Fifty years ago I began playing the alto saxophone in my fifth-grade band. I haven’t stopped playing since. I grew up during the 60’s and 70’s. This was the era of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan. It was also the time of the great Horn Bands such as Chicago; Blood, Sweat, & Tears; Earth, Wind & Fire; The Ides of March; Commodores and Tower of Power. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder were not only on the top of the charts, they were influencing everyone else. All these musicians shared jazz as their roots. This music, called jazz, had spread from New Orleans across the country and had now taken over the pop-rock music world.
So, in this listening atmosphere, I learned to play my saxophone. I started with “Hot Cross Buns,” like all good band geeks of the 60’s, then went on to learn to play jazz. I learned to play jazz in its traditional forms. This included big band swing, horn band rhythm and blues, and jazz in combos that featured the Great American Song Book (popular songs from the 1920’s through the 1950’s).
The other thing I learned during the next thirty years was that jazz music is the perfect music to adapt to a changing music culture. A jazz musician’s very nature is to take a new song and play it in a bright, clever, refreshing new way. If jazz musicians take a song that is widely known by listeners and apply the jazz touch to that tune over time that tune will become a jazz standard.
Jazz Pianist and Composer, Bill Evans said, “Jazz is not a what, it is a how.”
I can play a Cole Porter jazz standard from the 40’s and add my interpretation of the tune. That is what jazz musicians are expected to do. I can also take a tune from Norah Jones and add my interpretation to it and help that tune become a new jazz standard. Again, that is what jazz musicians are expected to do.
I have learned over time that jazz is a beautiful art form. I feel humbled to be one of the musicians that use jazz as their chosen style to express their musical thoughts and entertain others at the same time.