Jazz in the Morning

It’s a brisk morning. Your emotions are still raw from slumber, and just enough heartbreak brims your consciousness to keep you human. The first sip of coffee passes your lips – its heat almost scalds you but instead warms you just to contentment; its potency is bitter but is also rich and aromatic, the bitterness is familiar, enlivening. This steaming, poignant morning guest shouldn’t enhance the groggy dawn, but it does. This is jazz.

Jazz is the pulse of a thunderstorm, the sibilation of a city at night. Jazz is everything it shouldn’t be, in the most dazzling way. It shouldn’t seem as beautiful as it does – its irregular syncopations shouldn’t get our feet tapping, and the improvisation shouldn’t sound like we’re finally hearing the cadence which words have masked in language all along. Musician, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis’ simple, transparent piano lines played by Bill Evans shouldn’t be our favorite part of pieces, and Clark Terry’s trumpet solos shouldn’t make our lungs feel empty and our eyes feel full. Where classical music is valued based on precision and personal conduct of interpretation, jazz is the fabrication of collaboration. Jazz grants one the rare opportunity to take a composer’s masterpiece and, through alteration of the melodies, harmonies, and time signatures, make it an honest reflection of this performer/performer’s intimacy with solely the composition itself.

The lyricist of the musical “The Glorious Ones,” Lynn Ahrens, wrote: “For what is this life but the beauty of improvisation?” Absolute beauty lurks in the unknown, in the yet-to-be-played, yet-to-be-heard. Jazz has proved this time and time again through its centuries of existence – through the fleeting seconds of notes which dance, stomp, and twirl on top of chord progressions, likely never to be heard in such a way again. The lovely riddle behind jazz improvisation is that within the stately chords put in place prior exists spans of opportunity greater than one could envision.

Though the most defining feature of jazz, improvisation is not the only noteworthy trait. Jazz was born from the blues, which derived primarily from hymns and field songs. Every root that jazz has is tightly secured in passion and emotion. Jazz was primarily dance music, but when improvisation made its way to the forefront, different styles began to take the stage. Louis Armstrong took the chaotic jazz style of Dixieland and morphed it into individual solos which could be appreciated on a more intentional level. The savory style of cool jazz appeared, as did rapid, breathlessly rhythmic bebop, earthy soul jazz and the brash, dissatisfied nature of free jazz. Every style remains unique to its own sound but also strongly grounded in blues.

Like everything especially exquisite in life, jazz isn’t about happiness. Jazz has no inhibitions when wailing over love lost, when screaming at the days that don’t seem long enough to encapsulate all the pain. Jazz’s laughter will create deep, lasting wrinkles. Its anger will linger on the strings of the bass. The sincerity of jazz doesn’t mask what is scolded to be kept hidden; it instead declares humanization, hits every note to the core of the soul, and paints reality in brighter, grander colors. So let it be said with the most intricate simplicity: this is jazz.

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