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So You Think You Know Jazz

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Inspiration for my topic this week came in the form of a seemingly innocent remark by a newly met acquaintance. Backstory is I was introduced as a pretty good singer and that I also teach voice, although I personally consider what I do with my clients' voices is more technical consultation and therapy. I guess it's easier to just call me a teacher in layman terms. That's a topic for another day.

Back to the story, we exchange numbers and he asks for links to stuff I might have on Spotify and I send him two songs, a collab I did with 3am Music Collective called "I've Got This Together" and another track that I co-wrote lyrics for and co-sang with Izat Ibrahim, Clement Chow's "We're Intertwined" which was for the Autism Network Society. Both songs were of very different genres and quite obviously so.

"I've Got This Together" was written, arranged and played to be a Contemporary Pop Ballad that deals with the pivotal moment during depression that could make or break the sufferer and any musician worth their weight in salt will tell you that it fulfills and qualifies under that specific classification. "We're Intertwined" is best described as a Soul/RnB anthem written to create awareness and more acceptance of autism sufferers, especially in Singapore.

What he replied shortly after caused all my brain functions to stop for a few seconds. Not only did it not sit right with me and cause some very deeply buried emotions to resurface, it plagued my mind incessantly over the last two days, rendering me nearly incapable of preparing and celebrating my daughter's birthday.

"[I've Got This Together] is really a jazz song.." was what he said.

No. No, it is not. Not by a long shot, regardless of my voice and its timbre.

You see, this is the mind-boggling enigma that any musician and student of Jazz struggles with. Thanks to artistes like Norah Jones and Michael Buble, the general public has a warped sense of what Jazz really is. Maybe the convenience of accessing music through apps instead of going to a music store has denied today's listener an education they otherwise would've had, like I did in my time with places like HMV and Tower Records.

The Merriam-Webster defines Jazz as -

a: American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre

b : popular dance music influenced by jazz and played in a loud rhythmic manner

Based on the definitions above, many of your much-loved, previously-thought-of-as-jazz songs have now found themselves floating in limbo until you are able to recognize the genres they truly belong to. Many have taken an immediate dislike to me when I, in immense frustration, have vehemently pointed out that Michael Buble is NOT a jazz artiste. Yes, his first album and if memory serves, a christmas album somewhere as well, may have been filled with big band covers of standards from big name crooners of yesteryear like Frank Sinatra and Tony Benett but the majority of his originals are downright Pop and I'll have you know that there is absolutely NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Don't get me started on Norah Jones' "Don't know why". I could never, with good intent ever describe it as Jazz. Contemporary Pop Jazz? Sure, but not ever strictly Jazz. You see, both artistes have had hit songs that have minor Jazz influences in the songs but are still essentially Pop songs. What makes them so relatable to the general public are the Pop characteristics of the songs that most can intuitively identify with. Unfortunately, when you throw in an upright bass or a crooner in a suit, people immediately take it for granted that it's Jazz and that's all it will ever be.

I know by now, everyone reading must probably be feeling quite bewildered, with no real idea as to what constitutes as Jazz, now that the rug has been swept out from under their feet. That's why, I'm going to start everyone off with a playlist for this coming week of songs that will hopefully start to inspire a curiosity into learning more about Jazz.

Now, while I could write so much more, let's face it, we all have attention spans of a goldfish these days, so I'll leave it as is for now. There's plenty for you to ponder over until tomorrow, when I unveil the chosen five on Beverly's Weekly Playlist - So You Think You Know Jazz edition!


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