intend to explain any specific detail but can only remark and reflect, in reasonable terms, on the culture I have witnessed experientially.
On my recent visit to the United States of America, a man working as hospitality at a golf course, lent me a pen and that, I expected, would have been the end of our short meeting; but no. As I wrote some details, he leant over and said, “I write some jazz music with that pen…not so much now but I do spare some time.”
“Wow really?”
“Yes! Do you listen to any jazz?”
“Not really but I couldn’t help but listen to some good stuff in the cabs. They’ve a good taste, I got to tell you.”

It was this short, friendly conversation that got me aware about jazz music as a whole. That’s the deal with jazz; you don’t seem to take note of it unless you make a conscious effort to do so. Jazz music is like Stan Lee’s cameos in non-Marvel movies, barely noticeable. You can only get so much of it when you busy yourself.

On my visit to the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, right in the middle of it, was a band of musicians playing jazz and there was a considerable amount of crowd cheering on. Maybe sipping on a pint or two but from a distance, you couldn’t really tell. The whole picture was so benevolent. The music wasn’t too loud yet noticeable, very benign. It doesn’t conjure any emotions but softens quite a few of them.

It isn’t a surprise how jazz has found its way in films, largely being used in background scores. It is barely noticeable but if you have watched Birdman, you have well and truly treated yourself to some good jazz music. Multiple-Grammy winning jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez, manned the task, drummed all the background score and altered the beat he was playing to reflect the subtext of every scene, highlighting the actions of every character.

To some, jazz may sound like ‘default on the musician’s instrument’ but there are many who adore it and look to push the boundaries. It is one of the original African-American art forms and it is very stretchy. It seems you can do anything with it. You can go from blues to pop to bebop. Although, there’s a trace of European music influence in every jazz musician’s work. The genius of it is that jazz is mostly improvised and that adds to its aesthetic. The mystique surrounding how swift they are to improvise as they play with sheer nonchalance is as astonishing as it is ravishing. Psychological studies state that listening to jazz helps you concentrate effectively while also boosting your creativity.

In a typical jazz group, the musicians first play the main melody or theme, then the musicians on piano, saxophone, trumpet and bass take turns improvising variations based on the main melody. At the end, the band returns to the original melody.
“Jazz is about freedom within discipline. Usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States”, quips the widely celebrated Jazz pianist David Brubeck.

Witnessing a live gig still remains a far-fetched wish but would be too churlish to refuse the opportunity. The jazzy vibes, superlative theatre and brusqueness is a spectacle I wish to applaud.

-Malhar Hathi